Monday, November 2, 2015

The Pointillism of Science

I’ve long been fascinated by the work of the post-Impressionist Georges Seurat, most famous for Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Grande Jatte, which was unveiled in 1886. 

Sunday Afternoon on the Isle de Grande Jatte.
Georges Seurat, 1884.

I consider Seurat my favourite of the nineteenth-century French painters, if not of all time (but I like Rembrandt van Rijn almost as much). Though the subject-matter of Seurat’s works is antique, his technique renders them strangely contemporary in appearance. 

Recently, I watched a short docudrama with actors portraying Seurat and his contemporaries, Seurat and the Realm of Light, produced by the French arm of the National Film Board of Canada in 1992.  

In this, the painter’s so-called pointillism is described by a narrator as “a technique which consists of painting juxtaposed points of pure colour. Seen from afar these small dabs of pure colour blend together optically in one’s eye, become a homogenous image. A visionary artist, Seurat anticipated by half a century modern techniques of colour division, used in photo composition, television, and digital images.” 

In fact, though, the term “pointillism” is a misnomer. It is more accurately called “divisionism”, as Seurat did not compose the Sunday Afternoon and other works by placing dots of paint on the canvass, as is usually believed. 

Instead, Seurat used tiny strokes of the brush to achieve a divisionist effect (as seen in the detail of Sunday Afternoon below). 

Detail from Sunday Afternoon on the Isle du Grande Jatte.

Divisionism in fact came out of Seurat’s ambition to create a science of art. The NFB film quotes him: “I dream of a science of painting, which can be taught, like music, a colour scale than can translate the effects of light. ... I apply minute dabs of colour, which are blended optically in the eye, and which translate the shimmering effects of light, a mysterious light that reveals textures, curves, volumes and the dimensions of space.” 

Seurat also stated, “just as a chemist separates matter, my eyes are clear prisms that break down the elements of light. Transform them in the crucible of the imagination, and give them new meaning. I am searching for a secret geometry of forms. Painting is the art of giving depth to surface.” 

Knowing very little about Seurat before, I was somewhat taken aback by his avowed pursuit of a science of art. I had thought that by the nineteenth century, and especially after the Impressionists, artists had given up the very Renaissance ambition to make painting into a science. 

Impressionism, as with modern art in general, was a conscious rebellion against the strictures of “Academy” art, the principles of which had been laid down centuries before. Seurat, who died in 1891 aged only thirty-one (of uncertain causes, but likely from a virus which also killed his young son soon after), embraced academic principles, however. 

Circus-Parade, Georges Seurat, 1887.

From a proper bourgeois family, Seurat dressed so conventionally that he was referred to by other painters as “the notary.” In another documentary about Seurat I viewed recently, one of the art historians interviewed speculated as to how, if he had lived a natural lifespan, Seurat would have affected the course of modern art. 

I think, on the other hand, Seurat would have remained an outlier even if he had not died young, as he was during his lifetime, in fact. Impressionism set out to convey precisely what the pictorial medium derived from chemistry — the photograph — simply couldn’t. 

In this way, the movement really was anti-scientific in so far as placed idiosyncratic perspective and technique at the centre of artistic endeavour. 

The post-Impressionists, on the other hand, were determined to return order and principle to painting — doing something more than “splashing paint across the canvas”, as an associate of Seurat’s is quoted in the NFB documentary. 

They were “post” in that Seurat, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne and the others, didn’t reject entirely the Impressionist revolution in painting. They simply wanted to bring system and method to their predecessors’ treatment of colour and light, Seurat the foremost. 

Ultimately, however, the post-Impressionists failed in this goal, and modern art progressively rejected rationality and representation itself, during the course of the twentieth century. 

Seurat’s own quest to break down light into its constituent parts was achieved by engineers, not painters, with the invention of TV in the 1920s. 

But divisionism was the proper expression of the scientific approach to art. The inductive method separates and divides matter into its constituent parts. Seurat himself was only attempting more systematically the treatment of light and colour as pioneered by the Impressionists, whose works were intended to convey the psychological effect of a scene, instead of its literal features. 

La Chahut (The Uproar), Georges Seurat, 1890.

Near the end of the National Film Board documentary, there is a fantasy sequence in which Seurat is shown interacting with a young boy who, after transforming into an adult, is revealed to be Albert Einstein. 

An actor in voice-over recites (with a German accent) words apparently spoken by the relativity-theorist: “In reality all matter is nothing but condensed light.” Seurat is then quoted as saying, “perhaps pointillism was a way of painting atoms.” 

The scientific approach of the “notary” was confirmed by the amount of time he devoted to Sunday Afternoon and his other, later works, such as the Circus Parade (from 1887-88) or La Chahut (from 1889-90, translated into English as The Uproar, and depicting show-dancers and musicians onstage). 

Two of many sketches and studies for the Sunday Afternoon, Georges Seurat.

Whereas the Impressionists could complete a canvas in a few minutes or hours (though many Impressionist works took much longer to complete), Seurat worked intensively on Sunday Afternoon at the Isle du Grande Jatte for two years — not including the dozens of sketches and studies he took of the same scene and subjects beforehand. It is not only that placing minute strokes of paint on a canvas is in itself time-consuming. 

Seurat was attempting to get to the radicals of light, where the image has no resemblance to anything except itself. To break down any phenomenon (whether light or substance) to its digital essence, is to automatically slow down the perception of time, as it must be reconstituted in a step-by-step, serial fashion.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The New Age of Print

Last summer I was out for my evening stroll when I came across two teenage girls sitting on the grass adjoining the thoroughfare that goes through my neighbourhood. 

They were not speaking to, or even looking at, each other, though. 

Instead, they were both furiously typing away on their smart phones. 

“They’re probably texting one another,” I thought to myself in disdain. 

Sometime later, though, I had an epiphany about this. 

I couldn't hear you.

During the initial decades of the electronic era, many believed that literacy would become uncommon or unheard of, as people forgot about books and reading generally, and spend all their free time watching TV or listening to audile media. 

This was the retro-future famously presented in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, from 1953 and later made into the only English-language movie directed by Fran├žois Truffaut. 

Fahrenheit depicted a world where the population not only had become indifferent to reading; squads of “firemen” also descended on the remaining dissenters who refused the new world order, throwing their books into piles and setting them alight. 

The reality is quite different. 

In fact, text has become the preferred medium of communication in the era of the iPhone.  
The young people of my acquaintance use the texting feature on their phones, in preference to speaking with one another. More generally, in my observations of people – young or not – on their smart phones, I see that they typically use them to text, instead of to converse. 

In the contemporary era, text has partly now transcended its traditional home on the printed page. 

But this explosion to text-based communication was something very few saw coming. 

Granted, the experience of reading text onscreen is different than on a page. With phonetic and alphanumeric wordplay and emojis, texting and emailing is conveyed and construed almost in a verbal manner. 

Still, modern information technology has had the effect of promoting and popularizing the printed word all the more. 

As the graphic designer Michael Bierut said in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal: “Forty years ago, graphic arts were a form of black magic—only a handful of people even knew the names of typefaces.” 

I would disagree in so far as it was not as long as forty years ago that no one knew the names of typefaces and fonts: it was more so thirty, or even twenty years ago. 

But things are rather different now. Statistics Canada a few years put paid to the notion that the personal computer has heralded a “paperless” office. 

Instead, according to the agency, the consumption of paper has doubled in Canada since 1985, and surely these numbers hold for other industrial countries as well. And no wonder. 

The computer terminal was and remains (in spite of recent advances in screen resolution and size) too difficult to read from over long periods. 

This is no trouble, given that printers can now produce printed text in quantity in a fraction of the time it would have taken a pool of typists in an old-style office. 

Secretaries and typists, having professional keyboarding skills, were able to produce copy with a minimum of mistakes, thus cutting down on rewrites and wasted paper. 

The nature of manual typewriting itself militated against constant rewrites. To correct a single mistake would require the retyping of an entire page, wasteful of time and resources. 

Thus, very important documents were given to a professional, the secretary or typist, who would be sure to produce the text without error. 

Typewritten text that did not have to be very polished (such as journalists’ copy), was simply edited with a pen. 

Printer (wetware version).

Now, of course, the secretary has disappeared as an independent job category. Using the cut and paste function, as well as spelling and grammar modules, virtual text can be rewritten, reedited and reprinted in a matter of seconds, with the former copy simply discarded in the recycle bin. 

Formerly, the offices of managers and administrators would often be equipped with typewriters, but these devices were rarely used by their owners (for the typing of “sensitive” documents only). 

Now, of course, everyone has a personal computer, and bosses are forced to use them as much as anyone. 

This means that everyone gets a printed copy, and if a minor mistake is spotted on any page, it is thrown away (for “recycling”) and a new one printed in a matter of moments. 

Paper, along with ink, is one of the biggest expenses incurred by organizations, and almost every officer worker is familiar (if not expert) with methods and styles of typography, information known only to printers not many decades ago. 

So it is that people are not only reading more, they are actually involved in the mechanics of the printed word itself.        

Monday, October 19, 2015

Visiting Dealey Plaza

I was away on business in Dallas recently. 

The place where we were was not far away from Dealey Plaza. 

Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, man in white shirt
is standing approximately where JFK suffered fatal head wound.
Photo: RB Glennie

Having never visited the city or the site before, I went over during a break in proceedings.  
It is a picturesque although unremarkable place, really notable only because that is where John F. Kennedy was assassinated almost fifty-two years ago. 

In my youth, I was a believer in the conspiracy stories told about the JFK shooting – as befits anyone who is half-informed about the matter. 

Later on, I began to doubt these conspiracy-narratives (as I refer to them, so as to not devalue the good name of “theory” any further than it already is). 

Looking back, I think the turning point came for me when I saw a television appearance by David Belin, an assistant counsel to the President’s Commission looking into the assassination (chaired by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court of the time, it is usually referred to as the “Warren Commission”), around the twenty-fifth anniversary of the crime. 

It was, of all places, on the trash-TV program hosted by Geraldo Rivera. This very segment can be found right here.

Former site of Texas Schoolbook warehouse, now a Dallas county building.
Oswald shot Kennedy from last window on right, second from top storey.
Photo: RB Glennie

On the Rivera show, the case for conspiracy in the murder of John F. Kennedy was supported by all the other guests. The only dissenter was Belin. 

Yet, this one man blew away all the other pro-conspiracy guests and their “theories”. This included the notorious Dr. Cyril Wecht, a Pennsylvania coroner who carried out a “demonstration” of the “impossibility” of one bullet causing the injuries to both the president and Governor John Connolly, who was riding in the limousine in front of John Kennedy. 

This is the so-called “magic bullet”, which according to Dr. Wecht on the Geraldo show, had to “stop in the mid-air – twice” in order to have injured JFK and Governor Connolly in the way recorded by pathologists and medical staff (Connolly survived his injuries and went on to run for the U.S. presidency himself in 1980). 

But in fact, the president and governor were not situated in the limousine in the way depicted in the Geraldo program (as in most live or illustrated “demonstrations” of the event). 

John Connolly was sitting not “in the front seat” of the vehicle (as described by Rivera), but in another, removable seat that extended from the side of the limousine, and was thus several inches lower than the president. 

One of the surprises for me in visiting Dealey Plaza, a place I had seen many, many times in photos and on film, was that Elm street, the roadway on which the actual assassination took place, proceeds on a significant incline after Houston street, from which the presidential took a hard left in front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, from where the fatal shots were fired. 

This feature of Dealey Plaza is really not evident in images from the fatal day, nor afterward. But Governor Connolly must have been situated much lower President Kennedy in the vehicle as the shots were fired, which means the “single-bullet theory” is be the probable scenario for the wounds caused to both men. 

View of Elm Street looking toward railway bridge, now apparently used by commuter tram.
Photo: RB Glennie.

On the other hand, I don't expect anyone will be convinced one way or the other by my words, not least the people I came across in Dealey Plaza on my visit. 

That day, near the “grassy knoll” area where a second assassin allegedly shot the president from the front, there were a group of people whom I took to be a family on vacation. 

The father was expounding on all the “unbelievable” things that needed to have occurred for Schoolbook Depository Employee Lee Harvey Oswald to have acted alone in the killing of John F. Kennedy: that he “didn’t have enough time” to fire all the shots; that he made his way from the sixth-floor sniper’s nest to a lunchroom several floors below without anyone seeing him; that he left his workplace and made his way to the Texas theatre where he was apprehended by police, in twelve minutes “when it could not have been reached on foot in less than sixteen minutes”, and so on. 

Earlier, at the corner of Elm and Houston streets, almost directly below the window where Oswald shot Kennedy, I was approached by a rather slovenly looking man who said he was from Florida. 

He said that, he too was visiting Dealey Plaza for the first time. 

I didn’t tell him my beliefs about the assassination, but he clearly thought that were was a conspiracy in the murder, as well. 

“I’ve just been under that bridge”, the Floridian said, referring to the railway crossing marking the border of Dealey Plaza, where Elm street ends. 

“I saw a bullet hole there”, he went on. “I betcha it came from the second gunman,” speaking of yet another second gunman that was allegedly situated on the rail-bridge itself, or else within the underpass where the presidential limousine went on the way to Parkland hospital. 

He remained convinced of this, in spite of my objection that the assassination occurred more than half a century ago, and that there could have been dozens or hundreds of shootings in that place, in the meantime. “The bullet hole looks like it was fifty years old”, he retorted.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Most Effective Way to Control People

A few days ago, the region was witness to a horrible crime-spree, in which three women residing across the rural precincts of the western Ottawa Valley were shot to death by a man who had dated each of the victims in the past. 

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the suspect had just been released from prison for assaulting one of the women he just murdered. The expectation is that such a person would have no redeeming characteristics whatever. Yet, a news story in which his friends and acquaintances were interviewed, paints a more complex picture. 

Courtroom sketch of triple-murder accused.
Ottawa Citizen.

One man described how he was provided space for a small-engine repair business, virtually rent-free, in a building owned by the alleged murderer. A neighbour of the suspect said that just recently that he borrowed her car, and upon returning it, left a hundred-dollar bill on her dashboard, “for gas.” Others spoke of him as an amiable man who, after drinking alcohol, became belligerent. 

Yet, the brother of the accused — whose family is spread throughout the Valley — told a reporter between sobs and sighs that he hadn’t spoken with his sibling in seven years, and seem to reserve all his sadness for the victims and their families. 

I wonder, though, how much in contradiction was this extreme generosity, with the accused’s overarching need to control the women (and presumably others) with whom he was intimate. 

To give implies a very subtle kind of interpersonal control, especially when there is a large imbalance between the benefactor and the recipient of charity. This was evident in the triple-murder accused, when he gave over space to the individual who simply couldn’t afford to open a repair-business otherwise. 

Murder victims, from left: Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton.
CTV News.

Following his release from jail, the alleged killer was not able to be so munificent, as his residence had been a public-housing apartment-house run by the county of Renfrew. Yet, he still the left the hundred dollars in compensation for the fuel he had used with the car he had borrowed from his neighbour. 

I have no doubt that, when he was involved with the three women he killed (and anyone else, for that matter), the accused was the model of selflessness, perhaps alternating with a pose of helplessness. 

In either case, he was able to provoke a sympathetic instinct in his partners, until something set him off, in which case his urge to control switched from the benevolent to the belligerent. This is a pattern amongst abusive husbands — or abusive wives, for that matter. 

Usually, this doesn’t end in murder, but the homicidal behaviour manifest in the Ottawa Valley the other day, is the ultimate expression of this need to control, and it isn’t restricted to intimate relationships, either. 

A few years ago, I was acquainted with a gentleman who (just because I was listening to R.E.M. when I wrote this) I will refer to as “Kenneth.” Knowing him at first as an amiable family man, I soon enough learned that Kenneth had frequent outbursts of bullying rage toward his wife and children.  He wasn’t even particularly covert about this, either, as I witnessed more than once Kenneth’s ill-temper directed toward them. 

I thought at the time, though, that this came in wondrous contrast to the generous actions he was capable of. Not long after we met, for example, Kenneth came over with his family for a special occasion. I was surprised, though, when he arrived with two cases of beer, when I had earlier assured our guests that beverages were available on premises. 

Predictably, too, the evening concluded with the celebrants having none of the beer that Kenneth bought with him. When I moved to return the cases, he responded brusquely, “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

An another occasion, I was at brunch with Kenneth for a club with which we were both associated. There must have been at least two-dozen others in attendance, and to the astonishment of everyone, Kenneth declared that he would pick up the bill for the entire party. 

The head of the club, perhaps sensing the manipulative essence of the gesture, stoutly refused the offer and paid for her own meal (something which provoked bewilderment in Kenneth). 

Though this was scarcely evident from his appearance, Kenneth came from a privileged background. From incidental descriptions of his own family life, I came to some understanding as to why he possessed such inchoate anger. 

Perhaps the generosity I described in Kenneth, came from remorse as to his more aggressive behaviour at other times. But naturally, his marriage did not last, and one of his children, now almost grown, refuses to have anything to do with Kenneth on account of his treatment of his ex-wife. 

From what I have gathered since his separation and divorce, Kenneth is unwavering in his own self-righteousness: his rage is always someone else’s fault, and in consequence, he has not been in much contact with one of his offspring for several years. Kenneth wasn’t, so far as I know, physically abusive to his family, as was the suspect in the triple murder days ago. I think the most likely explanation for his munificent actions was, as I have proposed, as a disguised effort at controlling others, especially those with whom he was intimate. 

Tyrannous Rex.

A different example of this type behaviour comes from a rather more famous personage: Elvis Presley. The “king of rock’n’roll” was well-known for his generosity, giving away expensive automobiles and other luxuries to associates (known as the “Memphis mafia”, after Presley’s hometown). 

It became public knowledge not long after his death, however, that Elvis was subject to arbitrary and vindictive rages, resulting in the summary dismissal or humiliation for Memphis-mafia cronies and others in the Presley organization. While some of these (such as Robert “Red” West, who knew Elvis from high school) got fed up and quit, most stayed on until Presley’s death in August, 1977. 

In real way, though, the choices available to the Memphis mafia were quite delimited. Being part of the entourage of Elvis, they could live in the lap of luxury, and travel across the U.S. and around world, too — as well as receiving expensive gifts that they could not otherwise have afforded. From what I understand, being as part of the Memphis-mafia was hardly labour-intensive work. And really, what does working as a crony for Elvis Presley, or any other entertainer, qualify a person to do otherwise? 

They could stick with their boss, mercurial as he was, or face the prospect of employment in a job with far less pay, satisfaction and leisure than they would have remaining as part of the “mafia.” Or they may not have been able to find work at all: especially during the 1970s, an unskilled worker could expect to face lengthy periods of joblessness, that combined with significant year over year increases in the cost of staple goods, to say nothing of the luxuries. 

In a way, the situation of Presley’s entourage was not unlike that typical of the abused housewife of times past, who couldn’t leave the relationship because of a lack of resources and opportunity outside the marriage. In the case of Elvis Presley, a power imbalance was manifest whether he was firing one of his people for a perceived slight or insignificant mistake, or handing the operative the keys to a brand-new Cadillac. It brings forward, too, a hidden meaning to his title, The King. Absolute monarchs are known not only for their arbitrary rule, but also their noblesse oblige.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

When Normal Perception Leads to Deadly Tragedy

Two years ago yesterday, an Ottawa commuter bus collided with a passenger train at a level crossing in the western suburb of Barrhaven

Woodroffe Drive and Fallowfield Road, Ottawa, Sept. 13, 2013.
Terry Pedwell, Canadian Press.

The death-toll was perhaps mercifully low: only six fatalities, including the bus-driver.  The Ottawa Citizen reported recently, however, on the post-traumatic stress suffered by at least one victim.

This incident stuck in my head for a number of diverse reasons: not excluding the massive publicity it received, I was at the time exclusively a transit-user, not owning an automobile; also, a colleague of mine back then had years earlier been the boss of the driver of the crashed bus; seeing his photograph in the newspaper, I remembered that I had encountered at the workplace him as well. 

What jogged my memory was the bus-driver’s last name: “Woodard”, which I misspelled when searching for his name on the customer database, as the far more common “Woodward.” 

Not finding him under that name, the man advised me of the correct spelling, and there he was in the system. At least, this is how I recall it, but perhaps it didn’t happen that way at all. 

Also, September 18 is the anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix in 1970, and as chance would have it, on the day before the second year after the bus accident, I had business on the phone with a gentleman from Arizona who was also named “Woodard.” 

In a previous conversation with this American man, he told me that in his organization there is a colleague whose name is very similar to his, except that his surname is “Woodward.” 

As tragic as the accident was, my intent is not to write an elegy, but a meditation on some mysteries of its circumstance. 

Bus crash victims.  Driver Dave Woodard, bottom left.

For though the driver had a clean driving record, nevertheless Dave Woodard apparently ignored warning signs and flashes at the level-crossing that a train was approaching. 

Passengers saw the train coming, however, and shouted for him to stop, which the bus-driver did not do until just seconds before impact. All the deceased were from the bus, however. 

But how, if the passengers saw the train, did the driver fail to notice it? 

It had been Woodard’s wedding-anniversary the day prior, and there was speculation that the aftereffects of too much alcohol in celebration, contributed to an impairment of function. 

But a preliminary report revealed no drugs or alcohol were in his system. This same document pointed to a security-video monitor located above the windshield as a cause of driver-distraction. 

However, in the days after the accident, news reports emerged as to how transit-drivers on that bus route — including the operator involved in the accident — had been ignoring lights warning of an oncoming train at that crossing, and proceeding as normal. This included at least one such incident — following the accident itself

It does seem foolhardy, especially for a motorist responsible not only for his own life, but that of dozens of others as well. Yet, there was evidently a large gap in time between when the warning lights began, and a train passed by. 

For a bus-driver, though, waiting for the train to pass was the difference between remaining on schedule, and being late — with comparatively minor consequences in regard to upset passengers, unhappy superiors, and tardiness in leaving work, when compared to the risk of death and injury that would result from a bus being struck by an oncoming train. 

Tragic aftermath of inattention.
Image: CTV News.

Yet, from the behaviour typical of the drivers, this risk was comparatively small, even when (as in the one incident subsequent to the collision) the result could have resulted in numerous casualties. 

Far from any impairment caused by alcohol or lack of sleep, the bus driver’s perceptual faculties were behaving just as they should. It goes back to previous musings as to how the incredible or unthinkable — the Holocaust, World War II, the moonshot, the destruction of the World Trade towers — become banal after not so long a time. 

This is how the mind is able to adjust to radical shifts in circumstance: the extraordinary becomes, after not so long a time, the new normal, fading from the centre to the background of attention as the psyche contends with the quotidian substance or details of the environment. 

Sometimes this doesn’t happen, of course: shock and stress disorders result precisely from the inability of the mind to adapt to drastically changed circumstance. 

However, in most cases things and situations which are highly stimulating, whether affirmatively or not, are reduced to psychological noise: thus, funerary-workers are, after a time, no longer disgusted by the sight of dead bodies, just as strip-club bouncers quickly lose arousal at the sight of naked flesh. 

Relatedly, for most drivers, the sight of flashing lights at a level-crossing provokes a reflex to slow down and stop the vehicle. Apparently, for drivers on the Barrhaven route, red flashing lights no longer registered at a subliminal the onset of a deadly hazard — a train. For the bus operator and five others that fateful day, it was a tragic lesson in the psychology of perception.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The "Lamestream" "Mainsteam" "Corporate" "Media"

Out of curiosity, sometime ago I read Debunking 9/11 Debunking, by a theology professor from California, David Ray Griffin

This work is apparently a follow-up to Griffin’s first book on the subject, called the New Pearl Harbor. I’ve never read this title, as indeed heretofore I had never read any of books written by those in the “truth movement”, concerned with exposing "those really responsible" for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

I have, however, been heavily exposed to their thoughts online, in spite of the fact that I find the allegations of these individuals literally fabulous: that is, ludicrous and unworthy of examination on their face. 

Unlike the assassination of John F. Kennedy, there can be no mystery at all to the events of September 11, 2001. The questions that arose following the tragedy of November 22, 1963 were resolved long ago, such that anyone who today propounds the idea that Kennedy was assassinated by anyone other than Lee H. Oswald, is either ignorant of the facts, or a fabulist (which is to say, a liar). 

Without any kind of minute examination of the “evidence” offered by the 9/11 conspiracy fabulists, I think anyone is fully permitted to reject outright, for their continual violation of the reality principle. 

In the introductory remarks, for example, Griffin challenges the criticisms made toward the conspiracy narrative he propounded in the New Pearl Harbour, as well as at 9/11 fables generally. 

Accepting that any particular part of the story offered by the 9/11 narrators is possible (or at least, those among the more mainstream “theories” of this type) by no means precludes rejecting the whole succession of possibilities as implausible, even absurd. 

Thus, I will take it as veritable that the military has remote-controlled aircraft that could be steered into the Trade Centre buildings or the Pentagon; I will assume that it is correct the statement that the Twin Towers could have been wired with experimental explosives that leave little or no trace, and that this could have been the cause of the buildings’ “controlled demolition”; that military jets could have diverted the four planes for the remote-controlled aircraft to take over their flight-paths; I will even take it as given, that military intelligence has the technology to accurately simulate the sound of any particular human voice (as per allegations that the phone calls made to loved-ones from the Flight 93 hijacking that fell short of its target), though I’m sceptical that someone well acquainted with an individual, could not differentiate between their own voice, and that of a computer simulation. 

Close friends and loved ones converse idiosyncratically, even (or especially) over the phone. The recipient of any call from a computer simulation of a friend or family, I believe would spot a fake, or at least, that would know that “something was different”. 

But even if I believed it were possible to do this, and again that all the rest of what is alleged to have transpired on September 11 is theoretically possible at least, it is entirely appropriate to respond that it is logistically and practically impossible for any more than two or more of these operations to have occurred with the necessary precision and simultaneity. 

The proponents of the 9/11 conspiracy narratives, simply need something more than what they have, in order to be taken seriously, by me at least. Griffin, in the introductory pages, seeks to refute just this point — of the logistical impossibility of the scenarios envisioned — apparently by reference to the Manhattan Project, the code-name for the U.S. military operation which resulted in the creation of the first atomic bombs in 1945. Here, states Griffin, was a complex exercise which was, however, kept secret from the public. 

Inconveniently for Griffin, though, it was not a secret to everyone, especially the Soviet Union, which acquired the knowledge of nuclear fission from the Los Alamos project, to create their own atomic bomb. 

Referring to Popular Mechanics’ own debunking book, Griffin dismisses them as products of the “corporate media.” 

I must say, this statement gave me pause.

Just what does that mean? That somehow “corporations” are all in league with the “truth” of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and publish works critical of the “truth movement” in order to divert the public from knowing what really happened?

I don't think, however, that Griffin actually believes such an absurdity. But writers and critics on the political left (including Griffin) use the term “corporate media” in reference to any reporting which conflicts with their own ideology. It is the equivalent of the term “mainstream media” (or "lamestream media") used by people on the right, in reference to what conservatives see as a liberal or leftist bias in the major broadcast and broadsheet news services. 

However, the very formulation “corporate media” is even more stupid than “mainstream media”. 

I don’t think even centrist-liberals will deny that most news-media affirm what they themselves believe — to them, after all, this is not an ideology at all, but simply the truth (“reality has a liberal bias”, the saying goes). 

But conservative viewpoints are part of the “mainstream” discourse nevertheless — in Canada, there is the Sun newspaper chain, or the National Post, while the U.S. tabloids tend to be on the right (then, of course, there is the Fox news channel). 

Right-of-centre views are not over-represented in the news media, and are very under-represented in academia and in pop-culture. The latter, at least, results from the hostility that conservatives have shown toward Hollywood and popular music, pretty much since these things were invented. 

My view of this is that, if conservatives wish to make films or television shows that reflect their own, and not a “liberal” bias, they should get to work and get it done. Isn’t this what the “can-do” spirit of individualism is supposed to be about? 

It is in any case a substantial refutation of the “corporate media” line, that American popular-culture generally, and movies and television in particular, have an acknowledged left-liberal viewpoint. 

Perhaps uniquely in the West, the American entertainment industry receives the least in the way of government support. It subsists almost entirely on a free-market basis, and all major production companies are themselves owned by larger corporate entities. 

But again, in so far as American media-products have a predominant “message” (and most do not), it comes from the left and not the right. 

More so, though, the very postulate that the various news-media present some kind of unified “corporate” point of view, is itself absurd. Just what is the “corporate” agenda

Big-business lobbyists are interested in lower taxes, deregulation, and liberalized trade — this is precisely what their opponents “accuse” them of wanting. It is no secret, no “hidden” agenda: businesspeople big and small (and the latter always want to get big) are in favour of economic conditions which will permit them to buy and sell with greater ease. 

They have many sound, hoary, and learned arguments as to why these policies should be implemented. Whether some or even all of the ideas of “neo-liberalism” are mistaken or incorrect, has no bearing on their existence in the first place; their presence consequently diminishes the verity of the claim, from leftist critics, that big business has been able to convince the public of the superiority of classical economics, through “corporate propaganda”. 

In any event, left-wing opinion has been progressively less willing to engage directly the more free-market (though scarcely “laissez-faire”) policies implemented by all governments, regardless of party, in the Western world and elsewhere, since the late 1970s. 

Mainstream thinking on the left has moved toward a neo-socialism of “multicultural”, grievance-driven politics (as embodied in the term “political correctness”) that, whatever its frequent genuflections toward the old, economics-driven socialism, scarcely enters in any meaningful debate with neo-classical or other non-leftist economic policies. 

The very invocation of the term “corporate”, with its lack of substance or meaning, is proof as to how the left has abandoned economics in favour of culture, as its main political staging ground. 

It is silly, as I said, to conceive of all the corporations in the United States, or in the Western world generally — there must be millions of them — as having the exact same interests, and the exact same point of view of all things, or least views and interests of such close similarity as to form a coherent agenda, hidden or otherwise. 

Even excluding all corporations except the very largest (with revenues of say, more than a hundred-million U.S. dollars), there are still tens of thousands of incorporated entities, and of course, they don’t all have the same interests or agenda either. 

Many large corporations don’t have any truck with the basic agenda of free trade, deregulation and lower taxes. On the contrary, powerful business concerns in the U.S. and elsewhere, depend on government largesse if not for their existence outright, then for their status as large corporations altogether: defence-contractors, obviously, but also many other private concerns who do with the business with local and national governments, and who thus naturally form no interest in favour of dramatic — or any — decreases in the size of government. 

In fact, since their vested interest lies in the opposite condition, these state-subsidized business corporations are lobbyists for bigger government. Similarly, although the opponents of the “corporate agenda” assert that business firms are singularly obsessed with deregulation (thereby to make it easier to cheat, steal and kill their customers, apparently), the truth is more complex. 

Regulations are generally put in place as enabling laws: the actual legal rules of conduct are not contained within the statute, but are devised later in consultation with the major “stakeholders”, which of course includes the businesses that are to be regulated. 

In a process known as “regulatory capture”, large corporations create rules to make it difficult for new entrants to come into the market, thereby preserving, by mandate means, their own dominance. 

It is to the expense of smaller competitors, and of the general public, which must suffer higher prices due to lessened competition (on top of the inevitable costs to the consumer of the regulations themselves). 

It is an example of the “rent-seeking” derided by neo-classical economists, at least, but I have not seen this sort of corporate perfidy criticized very much in the literature of the opponents of neo-liberalism. They are in favour of greater regulation, naturally, and so don’t seem to recognize that business can and does benefit from it. 

It is the same with free trade. “Corporations” are generally in favour of lowering trade barriers. Yet, some very influential business firms are opposed to free trade, at least as far as their own products go. For many decades, the North American auto sector has been able to maintain tariffs against cars manufactured outside the U.S. or Canada. 

During the presidency of the supposedly “right-wing” George W. Bush, the domestic steel industry managed to have duties imposed on foreign-made steel (although the tariffs were lifted due to adverse World Trade Organization rulings and penalties, along with the threat of trade-war with the European Union). 

The WTO, successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, was at one time the bette noire of opponents of liberalized trade. According to protesters who blockaded the WTO meeting in Seattle, Washington, in 1999, the organization was some kind of putative world government, the public arm of an invisible corporate conspiracy to reduce the world to proletariat and peasants. 

These forces were thereby misnamed the “anti-globalization” movement. But as the WTO has shown itself to rule against dominant players in global-trade — such as the United States and its steel tariffs — its status as some kind of sinister cabal has diminished, at least among the “mainstream” of the anti-liberal left. 

The very terms “corporate media” and “corporate agenda” are held to be synonymous with “right-wing” (or even, on the extremes, with “fascist”). 

One would think, thus, that politically active big-business and financial types would be uniformly right-wing in their opinions. This is far from the case, however. The most obvious counter-example is George Soros who, despite his profession as multi-billionaire financier, is an admitted socialist who gives millions to left-wing causes. 

The founder of the Move On group, so prominent in the anti-Iraq war movement, was also a corporate billionaire, making his fortune on Internet stocks. As described by the urban-geographer Joel Kotkin, such “new-economy” moguls, as well as those in older media such as film and television production, form a “gentry liberal” class that, due to its control of key media of communication (not to mention the fortunes they donate to “liberal” causes), are influential far beyond their total numbers in the electorate, or even the political class only. 

It should be no surprise that business people living in the metropolitan coasts of the U.S., have socially liberal politics at least, given that this is the mainstream culture in these places. Some of them, it appears, and notwithstanding their own material interests, are simpatico with the economic interventionism promoted by the Democratic party. 

Yet even Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor from midland Nebraska, has come out as a Democratic-party supporter in recent years. Buffett has even pled with lawmakers to raise tax rates on the vast fortune his earns each year. 

Meanwhile, corporate types who do come out as Republicans, almost always belong to the more moderate wing of the party. This goes back at least to Nelson Rockefeller, grandson of the oil-magnate John D. Rockefeller, the richest man of his day. 

As New York governor during the 1960s, the younger Rockefeller was an outspoken proponent of black civil rights, signed into law bills ending discrimination against women and minorities, and became an early supporter of (as they say) a “women’s right to choose.” 

Nelson Rockefeller may well have been philosophically in favour of lower taxes and a less intrusive government. But he usually presided over a state legislature that was controlled by the Democratic party that had opposite intentions. Rockefeller himself was scarcely reluctant to promote big-spending projects, such as the multi-billion dollar World Trade Centre. 

The ultimate effect of the doomed Twin Towers, as well as the other buildings in the complex, was to undermine the rental market in lower Manhattan, by providing so many millions of square feet of excess rental space, most of which wasn’t leased until a couple of years before the towers were destroyed in 2001. 

Rockefeller ran several times for president, always as the moderate Republican losing to more right-wing candidates such as Barry Goldwater or Richard Nixon — both of them career politicians (which is to say, they earned their living on the government payroll, notwithstanding their own rhetoric against “creeping socialism”). 

It is reminiscent of the political career of a contemporary politician from New York City, Michael Bloomberg, who made his own fortune in Wall-street related financial services. Succeeding another Republican — the famed Rudolph Giuliani — as mayor of a solidly-Democrat city, Bloomberg (who handed power to an avowedly left-wing successor) was far less right-wing than his predecessor; which is to say, a billionaire who entered political life well into middle-age after a career as a businessman, was more moderate than a career civil servant (with Giuliani serving as a federal prosecutor prior to his own entry into politics).

Bloomberg ultimately left the Republican party, winning re-election to his second term as an Independent. However, the term “country-club Republican" was once used to describe party-members such as Bloomberg — and Rockefeller before him. It is the equivalent of “Red Tory” in the Canadian context, or “Wet Tory” in the U.K. 

The American term is somehow more evocative, however, of the socioeconomic standing of centrist-conservatives: generally, they are well-off individuals who built (or built on) fortunes of their own, before entering government as a “public service”. 

Far from being miserly spokespersons for the free market, such super-rich politicians seem motivated by the “noblesse-oblige” ideals to help the less well off. Hence the term, used in Canada and Britain, “Tory” — precisely the sort of do-gooder derided by the likes of the truly right-wing Margaret Thatcher, a grocer’s daughter who was also a career politician. 

Just over two decades ago, the schism that exists within modern conservatism between moderates who are more or less supportive of greater (though never complete) economic laissez-faire, and those who are social and cultural “extremists”, was played out in presidential politics. 

In the 1992 U.S. presidential election, Texas billionaire Ross Perot left the Republican party and ran as an Independent opposed to the candidacy of president George Bush the elder. The latter, also a career politician and civil servant, was scarcely very right-wing by conviction. He felt he had to position himself as such, in order to overcome challenges in the party primaries from Patrick Buchanan, another rightist Republican who spent most of his career as a government employee (a one-time aide to Nixon) and as a commentator and pundit. 

Perot, on the other hand, was apparently a social liberal — which is why he left behind the Republicans in the first place. Bush’s tactical conservatism was, for him, unfortunate, because it probably lost him a second term as president. 

Judging by political orientation typical of the American business class, it is impossible to uphold the notion that there is some monolithic “corporate agenda” which has been imposed on the American people, and the rest world, by them. 

The corollary proposition, that the for-profit media in the United States or elsewhere, are merely propaganda organs for this barely coherent “agenda”, fails even through a particular examination of the various media in question. 

Does the New York Times have a right-wing editorial and reporting policy? Does the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times or any of the other metropolitan broadsheets considered as the “newspapers of record” in the U.S.? 

It is simply insufficient to declare, as many do, that since these news-services are owned by corporations, they "must toe the corporate line”. 

But in fact, the Times, the Post, the Chicago Tribune and most of the rest, hew at least a socially liberal line, and most of them are economically “liberal”, too — that is, in favour of various forms of government intervention to fix the problems of society. 

Of all the major daily newspapers in the U.S., only the Wall Street Journal would qualify as right-wing — in its editorial line. Its reporting, on the other hand, is as typically “liberal” (in the American sense) as the New York Times or any other newspaper. 

Noam Chomsky, the Isaac Newton of the twentieth century.
© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Influential commentators such as the linguist Noam Chomsky, argue precisely that the Times, the Journal, the Post, and all the rest of the newsprint media, in addition to the broadcast and cable news-services, do indeed have a “corporatist” mandate, and are able thereby to “manufacture the consent” of the public and the political class for the allegedly militaristic, dog-eat-dog capitalism therein. 

Chomsky has published various books on this subject with “collaborators” — though I’m convinced that the linguist’s “authorship” ends with the lending of his considerable rhetorical talents to the turgid, Critical Theory prose of the likes of Edward Herman, with whom Chomsky is credited on Manufacturing Consent, probably the most famous and influential Chomskyan tract. 

I’ve always marvelled, though, as to how Chomsky is never more delighted to quote the New York Times, CBS News, Time magazine and the like, when they report something which seems to affirm his worldview. 

However, when they do not, they simply become “corporate media” again. This is a device that Chomsky uses to deflect criticism of his own errors, as well, such as his early defence of the Khmer Rouge from charges of mass-murder and genocide in Cambodia, his prediction that the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan would result in “genocide”, or his kissing the ring of the Hezbollah leader on a visit to Lebanon. 

All of these, Chomsky has said at various times, are the result of distortion by the corporate media. I notice he doesn’t ever specify the errors in his critics’ accusations. It is enough to change the subject, it would seem, to accuse his opponents in turn of being stooges of the “corporatist new world order.” 

The Fox News channel is said by its critics to embody the “right-wing corporate” agenda. The very term “Fox” is, for the left, a shorthand for “lies and propaganda”, with the audience for the service being brainwashed “sheeple.” 

Fox News is definitely slanted to the right. But whatever its critics might say, Fox is as legitimate a news service as the New York Times or any other news-medium. No one (excepting Chomsky and his followers) would now deny that the Times is slanted to the left in its reportage. 

This fact does not, in itself, delegitimize this or any other “liberal” American newspaper as sources of information, and it is the same with Fox News on the right. 

The many critics of Fox are always on as to the channel’s “lies” and “distortions”.  But as with Chomsky’s invocation of the “corporate media” line as a sort of Teflon against his own indiscretions, those who attack “Faux” news do so out of an inability to engage ideas different to or opposed to their own. 

Not only is Fox News, like all other news-media, compelled to observe standards of reportage so as to avoid civil liability. If the news service did indeed report “lies” on a regular bias, its competitors not only on cable (the Cable News Network and MS-NBC) but in the broadsheet and on network news, would gleefully expose them.  This doesn’t happen, of course, because Fox no more distorts the news on the right, than the other networks and other cables do on the left. 

The existence of the MS-NBC news channel is confounding to the “corporate media” ideology, on its own. It is the cable arm of the National Broadcasting company, launched in partnership with Microsoft (whose founder and former president, Bill Gates, is apparently another member of the “gentry liberal” class). 

NBC was once owned by General Electric, a huge vertically integrated conglomerate, with business interests in various sectors of the economy. 

It thus ought to be the sort of propaganda service that Fox News is purported to be. It is of course nothing of the kind. The “liberalism” of its on-screen personalities ranges from doctrinaire to ravingly fanatical. 

Evidently, the corporate titans at GE were unaware of what their own news channel is doing, or else they like it just the same. Surely they couldn’t not know, and if the low-rated MS-NBC did feature more impartial reporting and commentary, it might be the choice of more cable-watchers. 

Evidently, corporate executives at some level have decided to forego profitability in favour of publicizing views that they believe need airing. I’m certain that Ray Griffin, or Noam Chomsky, or any of the many peddlers of the “corporate media” line would argue, in turn, that MS-NBC and the other of the cable networks, and the rest of the for-profit media generally, “provide the illusion of debate”, which serves in turn to obscure the “real issues.” 

There has to be some explanation, after all, for the reality of comment and contention as found in the “corporate media.” In this, they round the corner into conspiracy "theory" or narration. The essence of the latter is the assertion that the narrators know the “real story” behind what is apparently the case — that a man shot the president from a nearby warehouse, or that skyscrapers collapsed after being struck head on by jet planes. 

No, say the conspiracy-narrators, these are merely theatrics disguising the “what really happened”. Similarly, the “corporate media” school would have it that, an ongoing-basis, the gatekeepers of the commercial news media permit commentary and debate to take place, all of which is in fact unreal, in order place a curtain across the real mechanisms of power. 

It is interested that, some years ago, Noam Chomsky denounced in no uncertain terms 9/11 conspiracy-fabulists. I thought at the time that this, at least, is to his credit. 

But I wonder now if Chomsky’s intemperance on this matter, didn’t have ulterior motives. Namely, it is to distance himself from commentators, like Griffin, whose won language of “corporate media” and “American imperialism” closely parallels his own. 

No doubt, many of Chomsky’s followers are 9/11 conspiracy-believers. I would suggest, however, that Chomsky’s denunciations of the conspiracy stories relating to the 9/11 attacks, has less to do with an empirically-based disbelief that they were in an “inside job.” It is rather that Chomsky and other proponents of the Frankfurt School-based theories of “corporate-media”, have always strenuously denied that what they propose involves high-level conspiracy at all.

No one involved in the corporate media complex, they maintain, need intend to deceive anyone; no one even need direct the whole thing. Somehow, they all respond to a “system” which makes everyone involved act accordingly. For his part, Professor Griffin asserts the same thing, that the conspiracy he narrates as to “what really happened” on September 11, 2001, wouldn’t have to involve “that many people.” But it is clear, in fact, that a conspiracy to perpetrate the mass murder of thousands, and the destruction of billions of dollars in property, not to mention a system that, in essence, reports false-news through the mass media on for decades on an ongoing basis, couldn't involved a massive conspiracy. 

Most conspiracy-fabulists have a more “realistic” view on this, which is why most of their narratives involve some kind of shadowy elite directing things from behind the scenes. Chomsky, and allied “corporate media” philosophers, have laboured so hard to keep their Critical Theory pristine of the threat of “conspiracy theory”, that for Chomsky at least, it must have been insufferable to see so many of his own followers mucking it up for him. 

The “corporate media” philosophy is, in itself, an ideological dodge. It arose in earnest during the 1960s with the Frankfurters Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and the rest of the Germans in America. Before them, the role of mass-media in creating false-consciousness was more rhetorical than philosophical. It was the Critical Theorists who gave the “propaganda model” of the news media systematic heft — indeed, they made it into one of the pillars of neo-socialist thought. 

I don’t see that Noam Chomsky has contributed very much that is new to the Frankfurt School “corporate media” philosophy. His role has been, for decades, to act as the preeminent populariser of the Frankfurt theories, being a highly skilled propagandist himself, in writing and in print. 

Certainly, none of the Frankfurters’ abstruse and Teutonic writings can compare to with the communicative power of Chomsky. His smooth and practised delivery has meant that the ideas, if not the names, of Theodore Adorno or Herbert Marcuse are known other than to the cohort of American university students who attended school in the mid- to late-1960s. 

His level of fame — Chomsky is perhaps the single most well-known U.S. academic — belays his own “propaganda model” of the news media. He is not famous, after all, for his linguistic theories, as important as these are. Chomsky’s status is due entirely to his political agitprop. 

But what “corporate media” would constantly let a critic like himself speak to the public (unless, of course, Chomsky is willing to declare himself one of the stooges who provides the “illusion of debate” for the masses...). 

The Frankfurters’ and Chomsky’s “corporate media” theories are, in the end, no good-faith analyses of the nature of the news media. Like so much of latter-day socialist thought, it arises from the reality of the failure of “really real” socialism in the twentieth century. It was not only that command-socialist countries could not provide much beyond the basics of life for most of the population, regardless of their level of industrialization. 

It was that, in every respect, these places were less free and just than were the countries where capitalism prevailed. The Critical Theorists’ response was to declare the liberal democracies not really free after all. Everything was in fact controlled by the “corporatist” elite. 

In essence, it is “You say the media in Soviet Russia/Maoist China/Castro’s Cuba/is controlled by the state, and opposing viewpoints are heavily censored. That’s as may be. We respond, in turn, that the media in Western countries is controlled by corporations, and opposing viewpoints are not permitted to be heard.” 

And since, to left-wing critics of capitalism, corporations are inherently evil, this form of “censorship” is far worse than what occurs in command-socialist states. What’s more, since what we know about these other regimes comes from the corporate media, how can anyone know the truth about really happens over there? 

Surely no corporate entity will tell the full story of the reality of socialism within [insert appropriate “people’s republic”]. Chomsky or any other like-minded theorist would never state such a thing so boldly or crudely, but that is what this “corporate media” ideology is all about. 

It shares another important thing in common with the conspiracy genre. With the latter, anyone who questions a conspiracy “theory”, wholly or in part, is said to be either a dupe to the conspiracy, or part of it her- or himself. 

Similarly, challenges to the “propaganda model” of commercial mass media, are usually met with ad hominem characterizations of the questioner as either brainwashed, or part of the — no, not a conspiracy per se — but the media-complex just the same. It is an excellent prophylactic, for certain, to immunize the conspiracy narrative/corporate-media theorizing from criticism.