Wednesday, December 28, 2011


As a former player in the MSM arena, I continue to be flabbergasted by the propensity of today’s strapped publishers to waste vast quantities of ink, airtime and man-hours shooting at paper tigers when such resources could, Lord knows, be put to far more productive use.

Case in point: The New Yorker’s Katie-bar-the-door takedown of Newt Gingrich in the lead column of its most recent issue. It’s as though a recklessly extravagant one-percenter had so much ready cash burning a hole in his pocket, he had to exhaust it all in one fell swoop or burst.

You’d think that an editor as savvy as Hendrik Hertzberg, or an avatar as seasoned to the fickleness of shifting political winds as Eustace Tilley, would recognize that Gingrich has about as much chance of being elected president as Kim Kardashian has of scoring the Pope to officiate at her next wedding.

Neither is it likely that anyone who reads The New Yorker would ever vote for, or needs to be convinced not to vote for Mrs. Gingrich’s precocious boy, a contender as much a victim of his own hubris as of Mitt’s Super-PAC.

So, why the overkill? It’s almost as though they know the guy is about to go into eclipse, and they want to fire off all the juicy negatives they’ve been saving up before they become worthless currency in the ongoing press wars.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

SOPA Opera

What with the 3-ring circus surrounding the GOP presidential-nomination sweepstakes dominating the news media this past week, there was comparatively little ink or airtime left to deal with SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, a colorful tag for the long-simmering clash of media giants for hegemony over what you and I may be permitted to watch, upload, download, copy, reference, forward, like, send, or steal, from the internet.  

Politico has a good score-sheet article as to who the players – and what the issues – are, but it boils down to the usual suspects: the networks, the MPAA, BMI, Sony, etc., vs. Google, ebay, Yahoo, Facebook, et al, over gatekeeping; in this case the right to close down “rogue” sites for real or alleged copyright violation.
The stakes are huge, as indicated by the millions in lobbying money that the contenders’ lobbyists are lavishing on Congress.

Of course, as we all know from recent history, today’s rogue site is tomorrow’s ISP and next week’s IPO, and once we start closing down the rogues (another colorful tag), is it just a matter of time and whim before they come for the rest of us? There’s already plenty of copyright-protection law on the books and further restrictions in the free flow of information are not what I believe the Constitution had in mind when, in Art. I, Sec. 8, it promised protection from exploitation to “Authors and inventors.”

Hence, this corner opts for the opponents of the bill as being the white (if not totally unsullied) hats in this particular shootout and takes the position that in this case, freedom to publish trumps the right to censor.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And You Thought You’d Heard it All

Boehner calls on Obama to help Congress avoid automatic cuts
By Russell Berman

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday called on President Obama to intercede in the growing push to change the automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs triggered by the congressional supercommittee’s failure to strike a deficit reduction deal.

The $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts will take effect in 2013, and Republican leaders, along with some Democrats, have said they want to change them to protect the military. Obama has threatened to veto any effort to undo the trigger, known as sequestration, although the White House is still pushing for a broad deficit pact.

“I really believe that the president of the United States has a responsibility here as well,” Boehner told reporters. “He’s the commander in chief, he knows what those cuts will mean to the military and so I frankly believe the Congress still must work with the president to find a solution to our long-term debt.”

                                        The Hill, 12/1/11

                                 * * *

Wherein Boehner brings a whole new meaning to the term “ironic” (to say nothing of elevating “cynical” and “chutzpah” to new heights of ignominy).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fall Follies Redux

Back at the beginning of August, shortly after the Supercommittee was announced, I posted an item entitled “Fall Follies”, which started off by asking, “Is there anyone out there who actually believes that this bunch will produce anything of benefit to the electorate, or that they will not replicate the farcical dance attending the recent debt ceiling negotiations… ?”.
Now, this prediction took no magical powers of divination to come up with, the committee’s assured failure having been effectively forecast by Republican member Jon Kyl when he asserted that if the committee got into any discussion involving cuts to the defense budget, he was picking up his marbles and going home. Kyl is top deputy to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell whose dedication to doing whatever is necessary to insure that Obama is a one-term president is a matter of record, even if, presumably, the GOP has to bring down the country in its efforts to discredit the Administration.
And sure enough, Speaker John Boehner couldn’t get to his PC fast enough following the collapse of talks to fire off a press release blaming the President for the committee’s failure, conveniently forgetting about Constitutional provisions concerning the separation of powers. In fact, having stayed clear of this ideological sinkhole is probably the smartest thing Mr.Obama has done since his inauguration.
No matter what flows out of Republican propaganda mills over the next few days, the bottom line is that it came down to the question of raising (or, not lowering) taxes. Had the GOP given even an inch on this issue they would have won substantial concessions on social program cuts from the Democrats. But, how was that possibly going to happen when every single one of the Republican members had drunk from Grover Norquist’s cup and signed his no-new-taxes pledge? So, not only was what was left of their reputations at stake, but their honor as well; a toxic political compound guaranteed to produce only stalemate. QED.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cahiers du Cinema

I'm surfing through the program listings grid on Xfinity (neƩ Comcast) when I run across a 1956 movie called "Bigger Than Life" about a guy (played by James Mason) who is transformed into a monster by an experimental drug. I figure It's gotta be a campy fifties horror movie, so -- with no Republican Presidential Debates or reruns of Tiny Tim on the Tonight Show available for comic relief -- I opt for the movie.
Well, it turns out that Mason isn't transformed into some sort of malevolent leviathan after all, but into – are you ready? – a Conservative!
As his horrified, but devoted, wife and his equally horrified, but feisty, kid look on, the mild-mannered schoolteacher turns into an Ayn Rand ubermensch on steroids, an authoritarian nut job demanding complete subservience to his whims while going around raving about individual responsibility, obedience, tradition and family (not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just his attitude).
Things begin to get really nasty when he hallucinates that he is Abraham and his son is Isaac. The O.T.-hip among us realize immediately where this is going and emit a collective uh-oh.
As Pop staggers around with a pair of lethal-looking scissors in hand, Mom tries to mollify him (just before he locks her in the hall closet) by arguing that "God saved Isaac", but the drug-addled fiend declaims stentoriously: GOD WAS WRONG!, a line that only James Mason, Satan (or possibly Raymond Massey) could possibly have gotten away with.
Regrettably, the movie then turns from upscale melodrama into mawkish predictability as director Nick Ray tries to wring an unconvincing happy ending out of the proceedings, but Mason fans will not be unrewarded by tuning in.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quondam et Futurus

In last Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat portrayed Mitt Romney as the “inevitable nominee”. Though lacking any startling insights, the column was nevertheless a workmanlike treatise by a seasoned political observer positing Romney as virtually Brobdingnagian when compared to the field of wannabe and has-been Lilliputians in opposition.

Douthat has gone out on a limb with his prediction, but absent the arrival of a well-funded national figure as a dark horse in the race (if such a creature exists), I’d have to agree with him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reaganomics Redux

We read (in "The Hill") that the GOP members of the House Ways & Means committee are working on a plan whereby American corporations would not be taxed on the profits they make overseas. Leave it to the Republicans to come up with a massive tax cut as a kick start for the economy; haven't they heard that Reagan's "voodoo economics" [Bush 41's locution, not mine] create, in the long run, not prosperity but ruinous debt? Hello!?

In the heady days of the legislative takeover by the Republicans in 2004, Congress gave the corporations just such a holiday from their overseas earnings, anticipating that the savings would be invested in jobs and plants. Instead, the money somehow morphed into dividends, flowing directly into the pockets of the shareholders (quelle surprise!). To be sure, many of the recipients did indeed pay a personal income tax on their earnings, so there was some offsetting benefit, but the net loss to the Treasury amounted to $3.3B, hardly the economic liftoff we were promised.

Lord knows, the tax code needs an overhaul (even to include some relief for corporations) but this ain't the place to start, not in this economy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dangerous Class Warfare?

The Occupy Wall Street crowd may lack focus or consensus, and have its share of eccentrics in its motley ranks (as does all such street theater), but surely it doesn't represent the "dangerous class warfare" that Mitt Romney makes it out to be.

One would think that a politico as savvy as Mr. Romney would know that "predator" and "victim" are not social-class denominators, but economic ones, and that those are the two forces we currently see arrayed against each other on "Wall Street".

Americans have always easily tolerated the fact that one's neighbor may be richer than oneself. That's life. Material gain is a readily accepted driver of republican society – morally, politically, and economically – as long as it is achieved honestly. But when financial institutions are egregiously manipulated for the personal financial gain of (far too many) predatory individuals within, to the detriment of the institution, the economy, and society, that's when the victims start howling and – if ticked off enough -- even take to the streets to do a Howard Beale: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore".

Occupy Wall Street may just fade away or may actually become a popular movement if it can get its act together, but, meanwhile, let our politicians refrain from tossing off – in a fever of electioneering – inflammatory sound bites that divide us even further.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Opportunities Available to the Very Rich That You & I Don’t Even Know About

So there's David Letterman interviewing the actor, activist, and now AARP eligible, George Clooney, last night, when the questioning gets around (no doubt pre-conditionally) to Clooney's genuinely admirable charitable activities in the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. Clooney replies [and I paraphrase] that, at the moment, he is primarily involved in leasing a satellite to monitor potentially intrusive military activity along the fragile Republic's border by the unfriendly regime to its north.

BING! goes my old newsman's ¿que tal? alert, as I await what has to be Letterman's next question: "do you mean to tell us that private citizens can actually rent spy satellites?" Well, the question didn't get asked (maybe Dave already knew the answer) so your intrepid correspondent was all over the web this morning seeking the answer which, in fact, turns out to be: yes, we can.

Thanks to Congress's passage of the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992, private companies such as DigitalGlobe in Longmont, Colorado can indeed operate such satellites under license from the Department of Commerce and lease them to whomever, including Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), an outgrowth of the advocacy group, Not on Our Watch, founded by Clooney and his fellow global activists, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt.

One of DigitalGlobe's biggest customers is, as I should have realized, Google, with its virtually galactic reach; but I'd always thought Google simply bought last year's non-real-time, non-sensitive, imagery from the DoD since the pictures on Google Earth don't actually have to move (although, I guess, neither do SSP's).

Which puts me in mind -- however irrelevantly -- of Galileo's supposed sotto voce comment, when he abjured the heresy of Heliocentrism before his inquisitors: "eppur si muove" (but still, it moves).

Anyway, if you have lotsa bucks, and want to surreptitiously observe what's going on behind your neighbor's fence, you now know where to turn.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tell Me a Story

This is a rave for PBS's "Prohibition".

I've borrowed the title of Don Hewitt's autobiography as the headline for this post, because Don always used the expression to explain the concept behind the singular success of his "60 Minutes", the longest running primetime series in TV network history. Of course, all documentaries have a story to tell and/or a message to convey, but too often the latter aim overwhelms the former, leaving us with a worthy, but not overly engaging, viewing experience; especially one that demands our close attention for a cumulative five and a half hours.

Producers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have managed to deliver both story and message as adroitly as any documentary I have ever seen, and I say this as an alumnus of the so-called "Tiffany network" era at CBS News. "Prohibition" is not – nor does it aspire to be – of as cosmically important subject matter as some classics of the documentary genre, but it more than admirably fulfils its promise and, not so incidentally, is more fun than a barrel of schnapps.

Watch it; you'll enjoy it, while painlessly learning a lot about 20th century American history, the Constitution, the astonishing power of popular movements, and how to become a home brewer without attracting undue attention from the ATF.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reality Check

As an alumnus of CBS News, I still enjoy a frisson of familial pride when CBS aces a story, or otherwise covers itself with journalistic glory. Such was not the case last week, however, when CBS began airing a promo claiming to have "invented original reporting on television," a claim so overweeningly bogus that the frisson it produced was one of squirming embarrassment.

Prominently featured in the promo were clips from "60 Minutes" and the "CBS Evening News", the accomplishments of whose producers and anchors over the years are legendary. Don Hewitt, Walter Cronkite, the Murrow team, and their ilk must have turned over in their graves at such a display of unwarranted hubris.

For an evenhanded take on the question read David Shedden of Poynter here, and, if you want to join me in a group cringe, see the offending promo here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fall Follies

We note that Congressional leaders have announced their appointments for the deficit-reduction "supercommittee." Is there anyone out there who actually believes that this bunch will produce anything of benefit to the electorate, or that they will not replicate the farcical dance attending the recent debt ceiling negotiations, winding up by delivering some further recovery-killing plan at the last moment in order to avoid even more toxic statutory cuts?

Punditville has until Thanksgiving to dine out on this story.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bastille Day

David McCullough, writing in the New York Times, reminds us of the reasons why Americans should be toasting the French on July 14. No indiscriminate francophile I, but we (and especially the "freedom fries" crowd) need periodic reminding that if it hadn't been for the French army, navy, and bankroll at the battle of Yorktown, we'd still be singing "God Save the Queen".

Friday, April 15, 2011

Yesterday's Daily Beast listed the 20 most dangerous jobs in America. Close scrutiny failed to turn up blogging among them, and yet, and yet…

On April Fool's Day, I was blithely processing a post when I decided to get a Coke™ from the fridge. As I rose from my desk, one of the computer cables dangling thereunder snared my ankle, and I pitched forward onto my hip, fracturing my femur as I hit the floor. The floor was unfazed.

Yesterday, I returned home after two weeks of surgical repair and physical therapy.

I suspect that the rats' nest of wires under my desk resembles that of many of my colleagues, so please take this posting as a cautionary tale and CLEAN IT UP before you have to bring someone in to do it for you while you watch from your wheelchair.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Liz and Me

Allow me to try your patience by adding a few more words to the millions already penned and processed on the death of Elizabeth Taylor.

First off, I would refer you to an article in the New York Times by the indefatigable Dick Cavett. As a brief personal take on the Lizanddick
era, it's worth a read.

Then there's the story-captured-in-a-caption in The Onion, an item that has challenged press critics as to its editorial appropriateness, even conceding The Onion's self-appointed role as edgy iconoclast.

And, finally, there's the story of Liz and me.

One of the great untold sagas of unrequited love in the last century was my own obsession with Liz. It got underway in wartime, the background of so many equally doomed romances. In 1944—when I was 14 and she 12—I emerged from the dark confines of our local movie palace having watched National Velvet, the stars in my eyes undimmed by the post-matinee sunlight, entranced by my first passionate crush.

Fast forward six years to the Hurricane Club, an upscale eating spot built on pilings in the shallows of Biscayne Bay between Miami and Key Biscayne well before the advent of the bay-spanning Rickenbacker Causeway. You could only get there by boat, and my ride that day was a 19-foot sailboat, helmed by my college roommate, Jack O'Leary. As we pulled up to the club's dock to tie up—a frosty Bud in mind—I glanced up, and there, leaning over the deck rail watching us, was the goddess herself. To say that I was stuck dumb at the vision is to stretch rhetorical understatement to the limit. She was accompanied by her then-boyfriend Glen Davis, the Heisman-winning "Mr. Inside" of West Point's famous "Touchdown Twins", of which Doc Blanchard was "Mr. Outside".

The couple was waiting for guests to arrive for a private luncheon, so the four of us were as yet the only patrons lounging around the deck. O'Leary and I, sophisticated, celebrity-immune New Yorkers that we were, pretended ostentatiously not to notice the glamorous duo, while they, used to such transparent pseudo-indifference, were of course well aware of our surreptitious glances. Lord, was she gorgeous! The countless words that have been written about her breathtaking onscreen beauty cannot begin to convey the punch-in-the-gut impact of an in-the-flesh encounter. At 18, wearing a violet bathing suit that mirrored the color of her eyes, her voluptuousness was simply beyond the descriptive ability of mere words, or, at least, of any that haven't lost their power through overuse.

Draining our barely-affordable beer, Jack and I reluctantly peeled ourselves away and re-boarded our boat. As I loosed the mooring line, the goddess, again leaning over the rail, asked me if I knew what time it was. SHE SPOKE TO ME! SHE ACTUALLY SPOKE TO ME! Still unable—Koothrappali-like—to utter a word in her intoxicating presence, I had, to my shame and chagrin, to leave it up to O'Leary to respond. As we set our sails, he shouted out a farewell so inane that it has haunted me all these years just to have been associated with it: "see you in the movies", he yelled, as I cringed in the cockpit. I've never forgiven him, nor forgotten her.

RIP, girl of my youthful dreams.




Monday, March 7, 2011

Public Broadcasting: Boon or Burden?

Regarding the latest Congressional assault on NPR and PBS, In These Times blogger Megan Tady writes,

"Congressional attacks on public media seem to come as regularly as NPR fundraising drives. Every year, as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) pleas for federal funding, some members of Congress denounce public media altogether, while others quietly vote to shave off another sliver of subsidies, rather than eliminate all funding. In the end, the CPB limps away still intact, but wounded".

As I write, the House has voted to defund CPB and the Senate is deliberating.

Given PBS's never-ending fiscal worries, one might well speculate that they should never have abandoned their original appellation, National Educational Television (NET), the banner under which they marched from 1954 to 1970. No doubt they wanted at the time to differentiate themselves from etv (educational television), a broadcast and closed-circuit platform that offered classroom-format telecourses on academic subjects to early risers before such programming was subsumed into NET and, subsequently, into PBS.

I suggest that any entity chasing government funding will undoubtedly find politicians more favorably disposed toward the term educational (as in NET) than toward the descriptive adjective public (as in PBS and CPB), a loaded word carrying socialistic connotations to conservatives already agitated over the perceived leftist slant of PBS and NPR. To briefly address that particular mind-set, I refer you to a UCLA/U. of Missouri study that found that the top-rated NPR news program, Morning Edition, is seen by the citizenry as more liberal than the average Republican and more conservative than the average Liberal. They must be doing something right.

Furthermore, in a Harris poll conducted in 2005, NPR was voted the most trusted news source in the U.S., while Roper polls commissioned by PBS have consistently placed that service as America's most trusted national institution.

Education is a topic much beloved by Congress. The last major federal education bill, No Child Left Behind, sailed through both chambers on roll call votes of 384-45 in the House and 91-8 in the Senate. An informed electorate has been a touchstone of our republic since the days of the Founding Fathers, and no matter your political ideology, the essential mission of educational television is, incontrovertibly, education. Studies conducted by the polling firm Knowledge Networks and the U. of Maryland found that "those who get their news and information from public broadcasting (NPR and PBS) are better informed than those whose information comes from other media outlets. In one study, NPR and PBS audiences had a more accurate understanding of the events in Iraq versus all audiences [emphasis mine] for cable and broadcast TV networks and the print media." While this finding may be more an example of reinforcement than of cause and effect, it seems a no-brainer to conclude that regular exposure to educational media doesn't make us any dumber and may even make us a bit smarter; a consequence certainly worth the $1.50 per capita that Congress is being asked to grant to CPB.

Even if the Senate and the White House are able to override the House's defunding of CPB, leaving it alive to fight another day, public broadcasting should nevertheless attempt to retrofit its mantle as an educational institution and consider pursuing some appropriate alternative form of supplementary underwriting. The media reform group Free Press suggests a Public Trust to be funded either by spectrum use fees, UHF auction fees or a nominal tax on consumer electronics. This would of course take years to accomplish, so CPB will have to continue dependent upon federal help to close the gap in the interim, a dependency that this Congress will hopefully recognize as a legitimate social benefit and loosen the purse strings accordingly. I would urge readers to contact their Senators to that end.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that, after a career in commercial network television, I was briefly employed by WNET/13 in New York, and one of my daughters currently works for WGBH in Boston.

Friday, January 21, 2011

SPQR Follies

ROME – Court documents filed here reveal that Vladimir Putin is suing 18-year-old Moroccan belly dancer Karima el Mahrough, aka Ruby "The Heartbreaker" Rubacuari, for alienation of the affections of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, 74, aka "Il Cavaliere".

Veronica Lario Berlusconi, 53, aka "the long-suffering wife", is already suing her husband for divorce.

Cardinal Tarsisio Bertone, aka Vatican Secretary of State, asked today that, "those who have … public responsibility take on a commitment to the most robust morality". Fr. Bertone, it is widely reported, has been living on Pluto since Vatican II. Meanwhile, PM Berlusconi allegedly responded at a subsequent cabinet meeting that "such comments were not directed at him".

The U.S. High Command, which maintains 100 military installations in Italy (including the notorious extraordinary rendition base at Catania, aka "Sigonella") at the whim of the Italian government of the moment, is reluctant to file an amicus curiae brief since it is not sure which side to come down on.

Stay tuned to Wikileaks ("we expose, you decide") for further developments.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hamlet Had a BlackBerry?

Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age

By William Powers.

HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010

Hardcover, 267pp., $24.99


Reviewed by Art Kane


In 2006, while a Fellow at Harvard's Shorenstein Center, media & technology writer William Powers authored a Discussion Paper titled, Hamlet's BlackBerry: Why Paper is Eternal.

Powers' essay was a paean to paper, that remarkably versatile, tactile and enduring commodity invented by the Chinese in 105 A.D. and lauded by Powers as: "the most successful communications innovation of the last 2000 years, [and] the one…that has had the profoundest effect upon civilization." He went on to observe with dismay the increasingly precipitous departure of print from our daily lives, as evidenced primarily by the parlous situation of the newspaper. The page, he lamented, was being displaced by the screen.

That erosion subsequently accelerated as the Recession and its aftermath have seen scores of newspapers and magazines disappear from newsstands and mailboxes; albeit many were replaced —or augmented —by online editions. We are not, it would appear, seeing the end of journalism, as some have prognosticated, but, rather, the demise of paper as the primary conveyor of the written word.

Powers concluded his essay by casting a reportorial eye on Electronic Paper Displays (EPD), a technology then (and still) in development that underpins Amazon's Kindle, Sony's Reader, and similar devices. What intrigues is not so much the gee-whizness of the technology, but that its ultimate aim is to replicate paper as much as possible; i.e., to be portable, roll-able, foldable, and stick-it-in-your-pocket reader-friendly.

Four years and 267 pages later, the author brings us up to the present day with the publication of Hamlet's BlackBerry: a Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, in which he observes with equal — if not greater — dismay the degree to which the internet has taken over our lives. Unrelieved connectedness, advises Powers, changes
"the nature of everyday life, making it more frantic and rushed. And we're losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth. Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do. Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it's astounding that we're allowing this to happen."

Powers is fortunate that he doesn't have to work in an office, where the audio-visual information bombardment can be relentless. But, even at home in Orleans where he writes, unmitigated connectedness can be pervasive. So, seeking the objective relief implicit in the book's title, he skillfully guides us through centuries of philosophical engagement with the age-old problem of the world being too much with us. From Plato on the principle of Distance, he goes on to Seneca on Inner Space, Ben Franklin on Positive Rituals, Thoreau on Walden Zones, and, finally, to McLuhan on Lowering the Inner Thermostat.

It is not possible in a brief review to capsulize the vast range of thought to which the author introduces us. Suffice it to say that he does indeed deliver on his title's promise. In his own personal life, Powers, his wife (author Martha Sherrill), and their son William have devised (and learned to live contentedly with) what they call the Internet Sabbath. Every Friday night, the Powers household modem is unplugged and stays that way until Monday morning. No Luddites they; the radio, the TV the DVR and the phone stay connected. It is only the Internet that spends its weekends in Coventry. To be sure, there lurks a suspicion in this reviewer's mind that, regardless of the disconnect, a certain amount of off-line electronic activity takes place. We are, after all, talking about a couple of writers.

As to that BlackBerry in the book's title, it seems that in Hamlet's time (or, at least, in Shakespeare's), those of princely means, education, and inclination were wont to carry on their persons a palm-sized "table" (think: tablet) of pages coated with a plaster-like material upon which they could inscribe with a stylus (and readily expunge) notes, drawings, calculations, and other jottings; a sort of medieval Etch-A-Sketch, or, if you will, a rudimentary PDA. Powers uses this device not only as a metaphor for any gadget that helps people to manage their daily lives, but as an example of the continued usefulness of old (and familiar) technologies that have been adapted into contemporary forms; to wit: his ever-at-hand Moleskine notebook that he finds far more accommodating to note-taking than a PDA. Why? Because it liberates him from the tyranny of the ever-glowing screen, while having the salutary attribute of being made out of that marvelous stuff, paper.


This review was commissioned by, and originally appeared in, The Barnstable Patriot, 8/20/10. Posted with permission.