Thursday, June 28, 2007

James Patrick Fallon, Sr., 1911-2001

James Patrick Fallon, Sr.

My Dad was my hero, even though he was oh, so human. He was far from perfect. He could be argumentative, stubborn, opinionated, and occasionally prejudiced. He probably drank more than he should have (although in almost 47 years, I saw him "drunk" only once--at my oldest brother's wedding rehearsal dinner--and his personal habits surely didn't shorten his life significantly). He could be mean, though rarely (if ever) was he mean to me.

But he came to the US from Ireland in 1922 at the age of eleven (that's his passport picture on the right), and worked for the next 74 years. He worked two, sometimes three jobs at a time. He loved my mother, to whom he was married 56 years when she died in 1998. And he gave his children everything he didn't have when he was growing up--including a father.

He was the hardest working, most self-sacrificing man I've ever known. He died six years ago today, June 28, 2001, just a few weeks short of his 90th birthday. I miss you, Dad.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Afghan Heroin Soon to be Flooding European Market

An Update on the "So-called War on Terror"TM
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This year will see a record crop of opium poppies coming out of Afghanistan, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Surprise, surprise.

Before the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, opium was the country's biggest export. But the Taliban banned the cultivation of opium poppies in 1997. The initial ban seems to have been fairly ineffectual. Afghanistan is, after all, an extremely poor country, and farmers had a steady and significant source of income in poppies. However, the Taliban instituted yet another ban in 2000, one with "teeth," and the New York Times, and other news sources, reported on the success of that ban six years ago. In the February 7, 2001 edition of the Times, Barbara Crossette reported that
Initial results from a survey of opium-growing areas of Afghanistan in recent days indicate that the Taliban may have succeeded in sharply reducing the annual poppy crop, astonished United Nations narcotics-control officials say.
On May 20, 2001 the same correspondent reported that US officials had termed the Taliban's poppy ban a "success":
The first American narcotics experts to go to Afghanistan under Taliban rule have concluded that the movement's ban on opium-poppy cultivation appears to have wiped out the world's largest crop in less than a year, officials said today.
But by October of 2001, after the events of 9/11 and immediately preceding the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, it was clear that poppy cultivation was still going on in Afghanistan, but NOT in areas controlled by the Taliban. Barry Meier, writing in the October 5, 2001 edition of the New York Times reported that

New data collected by the United Nations indicates that most opium grown in Afghanistan this year was in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance, a rebel group now being courted by the United States and its Western allies as a means to destabilizing and even toppling the ruling Taliban.

The United Nations study confirmed earlier findings by United Nations officials and United States narcotics experts that opium harvests in areas controlled by the Taliban -- said by the United Nations to be about 90 percent of Afghanistan -- have plummeted after a recent Taliban ban on the growing of opium poppies. Opium is used to produce heroin and other narcotics.

The invasion of Afghanistan at the beginning of the so-called "war on terror" probably spelled the end of the Taliban's opium poppy ban. Tim Golden in the New York Times, October 22, 2001, reported:

A highly successful government ban on the growing of opium poppies in Afghanistan, which had been by far the biggest source of opium in the world, has begun to unravel as the United States presses its war against the ruling Taliban, American and United Nations officials say.

Reports from Afghanistan received last week by the United Nations show that farmers are planting or preparing to plant opium poppies in at least two important growing areas. Recent American intelligence reports also suggest that the year-old ban may be eroding as the military assault continues, United States officials said.

None of this is to defend or excuse the Taliban for its role in the attacks of September 11, 2001, or for its extremist ideology, or for its overall influence in global terrorism. It is just to point something out that I have seen, so that you might see it and think about it too, and that is this: Wherever the US extends its influence in the developing world, drugs seem to follow.

Look at Colombia, our only real "ally" in Latin America. Despite a twenty year, US funded "war on drugs," Colombia (one of the few remaining US allies in Latin America) remains one of the biggest producers of cocaine and traffickers of heroin in the world. Some think the drug war is a facade, a reason to aid the right-wing Colombian government in its on-going guerilla war against the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a communist group who have been blamed for the drug trafficking), because "the notion of a war against drug production is eminently more marketable to U.S. politicians and voters than a post-Cold War crusade against South American Communist guerrillas."

Look at Nicaragua in the 1980s. A CIA inspector general's report, released in January, 1998, confirmed that unnamed CIA authorities had effectively blocked federal investigations of Contra drug trafficking. It also gave evidence of the complicity of William Casey and the Reagan administration by frustrating independent investigations for political reasons (this was also the era of the Iran/Contra "arms for hostages" scandal). The US under Reagan was willing to do just about everything--including tacitly allowing international drug-trafficking and giving support to terrorist insurgencies--to fight communism.

Look at Iraq, which since the US invasion has become a major distribution point for narcotics all over the world.

Now Afghanistan is once again the world's biggest supplier of heroin, and the profits from the sales of opium may be going to a right-wing terror group, the Jundullah, to fund their efforts to kidnap and kill Iranians.

Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Business Week : Chavez Not So Bad For Business

An update on the "New Axis of Evil"TM
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Okay. You could hardly expect Business Week to give a ringing endorsement to a man NewsMax calls "a threat to freedom" and a "Castro wannabe," and who Pat Robertson suggested we might think about assassinating, but in this week's issue the magazine puts forward what is at worst something less than a stinging condemnation and at best an objective appraisal of Hugo Chavez and his program of investing in the poor via "21st Century Socialism."
No doubt, Venezuela is a pretty scary place to invest these days. But in some respects business is better than ever. Thanks to soaring oil revenues, Chávez is spending heavily--some $13.3 billion last year alone--to win support for his "Bolivarian Revolution." For the past three years the economy has grown at an 11%-to-12% clip, while consumption has expanded by 18% annually. The poor, 58% of all Venezuelans, have seen their meager household incomes more than double since 2004 thanks to cash stipends, subsidized food, and scholarships from the government's social-development programs. The result: Sales of everything from basics such as Coca-Cola (KO ) and Crest toothpaste to big-ticket items like Ford (F )SUVs and Mercedes-Benz (DCX ) sedans have taken off.
While the Venezuelan government has maintained modest spending on defense (Venezuela's defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product was 1.17% in 2004, compared with our Latin American "ally" Colombia's 4.34% and the US's 3.98% of its much, much larger GDP -- source: Global Security), much of their spending goes to social welfare and edcation for the poor. Sending on the poor can nourish an economy too.
Other industries are not only putting up with Chávez but also benefiting directly from his programs. Take Intel Corp.: Sales of its microprocessors in Venezuela jumped by 15% in 2006 and look set to grow at the same pace this year as the government equips schools and public offices with new computers. In December, Caracas started a joint venture with China's Lanchao Group to manufacture low-cost machines called "Bolivarian PCs." The venture, 60% owned by Lanchao, will produce 80,000 computers in Venezuela the first year and 150,000 in 2008, including a stripped-down desktop model that will cost $450. Intel says the government alone could buy as many as 300,000 computers. "There's a lot of money in the Venezuelan market now, and it's important to take advantage of that," says Guillermo Deffit, Intel's business-development manager in Venezuela.
Look. No one says creating the conditions for true equality, shared prosperity, and global peace will be easy. And it will demand sacrifices from many. But isn't it worth trying?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Eighth Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association in Mexico City : Video of Eric Mcluhan, Awards Ceremony

MEA 8th Convention Friday Night from Robert K. Blechman on Vimeo

Unfortunately, this is long and unedited. The Awards ceremony begins about one-half hour into this clip, which is Dr. Eric McLuhan (the great media guru's son) presenting some of his own recent work. The McLuhan Award itself comes about ten or fifteen minutes into the Awards ceremony. But anyone patient enough to sit through this can hear my acceptance speech (my wife didn't feel like sitting through it all, but after all, she was there). And if not, that's cool. But here it is.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day Reality Check

An Update on the "Worst President in US History"TM
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The two latest polls show President George W. Bush's approval ratings in the gutter. A Quinnipiac University poll (June 7-11) gives the President a pathetic 28% approval, with 65% disapproving of his Presidency. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (June 8-11) indicates about the same, with 29% approving and 66% (a full two-thirds) disapproving. In each poll, a handful of apparently comatose Americans had no opinion.

As regards the war in Iraq, a whopping 68% of Americans disapprove of the President's handling of the war, with barely more than a quarter (26%) approving. 54% believe that, since the surge, things have only gotten worse in Iraq, and 59% believe that the US should begin to reduce its troop levels there.

While Congress continues to get pretty poor approval ratings, Americans by a very wide margin (56%-32%) would like to see greater Democratic control of Congress. This is very likely a reaction to Congress's inability -- or unwillingness -- to push the Bush administation back against the wall and demand an immediate start to the redeployment of US troops from Iraq. A similar trend is evident in a Los Angeles Times poll and article that indicates that while a majority of Americans want to see a Democrat in the White House in 2008, head-to-head matchups of potential candidates show Hillary Clinton lagging behind potential GOP candidates.

And as of the moment of this writing, 3,521 US GIs have died in Iraq, not including 111 who died of self-inflicted wounds.

Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy 65th Anniversary, Mom and Dad

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Mom, Mary Kate Reilly from Gubadoorish, Co. Leitrim, Ireland, was the "downstairs help" in the home of some very wealthy people in Cedarhurst, NY.

Dad, James Patrick Fallon from Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, Ireland, delivered groceries from Roulston's market in Hempstead, NY.

They met at the back door.

I miss you guys. I would love to give each of you a hug right now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Marshall McLuhan Award for Outstanding Book in the Field of Media Ecology 2007 -- Some Pictures From the Awards Ceremony

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Thanking the MEA for the Award, I was really in something of a state of shock, even though I knew I had won the award for a month. To have one's book put in the same category as books by Neil Postman, Francis Fukuyama, and Thomas De Zengotitta was a truly surrealistic experience.

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Accepting the Award from MEA Vice President Thom Gencarelli (Iona College, New Rochelle, NY), with MEA President Lance Strate (Fordham University, NY) looking on.

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Janet Sternberg, Thom Gencarelli, and Lance Strate -- all alumni of NYU's Media Ecology program and students of Neil Postman, Terrence Moran, Christine Nystrom, and Henry Perkinson -- listen as I give NYU, the Media Ecology program, and its 1980s-1990s faculty their due props.

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The award winners who were present on Friday night included (from left) Anne Pym (top 2007 convention paper), Adriana Braga (Harold A. Innis Award for Outstanding Thesis or Dissertation), Octavio Islas (Louis Forsdale Award for Outstanding Educator in Media Ecology), Donna Flayhan (Jacques Ellul Award for Outstanding Activism in Media Ecology), Philip Marchand (James W. Carey Award for Outstanding Media Ecology Journalism), Corey Anton (Walter Benjamin Award for Outstanding Article in Media Ecology), Dr. Fallon, Jay David Bolter (Walter J. Ong Award for Career Achievement in Scholarship), and Eric McLuhan (Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity).

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After the conference, I got a chance to tell Dr. Eric McLuhan how much it meant to me for my book to win an award named in his father's honor.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Marshall McLuhan Award for Outstanding Book in the Field of Media Ecology 2007

I am very excited to announce that my book Printing, Literacy, and Education in Eighteenth Century Ireland : Why the Irish Speak English (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006) has won the Marshall McLuhan Award for Outstanding Book in the Field of Media Ecology for 2007.

I've actually known about this for about a month, but the award wasn't made public until this past weekend at the Eighth Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association in Mexico City, where I was invited to present a paper based on my book.

This is, as you might be able to imagine, a thrill for me. McLuhan's Understanding Media was one of the first books on mass media -- probably the first book -- I ever read when I was discovering my fascination with mediated communication as a young college freshman in 1972. I never got to meet McLuhan, but his son -- and a media scholar in his own right -- Eric McLuhan was on hand at the award ceremony, and I got the opportunity to express to him what a humbling experience it was to win an award honoring his father.

I studied in NYU's Media Ecology program under one of McLuhan's proteges, Neil Postman, who died in 2003. Neil was not my mentor, I was not his protege. In fact, we didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things (He was not crazy about my writing -- he found it "florid" and verbose -- and he was right. I'm still working on it...), but he was a friend, and he encouraged me, and when I first presented my raw research for this book at a conference at Trinity College, Dublin in 1990, he paid me the ultimate compliment. "Peter," he said, "now you are a scholar." I wish he had been there on Friday evening.

My wife Mary Pat encouraged me to take this dusty old manuscript (I actually completed it in 1996, but life has a way of interfering with your plans) and get it published, and I am grateful to her for her support and her love.

But I really want to acknowledge the guidance, support, and wisdom of Prof. Christine Nystrom, formerly of NYU's Media Ecology program. In so many ways she was the inspiration for this book. When I really want to flatter myself, I tell myself that this would be the type of book Chris would write if she were writing a book about printing, literacy, and education in eighteenth century Ireland. Chris was and is a far better writer than I am -- and a far better thinker -- but I like to think that I learned something about the grace of language from Chris, and I hope that this is true.

The roll of recipients of the Marshall McLuhan Award include:

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Watch for Dr. Fallon on a Webcast Friday Evening

I'm off to Mexico City for the weekend to attend the eighth annual conference of the Media Ecology Association. I've been invited to present a paper based on my book, Printing, Literacy, and Education in Eighteenth Century Ireland : Why the Irish Speak English. The book has been nominated for a number of awards, and I'm feeling pretty good about its chances.

If you're interested, Friday evening at 7:00 pm (CDT -- 1:00 am Saturday Greenwich mean time) there is an awards ceremony being webcast from the conference (actually, the entire conference has been webcast). You can find it by clicking this link. You'll need Windows Media Player to view the webcast.

Well, even if my book doesn't win anything, I'll be there. But, as I said, I'm feeling pretty confident about its chances. So tune in and see if I get to make an acceptance speech. Hey, I know, it's not the Oscars....

And I'll be back Monday with a full report.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

After Blocking Transmissions of 3 TV Stations, Musharraf Puts Hundreds of Political Activists in Prison

An Update on "The Good Guys"TM, America's Asian Allies in the (so-called) "War on Terror"
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After blocking the transmissions of the three major television stations in Pakistan, unelected coup-leader and dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf has had hundreds of political activists of opposition parties thrown in jail in Punjab province.

Siddiqul Farooq, a spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League of former prime minister Sharif Nawaz said that authorities have been raiding homes of activists since last night and have arrested many people. He said that he are trying to ascertain how many exactly, but information available points out that it could be nearly a thousand.

The arrests were aimed at preventing party workers from turning out for the suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary's planned June 16 visit to Faisalabad, Farooq said adding "The Government is feeling threatened by the public response to the Chief Justice."

Are you following this? The arrests were not at some protest that turned violent. The arrests took place before any protest or rally even began. These are the "good guys," shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States of America, standing up for democracy and freedom.

What has happened to us?

The Difference Between Musharraf and Chavez

An Update on the "New Axis of Evil"TM
An Update on the "So-called War on Terror"TM
An Update on the "Worst President in US History"TM
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I don't know if this is funny or sad. I know I'm disturbed by it.

In case you haven't heard, the "liberal" mainstream US media are having a field day with the Venezuelan government's refusal to renew the license of a broadcast network -- RCTV -- whose owner, Marcel Granier, was implicated in the economic sabotage of 2003 as well as the 2003 coup against President Hugo Chavez. When the coup failed due to overwhelming democratic opposition and Chavez was returned to power, Granier's RCTV and the other commercial stations ran old Hollywood movies and cartoons.

RCTV was not "shut down" by Chavez -- the twice-democratically elected and legitimate President of Venezuela. The Venezuelan government refused to renew their license because, well, they simply weren't serving the public interest. If Bob Wright and NBC's parent company, General Electric, conspired to overthrow a US President, would it be wrong to refuse to renew licenses?

So Condoleezza Rice wagged her finger at Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro today over Venezuela's refusal to renew RCTV's license. She told a meeting of the Organization of American States in Panama that

Freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of conscience are not a thorn in the side of government. Disagreeing with your government is not unpatriotic and most certainly should not be a crime in any country, especially a democracy.
The irony is delicious. Freedom of speech is GREAT if it is pro-global, unregulated, laissez faire, (so-called) "free-market" capitalist speech. If it is anti-global, unregulated, laissez faire, (so-called) "free-market" capitalist speech, then, well, whatever. Maybe it's okay. Whatever. Maybe it's un-American. I don't know. Whatever. And disagreeing with your government is GREAT if your government is trying to regulate the effects of capitalism within society. If you happen to think that an invasion of a sovereign state who had not threatened you and posed no threat -- immediate or otherwise -- to you, and which invasion was based on lies and probably illegal according to international law is a bad thing, well, whatever. You're probably a communist or something.

So I find it interesting that the "liberal" mainstream US media are not jumping all over the fact that our "ally" in Pakistan, the anti-democratic dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has updated an ordinance that gives him the power to have any building shut down if HE believes an illegal transmission is being aired, and gives him the power to cancel the license of any TV channel he chooses. Oh, and did I mention that the government was already blocking the transmission of the three leading TV stations in Pakistan, because they have been covering the civil unrest surrounding Musharraf's firing of the Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court?
Why are we supporting this guy? And this is not a Republican/Democrat thing, either. Even the Democrats in the US support Musharraf. No, this is another conflict between global, unregulated, laissez faire, (so-called) "free-market" capitalism, and anything else. It might be directed against Socialism, sure. But it is just as much directed against the kind of capitalism that was practiced in the United States from the time of the New Deal until the trickle-down, supply-side, de-regulated Reagan years.

This is why the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II called Soviet Communism and unregulated Capitalism morally equivalent evils.

Meanwhile, the man that George W. Bush said was America's most wanted, the man Bush said we'd get "dead or alive" before he flip-flopped and decided he wasn't really very much interested in him, the man who was behind the most brutal attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor, Osama bin Laden, is alive and well and living in Pakistan, according to the Taliban. Under the protection, no doubt, of Pervez Musharraf.

What has happened to this country I love so much? Why are we not clamoring in the streets to

Monday, June 04, 2007

Retired US Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez : Forget About "Victory" in Iraq

An Update on the "Worst President in US History"TM
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Ricardo Sanchez, the man who led US and coalition forces during the first year of the occupation of Iraq says that the very idea of "victory" in this war is impossible. Like the Iraq Study Group report, Sanchez called the situation there "bleak" and blamed it on “the abysmal performance in the early stages and the transition of sovereignty.”
I think if we do the right things politically and economically with the right Iraqi leadership we could still salvage at least a stalemate, if you will — not a stalemate but at least stave off defeat.
In an interview with the French news agency AFP -- his first interview since retiring last year -- Sanchez took a dim view of American political and military leadership.

I am absolutely convinced that America has a crisis in leadership at this time. We’ve got to do whatever we can to help the next generation of leaders do better than we have done over the past five years, better than what this cohort of political and military leaders have done.
What is interesting about this story -- aside from its overt content -- is the fact that the first and one of the dominant military commanders during our occupation of Iraq is interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, by a major global news agency (an agency that US media use all the time), that he makes a statement like this, and no US media outlets are publishing it. As of this writing, I have found this story on only the following websites:

The Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)
Middle-East On-line (United Kingdom)
Focus News (Bulgaria)
Dispatch Online (South Africa)
News 24 (South Africa)
Independent On-Line (South Africa)
Daily Times (Pakistan)
Alsumaria (Iraq)
Gulf Times (Qatar)
Alalam (Iran)

I guess that the "liberal" media are trying to hide this story for some nefariously "liberal" reason.

Meanwhile, following the first two-month period of our occupation during which more than 100 Americans died in each month (104 in April and 127 in May -- the third highest number of US deaths in the 52 months since the invasion), another 14 Americans were killed in Iraq today, bringing the total for the first four days of June to 31.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pentagon Chief : To Fight Terrorism, Fight Poverty

For some time now, right-winger have been telling me (here and here) that it is nonsense to think that terrorism has anything to do with poverty or social/economic injustice. And the only way to fight terrorism, they say, is with military force. Do I have that right, Howie?
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Well, the United States Department of Defense, also known as the Pentagon, disagrees with you, right-wingers. Speaking at an Asian security conference in Singapore today, Robert Gates said that military action alone is not sufficient to end terrorism.

Gates declined to say who was winning the U.S.-led war on terror when asked during a question-and-answer session at an Asian security conference in Singapore.

But he said it was crucial to do more to address the root causes of terrorism, such as poverty and the rule by despotic regimes, which often leads those affected to turn to extremist groups.

Is reality finally seeping into Pentagon thinking? Will the Bush administration be moved by the force of logic? Will Dick Cheney's heart be thawed by his daughter and daughter-in-law's new baby?


It is, perhaps, Bob Gates's "momentary lapse of reason."