Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish

I’m currently reading and enjoying Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Taken from Wikipedia is the summary/main information:

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison is a book written by the philosopher Michel Foucault. Originally published in 1975 in France under the title Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la Prison, it was translated into English in 1977. It is an examination of the social and theoretical mechanisms behind the massive changes that occurred in western penal systems during the modern age. It focuses on historical documents from France, but the issues it examines are relevant to every modern western society. It is considered a seminal work, and has influenced many theorists and artists.

Foucault challenges the commonly accepted idea that the prison became the consistent form of punishment due to humanitarian concerns of reformists, although he does not deny those. He does so by meticulously tracing out the shifts in culture that led to the prison’s dominance, focusing on the body and questions of power. Prison is a form used by the “disciplines”, a new technological power, which can also be found, according to Foucault, in schoolshospitals, military barracks, etc. The main ideas of Discipline and Punishcan be grouped according to its four parts: torture, punishment, discipline and prison.

Read the full Wikipedia article.

Another take on journalism

This time from Matthew Yglesias who writes that:

People should also recall that a catastrophic collapse of the newspaper industry would hardly be without precedent. The real heyday of American newspapering came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the United States features a literate population and no broadcast media. The rise of radio and television had a devastating impact on the industry and caused massive shrinkage in the volume of papers. This shrinkage then led to what journalists consider the heyday of Americanjournalism when the industry had fallen so far that most papers faced little-to-no competition and could serve as authoritative “objective” sources of information. We’re now once again amidst and era in which technological change is going to kill off a lot of existing business models. But all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.

While the simple fact that a decline has precedent doesn’t mean that we should disregard the current decline in print journalism it is nonetheless important when we read doom and gloom articles about the current state of the newspaper industry. The idea that Yglesias brings up in his post (i.e. that money ought to be invested in non-profit media institutions) is a good one, and hopefully one that philanthropists like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates will listen to.

Ultimately I see the eventual decline of print journalism as inevitable. Over the past decades society as a whole has simply moved toward more image-based and more fragmented modes of consuming information. This can be seen with the rapid growth of the television and then the internet. Both of these mediums encourage people to digest news in short blurbs and bursts and do not require the time that reading newspaper articles does. Overall, I think that a vast percentage of society has been conditioned to not have the attention span needed for reading through the New York Times or the Atlantic Monthly. It’s too bad, but I fear it’s true.

Read the original article.

A critique of Morrison

Finally, another human on this planet that does not think that Toni Morrison is the greatest writer alive. B.R. Myers writes of Morrison’s new novel A Mercy that:

How shallow and vague that is; how glibly it breezes through the life of the mind. A Mercy is eked out with a few set pieces, but even they rush us through; the book never seems to settle into narrative “real time.”

For all its cheerlessness, the novel is anything but grittily realistic. Some scenes, such as one in which a character gets out of her bath “aslide with wintergreen,” evince an effort to make even these miserable lives picturesque. But Morrison’s failure to evoke the period is more the fault of her all-too-contemporary prose style: “1682 and Virginia was still a mess.” No one likes an archaizer, apart from a million Cormac McCarthy fans, but a novelist writing of the 17th century should at least avoid language that is jarringly inconsistent or out of place. Reminiscing, the slaves vacillate between would-be-poetic English and an equally improbable sort of Hollywood Injun: “Shadows of men sat on barrels, then stood. They said they were told to break we in.” Anachronisms abound, from New Age lingo like “She gives off a bad feeling” to the dialect of the postbellum South: “her borning young.” We are even told that our Anglo-Dutch trader had “gone head to head with rich gentry.” What, and not drunk their milk shake?

For the one required class on campus Freshman year we were required to read Beloved which I found to be a self-indulgent and arrogant piece of literary crap. I have never been able to understand why Toni Morrison gets the praise that she does for her novels while other American writers simply get overshadowed.

Link to the original article.

Another article on the decline of journalism

Just when I thought I had read everything up on The Atlantic’s website right now I came across a wonderful piece by James Warren concerning the frighteningly increasing decline of newspapers and traditional print journalism. In it he writes that:

This matters because of the unique role journalism plays in a democracy. So much public information and official government knowledge depends on a private business model that is now failing. Journalism acknowledges and illuminates complexity, and at the same time prioritizes, helping us to evaluate the relative significance of developments playing out all around us. A very shrewd journalist-entrepreneur I know, Steve Brill, asks that one just imagine walking into a library and seeing the pages of all the books scattered on the floors and stairwells. To be sure, editors are human and subjectivity plays a role, but a newspaper places those pages—and thus the news—in some sensible order.

And, importantly, there’s a sense of social mission. Good journalism keeps public and private officials honest and helps citizens make thoughtful decisions. It does this by systematically gathering, processing, and checking relevant information, and by doing it with a spirit of independence. It’s how two previously unknown Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, put together the Watergate puzzle that forced the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon.

While I do think that much of the problems that are currently inherent to print journalism have been self-created by the industry I nonetheless find it sad every time that I read about a newspaper laying off hundreds of workers. Like Warren says in his article the reality is that many of the most trafficked sites on the internet rely heavily upon newspapers for their content and reporting; were it not for newspapers I believe that some of the sites he lists (Huffington, etc.) would not have anywhere near the content they need for survival. As an addict of news and reading in general I find it personally sad that I would lose sources like the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post.

The next few years will certainly be interesting ones (and hopefully not too depressing of ones) for print journalism and I just really hope that at least some of the large print institutions survive and provide a model for others to follow in the rebuilding of newspapers.

Link to the full Atlantic article.

Removing the filibuster

In an article the The Atlantic Matthew Yglesias writes that:

Democrats no doubt see that more clearly today. Since 2006, when they won majorities in both the House and the Senate, their approval ratings have plummeted, in large part because moderates and liberals have noticed their inability to get much of anything done. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to blame “the obstructionism of the Republicans,” but realistically, one can hardly blame Senate Republicans for obstructing legislation they oppose. The fault lies not with the obstructionists, but with the procedural rule that facilitates obstruction. In short, with the filibuster—a dubious tradition that encourages senators to act as spoilers rather than legislators, and that has locked the political system into semipermanent paralysis by ensuring that important decisions are endlessly deferred. It should be done away with.

In short, I agree with him here. Congressional leaders accomplish far too little during their years in office and I think that removing any incentive for them to delay legislation and become even more unproductive ought to be removed. In addition, we as a populous need to be more demanding of our congressmen (and women) and hold them accountable for not accomplishing anything.

Read the original Yglesias article (which is very good, and short for an Atlantic piece) here.

Coffee and lowered risk for dementia

From a New York Times article today:

A team of Swedish and Danish researchers tracked coffee consumption in a group of 1,409 middle-age men and women for an average of 21 years. During that time, 61 participants developed dementia, 48 with Alzheimer’s disease.

After controlling for numerous socioeconomic and health factors, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, the scientists found that the subjects who had reported drinking three to five cups of coffee daily were 65 percent less likely to have developed dementia, compared with those who drank two cups or less. People who drank more than five cups a day also were at reduced risk of dementia, the researchers said, but there were not enough people in this group to draw statistically significant conclusions.

The article goes on to observe that there may also be a correlation between coffee consumption and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. All I know is that if this is true then my consumption of a pound and a half of coffee a week is all worth it.

Original article link via New York Times.

Foucault and Punishment

In “Discipline and Punish” he writes:

It was as if the punishment was thought to equal, if not exceed, in savagery the crime itself, to accustom the spectators to a ferocity from which one wished to divert them, to show them the frequency of crime, to make the executioner resemble a criminal, judges murderers, to reverse roles at the last moment, to make the tortured criminal an object of pity or admiration.

Just found that interesting in light of all of these discussion concerning the closing of Guantanamo Bay and the United States’ role in extradition and torture.

More from A Thousand Plateaus

Another interesting quote I found while reading the first chapter of Deleuz and Guattari’s “A Thousand Plateaus”:

Even when linguistics claims to confine itself to what is explicit an to make no presuppositions about language, it is still in the sphere of a discourse implying particular modes of assemblage and types of social power. (page 7)

I simply found this interesting because I found it to be quite relevant to my feelings toward the teaching and learning of languages like Ancient Greek or Latin. I’ve always been troubled by the way that we do not fully comprehend the structure or construction of these languages, but yet we still make assumptions about language usage and meaning. I believe that we do this by breaking the languages down into a single realm of meaning that may or may not have been applicable or relevant for the general populous of the time.