From the Editor

John Turner

Every weekend I click onto Book TV to check out what's available. Sometimes there's not much that interests me. But this past Saturday and Sunday had unusually rich offerings.

On Saturday Eric Klinenberg was interviewed about his book Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media.  The subject of media consolidation is complex and consequently not the sort of thing the networks generally cover. But lately it has received quite a bit of interest, particularly since Michael Powell was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and tried to push through a deregulation bill that would have allowed huge organizations to gobble up hundreds of radio stations and TV channels. Powell was successful with the Commission, but after a major revolt by the public, a Philadelphia Court set aside the new regulations. They are now, again, being pushed by Powell's successor Kevin Martin. The amount of money being spent by media conglomerates for lobbyists is astounding. For Congress to resist their blandishments, and subtle threats, will take continued public pressure. For those who want to take part in the effort, Klinenberg's book is a good place to start.

The three hour extravaganza done during the first Sunday of each month, starting at noon, was devoted this time to Dinesh D'Souza, the right wing publicist. Mr. D'Souza is a more thoughtful propagandist than I had previously assumed from reading some of his short articles. He even makes some fairly good points about the weakness and distortions of those who see themselves as leftists. But he is a good example of a condition I've noticed often. He has been, since his college days, so mesmerized and enraged by the obnoxious manners of arrogant liberals, he almost automatically resists anything they support. And, thus, they control him. I understand his sentiments. Years ago I left the South and came to teach at a progressive New England College. And, of course, I encountered atrocious behavior and rampant prejudice. I had never seen such bad manners. But gradually I came to see that the bigotry of liberals was merely silly, whereas the bigotry of right-wingers is lethal. I dislike silliness as much as anyone, but I don't think I should let my irritation toward it lead me to become murderous. I wish that were a lesson Mr. D'Souza could learn because he does seem to have, otherwise, a pretty good mind.

The high point of my Book TV watching came from a recent lecture in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Walter Benn Michaels, author of The Trouble With Diversity.  Mr. Michaels, currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, argues not that there's anything inherently wrong with promoting diversity but that liberal concentration on the effort has diverted attention from the real source of inequity in the nation which is income inequality. I found his position persuasive but hearing what he had to say didn't impress me as much as how he said it. Mr. Michaels is extremely bright and watching an intelligent mind confronting critical questions is one of the most delightful spectacles I can imagine.

A debate at the Los Angeles Library between Sam Harris and Reza Aslan on the question of whether reason and religion can be reconciled was also diverting. Neither Harris nor Aslan struck me as having the verbal power of Mr. Michaels, but both are considerably brighter than most people one hears talking on TV (perhaps not a very high standard). At this meeting Mr. Aslan, a Muslim, was sticking up for religion where as Harris, right now America's most famous atheist, had nothing good to say about it. Sometimes they talked past one another. But both made valid points. The main good I got from listening to them was a reminder of how hard it is to sort out intelligent perspectives on complicated issues.

On a less exalted note, I also learned something else from my weekend TV watching. In Criminal Minds, the investigatory team refers incessantly to "un sub" or "un subs." I picked up from the context that they are talking about the criminals they're chasing, but I had no idea what the term actually meant. On the episode on Sunday night, neither did one of the characters, a local police officer. And he was brave enough to ask. And thus I learned that an "un sub" is an unknown subject. I hate jargon.

I also watched the Super Bowl. It was a passable game, but not scintillating. I guess I'm glad the Colts won. They were the better team last night, but I wouldn't have been sad if the Bears had somehow pulled it out. Earlier, Bob Schieffer remarked that the great thing about the Super Bowl is that it doesn't matter what happens. That may have been one of the more intelligent things I heard from my happy little TV set over those two days.



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Harvard Square Commentary, February 5, 2007