Jeremy J. Jones – Stranded in Thought

January 2, 2010

First Kokinshu

Filed under: Poetry — Jeremy @ 9:55 pm

This is a series of Kokinshu (Japanese poetry structure) that I wrote last year for Otto 2009, the annual literary magazine of Tunxis Community College. Enjoy.

1

Gloomy, murky day
Blustery, stormy, frigid,
Untamed autumn child;
Souls absent; creatures hidden;
Humans harbored within nests.

2

Sun, shining upon
Wind-blown water, ripples wave
To nearby children;
Chipmunks sprint atop fences,
Heated quads welcome cold guests.

3

Inundated by
Gusts of wind, gold; red; orange
Slivers of leaves dance
In midair. While humans gaze,
Trees bow left and right with grace.

4

Hardened ice is born,
Extinguishing fragile life;
Strong creatures sheltered.
Outside to frolic by day,
Children dress to stave off cold.

5

Humble amber globe,
Peeking briefly above sea;
Rising early to
Catch it, or blackness greets
Cicadas; land comes alive!

6

Milky mat masks soil,
Boreal beasts roam about;
Wisely vigilant,
Bodies cascade in groups down
Mountainside paths, decked in snow.

7

Golden disc hiding
Far southward in the cold sky;
Faintly glowing sight,
Beings haloed with bright glow,
Brisk cold grips extremities.

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


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Discovery of the Day

Filed under: Fiction — Jeremy @ 9:51 pm

Below is a chapter from a story that’s been swimming about in my head for a while. It’s time to get going on it. This version was published in Otto 2009, the 2009 version of the annual literary magazine of Tunxis Community College. It is reproduced here as printed there.

*****

Ken awoke at his normal time, and rolled over to turn on the television, as he always did. In the thick darkness, he fumbled for the remote, dropping it on the floor.

“Dammit,” he said, reaching to the floor to pick it up, and switching on the television.

The sound of the morning news media struck his ears. An interview was taking place with Charles Albright, the famed Member of Parliament who often made appearances on such programs to promote the well being of the state. Mr. Albright was speaking. “Society is better able to handle crises when everything is in order, Mr. Walker.”

The show’s host responded, “Yes, I understand this, Mr. Albright, but one must always be willing to discuss the possibility that things are too much in order.”

Mr. Albright twitched slightly. “Yes, but certainly that is not the case.”

Ken rose slowly from his bed and pushed a large button on a console to his left. The four-wall windows in his bedroom suddenly became more translucent, allowing light to enter from outside. Looking out the windows, Ken saw a gloomy, overcast day, and rain.

He grunted as he looked out the window, and made his way to the bathroom, listening to the television. A man was speaking.

“Mr. Walker, surely you are not suggesting that things should be changed in society.”

Ken walked out of the bathroom and stared intently at the television screen, waiting for the response, eyes opened wide.

Mr. Walker stammered, “No…no. Certainly not, Mr. Albright. I am merely stating that we must all remain open to the normal discourse of democracy, if our society is to continue to function. My apologies, if my comments were overly suggestive.”

Ken grabbed a ticket stub from his nightstand. On one side of the orange stub, clearly printed in black print were the words, “KEEP THIS COUPON.” Ken smiled to himself as he read this.

“That’s funny. How appropriate,” he said to himself. He flipped the ticket over and looked at the address hand-printed there: JAKE’S PUB, 724 ROCKPOINT AVE., BACK-ALLEY. PASSPHRASE: POWER ATTRACTS THE CORRUPTIBLE! He shoved the paper into his pants pocket and grabbed his wallet. Then, on his way to the door, he stopped in front of the television, waiting for the response.

“Not at all, Mr. Walker, but we must all be careful these days. Anarchists and revolutionaries are everywhere.”

“Yes, Mr. Albright, that’s true. But certainly not as many as there once was, thanks to MILPOL.”

Ken turned off the television and walked toward his door in disgust. “You’re right about that, Walker. The grand military police definitely saw to that.”

The rain continued to fall all afternoon, and Ken had foolishly ventured out without a coat. The cityscape was wet, and darkened from the overcast sky. On the corner, he saw a street vendor selling snacks and periodicals, so he stopped to shop.

“Hello,” Ken said, looking over the items for sale.

“Good day, friend,” the vendor replied. “What can I get for you today?”

Ken saw a headline on a newspaper relating the story of another successful raid by MILPOL in the nearby town of Franklin. He sighed as he read the title: “MILITARY POLICE VICTORIOUS AGAIN!

“I’ll take that paper, and one of those ham and cheese sandwiches.”

“Okay,” the vendor replied, handing the items to him. “That’ll be $19.34.”

Ken gave a twenty-dollar bill to the vendor. “Keep the change.”

“Gee, thanks. Have a good day, friend.”

As he walked away, Ken read the details of the raid in the paper:

MILPOL were successful in rooting out another terrorist cell last night in the suburb of Franklin. Though the raid was well planned, someone had tipped off the terrorists, and they were somewhat prepared. The group threatened officers with the detonation of their store of nuclear weapons, but through good strategy, adequate staffing, and superior firepower, the cell was eradicated before they could harm any of the officers. Upon searching the facility, MILPOL located and confiscated the nuclear stockpile, preventing it from falling into any untrustworthy hands.

Ken shook his head, and then realized what he had done. He looked briefly over his shoulder before folding the newspaper, tucking it under his arm, and accelerating his pace.

He soon came to the designated space, and peered carefully back into the alley. The darkened space made him somewhat uncomfortable, but he knew he must go in.

Ken could see a police detail turn the corner at the far end of the block, over the top of the crowd. He quickly ducked into the alley before he was seen.

Once in the alley, his eyesight adjusted, and he could see the trash. He looked left and right, and found the sign over the door for the rear entrance of Jake’s Pub. A large man stood before the door, eyeing him intently.

“Well, this is it,” he said under his breath. He walked toward the man, who stood more upright as he approached.

“Stop right there, pal,” the man said. “What are you doing walking back here?”

Ken paused briefly, a cold sweat suddenly on the nape of his neck. Then he remembered the phrase. “Oh. Power attracts the corruptible.”

The man looked at Ken, and then reluctantly stepped aside. “Just knock on the door, and they’ll let you in.”

Ken followed the man with his eyes as he took a deep breath, and stepped forward. Summoning as much courage as he could, he reached toward the door, and knocked.

The door latch clicked and the door slid aside. The smells of alcohol and food struck Ken in the face, and he took them in. He took one large step into the room, and his life changed forever.

“Who are you?” a woman asked, frowning in Ken’s direction.

“I’m sorry?” Ken was taken aback. “Oh, I’m Ken Fagan. I got a ticket in my mail, and it told me to come here.”

“You do everything you’re told?” The woman smiled slyly at him. “If so, I might grow to like you.”

“Uh, no. Well, sometimes. Not necessarily.” Ken looked around the room, desperate to find someone he knew. He found no one. “I’m sorry. You must think I’m a fool.”

“Well, the jury’s still out on that one, but right now, I’d say you’re just nervous. Relax,” she said, placing her hand on his shoulder.

Ken looked at the hand, and the slight hint of tenderness in her eyes, and calmed down slightly. “Okay, sorry. This is all a little unnerving, you know?”

“Yes, I can imagine, but you’re with friends. Don’t worry. If you were invited here, it’s for good reason. Here, have some water.”

She offered him a glass, and he took it, drinking quickly as she walked away. He scanned the room another time, hoping to see someone, anyone he knew, even if they’d never met. It would make it seem more comfortable. Unfortunately, he saw no one.

At least partially to blame was the unbelievably dim light in the establishment. Ken could hardly make out the faces, let alone identify any of them. As he surveyed the room, it occurred to him what an odd scene it was. Though he was standing inside a tavern with at least two dozen people, conversation was somewhat subdued. People had drinks, but this pub was hardly the sight of merriment and trouble-making often associated with such establishments, especially in those times.

Then it struck him. These people were likely just as nervous as he was. He noticed a man, sitting near a stained and tinted window, nervously looking out at the street in both directions. Checking for MILPOL patrols, most likely. Across the bar to his right was the woman who’d met him at the door, talking with a woman and man, with whom she was clearly friends, or minimally, close colleagues. In the opposite corner stood a hard-looking man, merely looking around the room, much the same as Ken was. Their eyes met briefly, but Ken looked away quickly, lest he draw too much attention to himself.

Two men came in the door behind Ken, carrying what was obviously a heavy crate, though it was not that large; approximately the size of an old microwave oven. Ken stood looking at the men, wondering what was inside the box.

One of the two looked at him. “Hey, pal,” he said. “Either give us a hand with this thing, or get the hell out of the way.”

“Oh,” Ken said, “I’m sorry.” He reached down to pick up a side of the crate, but the second man stopped him.

“It’s okay, stranger,” the second man said. “We’ve got it. Please, just stand aside.”

“Are you sure?” Ken asked, hesitating.

“Yes. Please, don’t concern yourself with this.”

“All right, excuse me,” Ken said as he backed out of the way and turned around to look at the room again.

Ken overheard the first man speaking to his partner behind him. “Why didn’t you let that guy help us, Ted? This thing is damn heavy.”

“Why do you think, Gerry?” asked the second man. “Just help me pick this thing up and carry it into the back room.”

Ken made his way toward the wall containing the door of the establishment and put his back against it, to stay out of the way. He began to wonder what he was doing in the room. Why was he invited in the first place, and what was going on? It seemed to him a loose gathering of people that mostly didn’t know each other, save a few here and there.

He looked to his right and saw the woman from the doorway making her way back to him, smiling slightly. She had a kind and gentle smile, but there was something stern about her hazel eyes, like she had seen too many hardships. She wore a hint of a frown to contradict her smile as she approached.

“Why are you standing here with your back against the wall?” she asked him.

“I’m just trying to stay out of the way,” Ken said. “Frankly, I’m a bit intimidated. I’m not sure what I should be doing, or why I’m even here.”

“You’re here to make friends. You’re going to need them, now that you’ve come here.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Trust me. The last thing you want to be is friendless these days.”

Ken could see the Ted and Gerry coming out of the back room of the building, walking toward the door. As they neared Ken and the woman, Ted smiled mischievously at Ken and his new friend.

“See you around, pal,” Ted said as he walked out the door, Gerry following behind.

The woman scowled at their backs as they walked out the door, and she watched it shut.

“Who were those guys?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” Ken answered.

“Then why did he talk to you?” She became more intent.

“Ah, I was in their way when they came in the door earlier. They were bringing something in.”

The woman pulled back somewhat, her eyes suddenly worried. Her tone became more abrupt. “What do you mean? What did they have?”

“I’m not sure. It was a box, about the size of one of the old microwaves. It looked really heavy though. They were having quite a time with it. One of them actually asked me for help, before the other one stopped him.”

“Shit!” she said, exhaling sharply. She moved quickly to the window and looked out. “Dammit!”

“What’s the matter?” Ken asked.

“Shut up!” she said to him, turning to the room. “Listen up! Everybody out! Elliot and Heather, with me! We’ve got an imploder in the building!”

The crowd began murmuring worriedly, frantically grabbing their things, and moving toward the exits. Before the crowd reached them in full force, she grabbed Ken by the arm.

“You’re coming with me. Let’s go.”

“Okay, but what’s an imploder?”

“Just come on. You’ll see,” she said as she shoved him out the door into the darkness of the evening dusk.

Ken stumbled down the steps and stumbled over something, falling to the ground. The woman grabbed him, with Elliot and Heather’s help, and pulled him to his feet quickly. He looked down and saw the body of the door guard, a bullet between his eyes.

“Oh my god,” Ken said.

“Run!” yelled Elliot.

The group began to scatter in all directions, but the woman, Elliot, and Heather kept Ken with them, ducking through alleyways, trying to avoid detection. After two blocks, Ken heard a deafening noise, like the sound of an erupting volcano. The group stopped to look back, and Ken was so stunned his jaw dropped.

The building they’d been in had been leveled, as though a giant had come along and simply crushed it, as one might crush an aluminum can. Jake’s Pub was no more.

“Let’s go,” the woman said.

As they resumed walking, Ken’s curiosity got the better of him. “What the hell just happened back there? What was that?”

“Keep your voice down, Mr. Fagan,” Elliot said to him. “We don’t want to be seen, or heard.”

“Right. I’m sorry. But what was that?”

“Those men were MILPOL,” the woman said. “They killed our guard, and planted an imploder in the premises. It’s a good thing I was standing there when they left, or we all might be dead. As it stands, I’m not sure everyone got out of there.”

“Why would they do that? I mean, I’ve heard stories about what they do, but what did we do?”

Elliot smiled, and the women chuckled. “We, Mr. Fagan, are the Resistance,” said Elliot.

“Resistance? What do you mean?” Ken asked.

“Think, Fagan,” Heather said. “Think. We’re speaking English.”

“You mean you’re organizing against the government? That’s crazy!”

“No, it’s not, Ken,” the woman said. “What’s crazy is failing to act. You’re one of us now. You were there, and they saw you. You can’t go back.”

“But they don’t know me!”

“Ken,” the woman said. “They marked everyone in there while they were there. They’ve got your number now. You can’t go back home. You have to stay with us.”

Ken’s shoulders slumped as he realized the gravity of the situation.

“It’s all right, Ken. Things will be okay,” she said. “Oh, and by the way, you can call me Laura. Laura Gibson.”

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


January 1, 2010

Happy New Year, and a question

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeremy @ 10:16 am

Well, it’s the First of January, yet again. While this is a time fore reflection and finding focus, and while I could write for months about what today means, this is not the point of this post. However, I do wish a happy new year to anyone reading (and even those who aren’t).

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with my friend (and another former professor – I see a trend) Steve Ersinghaus about my education and writing goals, and he helped me find focus and clarity. I thank him for that.

Having needed to take the year off from school, much to my chagrin, I’ve since become a bit lost. (Anyone reading my scant few posts over the past months could attest to this.) I’ve earned an Associate degree, but have waffled quite a bit on where to focus myself for a Baccalaureate. Talking about it with Steve allowed me to remember more clearly. I want to write (fiction for love, nonfiction for money), and I want to have an impact on the world. Big dreams, but achievable.

So the area where it seems I can make the most impact, and one that is synergistic with my skills is New Media. Not only is this simply the way the world is going, it’s fascinating and overwhelming at the same time. So it seems that to achieve my goals, I should either major in the Humanities and minor in Computer Science, or vice versa. Once that’s achieved, I can worry about an advanced degree, but not before.

Now I’m looking at programs at Rhode Island College, where I’m already accepted, as well as Providence College, and Brown University, all of which are within ten miles of my home – a huge benefit for a working adult.

So, to my question. I ask that any who read this give me their comments as to my thinking. I’ll welcome all information. Comments are on.

So what do you think? Am I right, in that New Media is the right area to focus in to make the most impact on the world from a fiction standpoint? If so, do my degree plans seem the right way to go? Or am I way off base, and an adjustment is needed?


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


November 30, 2009

What to write about?

Filed under: Miscellaneous,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 7:11 pm

I haven’t written anything in far, far too long. I’ve had some personal difficulties that aren’t worth mentioning, and I’ve found myself either dealing with those or avoiding responsibility altogether. I’m sure nearly all of us have been there at one point or another.

For some time, I’ve been wrestling with what I want to post on my blog. I’ve wanted to add some fiction and poetry, but I’ve not been writing any. (That will soon change; failing to write is literally draining the life from me.)

I subscribe to many blogs, and several of them are outstanding, though a cut is becoming necessary. What many of these people do is write about a subject in which they are an expert. I am not an expert on writing. I have good instincts, but limited experience, and even less instruction. So I’ve always had a problem figuring out my voice.

However, I just had an epiphany of sorts. Several authors I read have themes, often for only a short period of time. What I was reading this evening at the time of my realization was my friend and former professor Jesse Abbot’s latest post, which is part of a series titled “the book of common care.”

I was reminded of the words of another former professor, Sally Terrell, who explained that writing a research paper is conducting research to become an expert on something one wishes to learn about, and then writing to inform others.

Suddenly, I have a plan. Thanks to the professors. Though not all mentioned, they’re all in there. Thanks to all of you.

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


October 20, 2009

A Long Hiatus, and Control

Filed under: Opinion,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 8:10 am

A long time have I rested. More than two months. Of course, once shouldn’t call it resting; that’s hardly what I’ve been doing.

But I am more than ready to begin writing again. When I don’t write, it bothers me. Writing is rather therapeutic in that way. Even scribbling this little piece is helping me clear my head.

Life is an interesting ride. The ups challenge us physically just as much as the downs challenge us emotionally, and vice versa. Just when we think things can’t get any more difficult, they do, and then they get better so quickly that we wonder why, and how, and when the other shoe will drop.

The answer, of course, is to take control of one’s life. At least as much as one can have control. It has often been said that control is an illusion. However, if that illusion is carefully maintained, we fell much better as we move through life.

I’ve had the displeasure of witnessing the effects of the feeling of being out-of-control lately, and the wonder and doubt of observing the feeling of control returning. Interesting, to say the least.

My way to take control is to write. Heinlein said, “You must write.” That’s the first rule. There are others, but I am still working on that one. When I do that, I feel that I am taking control. And control is power. Power leads to success.

And success is my goal. Of course, success can be defined in many ways. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explains some of that in her latest editions of her Freelancer’s Survival Guide. Right now, I define success as being published. I have other goals and dreams, but that is the first step.

And therefore, I must write.

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


August 13, 2009

Watch Your Mouth: The F.C.C. Is Listening

Filed under: History,Non-Fiction,Politics — Jeremy @ 3:27 pm

In April, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling that allowed the Federal Communications Commission to levy fines against broadcasters for fleeting expletives, despite the Commission’s earlier assertions that such cases would be allowed under certain circumstances. This sets us down a dangerous path of excessive power granted to government agencies, and both major parties are at fault. For a review of this case, as well as the meaning of terms contained in this article, please read “What Are We Saying?“. This article was written as a college project, but has been updated with the information of the recent Supreme Court ruling. It’s a very interesting trip down the path from free speech to today’s government intervention in what we see and hear. Please enjoy!


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


 

Imagine, if you will, a scenario in which American television and radio are entirely clear of all forms of foul language, nudity, and violence. Nowhere is there any programming like “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City,” “NYPD Blue,” or even Imus in the Morning or the Howard Stern Show. Where have they gone? They were canceled, not because fines drove them out of business, but because they violated the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) obscenity, indecency, and profanity policies, and were forcibly removed from the air. While this is not a likely outcome – and is presently constitutionally impossible – it is theoretically possible in the future.

The concept of a safeguard for children has been globally dogmatized by the Christian Church over the past two thousand years, and in the past hundred has been successfully woven into American law. The FCC has the right and responsibility to assess fines to broadcasters for violating standards of obscenity, indecency, and profanity in response to complaints from citizens as a means of protecting our children from premature exposure to “adult” images and language. Now that the FCC has the power to regulate, they are very much under the influence of Congress and the White House, and this makes for inconsistency in regulation, confusion among broadcasters, and politically-charged censorship of the airwaves. Rather than relying on government to control what children see and hear, Americans should take the bull by the horns and reject government control over broadcasters.

The United States began censorship of obscene and indecent material long before its independence; however, it was not always thought necessary to protect children from such things. Historically, children were viewed far differently than they are today. Marjorie Heins, founder of the Free Expression Policy Project and former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Arts Censorship Project, observes that in ancient Greece, children were not the vessels of virtue and innocence that they are today. Children were to be kept under control and trained properly, but there was no societal need to shield them from information about sex. Rather, the relationship between “an adult man and an adolescent boy” was the most valued in terms of sex; thankfully this is no longer the case. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, was the first to challenge these notions by stating that theater productions involving crime and debauchery were improper and should be outlawed (Heins 15). Mary Hull’s observations show that the assessments of many opponents to indecency today echo Plato’s sentiments: “[t]he belief that violent and sexually explicit images can have harmful effects on audiences is behind many challenges to materials, particularly those used in schools” (6). Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, pushed the matter even further; he made the now well-known claim that spectators at a violent opera do not reenact the events of the opera, but release their built-up tensions during the show via catharsis. However, he did feel that children should be protected from such displays by keeping them away from less than virtuous productions, lest they become less virtuous themselves (Heins 16). So Plato and Aristotle, for the first time in Western history, made the first strong push toward protecting children from vice in the interest of maintaining their innocence.

While the two famous philosophers first championed the idea of protecting the purity of children, albeit mildly, the Christian Church turned this simple philosophy into a mission. These attitudes can still be witnessed today, as religious organizations repeatedly lobby government to stamp out pornography and indecency. David Savage of the Los Angeles Times notes: “The government says broadcasters who use the public airwaves have a duty to protect children and families from unexpectedly hearing foul language.” When it first came into existence, Christianity heavily promoted “children as untamed vessels of depravity and Original Sin” (Heins 16). Over time, culture changed due to religious influence, and the innocence of children became revered and cherished.

While the Christian Church eventually succeeded in its goal to limit what children see and hear, Western society didn’t start that way. Marjorie Heins notes that prior to the 1800’s, the most common victims of censorship were “heresy and sedition” (23). This is logical, given the close ties between church and state of the times in Europe and early Western Hemisphere colonies. The Church, vying to keep itself in power, would naturally seek to root out all forms of heresy, and monarchs would do the same versus sedition. It is only natural for the powerful to seek more and more restrictive ways to preserve their power.

Over time, society began to adopt the policies of the Church, and arrests began being used in an attempt to eradicate obscenity. Experts agree that the first such case occurred in London in 1663 and involved Sir Charles Sedley, a famous writer and “intimate of the King” who, while intoxicated, publicly danced about on the balcony of “The Cock”, a Bow Street tavern (Alpert 40-41; Heins 24). Sir Charles was completely naked and shouting obscenities in a “mountebank sermon” to the crowd below (Alpert 42). But Sir Charles’s case might have gone unnoticed had it not been for his next act. According to an account of the incident in 1 Keble 620, Sir Charles was punished “for shewing himself naked in a balcony, and throwing down bottles (pist in) vi & armis among the people in Covent garden, contra pacem and to the scandal of the Government” (qtd. in Alpert 42). This case was used as a precedent some forty-five years hence against a pornographic book dealer; the case was dismissed (Heins 24). However, government and the Church had their legal precedent, and it was used successfully to begin pushing toward a more restricted manner of public speech and writing.

Over time, this attitude spread to the American Colonies, and eventually the torch was picked up by Mr. Anthony Comstock of New York. Comstock was a devoutly religious man, and was stunned at the degree of pornography that existed in American bookstores in his day. Heins reports that Comstock, seeking to root out and destroy all written pornography,  found like-minded wealthy men and formed the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, whose purpose was to rid society of all elements that would lead men to “secret vice” or “unbridled indulgence” (30). Alpert observes that Comstock then successfully moved a bill through Congress in 1873 which made it illegal to send “certain books” through the mail, and subsequently took a pro bono job with the U.S. Post Office to lead the campaign to confiscate all such materials (65). With these actions, Comstock set the precedent for the FCC’s regulation of broadcasting in America, although his methods were far more oppressive.

After Comstock had led the way, and religious groups began pressuring legislators, it was a simple matter to grant the FCC the authority to fine broadcasters for airing “inappropriate” material. Tony Mauro notes that the Federal Radio Commission and its successor the Federal Communications Commission were created for the purposes of controlling the issuance of licenses to broadcasters, to ensure that the airwaves would not end up a jumble of deejays talking over one another (152). But from the very beginning, both commissions were given the power to regulate broadcasters’ content via U.S. governmental code.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Counsel, as well as the FCC website, the Commission is governed by the United States Code, Section 1464 of Title 18, “Crimes and Criminal Procedures.” This document states: “[w]hoever utters any obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both” (331). This line was written in or around 1927, and it has been kept for eighty-two years, with absolutely no edits, despite the fact that society has changed significantly during the same period of time.

With regard to filing complaints with the Commission the procedure can seem a bit daunting. Dr. Milagros Rivera Sanchez, former associate professor in the Department of Telecommunication in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, and her colleague Michelle Ballard, explain that a complaint to the FCC must contain “the station’s call letters,  the date and time of the broadcast, and either a copy of the program or a partial transcript that allows the staff  to determine the context in which the indecent language was used” (145). This procedure might seem easy to follow, but imagine the quandary of a highly religious person, attempting to quote language he or she considers “indecent” or “profane.” Fortunately for them, they don’t always have to; Linda Greenhouse notes that 92.7 % of the complaints received by the FCC for Bono’s use of an expletive at the 2003 Golden Globe awards were filed by the Parents Television Council, a not-for-profit organization established to prevent sex and violence from being broadcast on television. This is hardly directly representative of society; rather, it is a case of a lobbyist organization controlling the direction of government.

When filing a complaint, the complainant must either provide at least some of the verbiage of the broadcast, or a copy of the program, so that context can be determined. If this material is not provided, the Commission will contact the complainant to request it, and if it ultimately cannot be delivered, the case is dismissed (Rivera Sanchez and Ballard 145). This policy places the onus heavily on the complainant, which would tend to deter complaints. However, as previously indicated, many complaints are filed from lobbyist organizations, so a concerted effort is certainly made by these organizations to record and document “offensive” programs, just in case there is a violation. Additionally, the FCC web site indicates that filing requirements are not so stringent as the Rivera Sanchez article states. The FCC requires only that sufficient details be provided that the Commission may determine context. But given that the average complainant might have difficulty navigating the web site to find the right source documents, the complaint procedure is somewhat elusive.

In spite of this, the number of annual complaints has been increasing steadily in the past several years. In the Commission’s chart regarding the number of complaints and Notices of Apparent Liability (NALs: the documents issued by the FCC when it assigns potential responsibility to an entity for a violation), “Indecency Complaints & NALs: 1993 – 2006”, the data show that the number of annual filed indecency complaints increased from 111 in all of 2000 to 327,198 for the first six months of 2006. It is worthy of note that there are no data in the chart on annual complaints from 1993 to 1999, and no data can be found from the FCC for July 2006 to present. Also important is that though the number of NALs was consistent at seven for both 2000 and the first six months of 2006, the dollar amount of assessed fines was vastly increased, from $48,000 to nearly $4,000,000. This indicates that the average fine was steeply raised, beginning in 2003. Strangely, there were no NALs issued in 2005, despite the fact that nearly a quarter-million complaints were received. These data show that either broadcasters are becoming more risqué with their programming or citizens have begun an earnest campaign of submitting complaints to the FCC, though the FCC has maintained essentially the same evaluation protocols while increasing the dollar amount of fines. However, an analysis of past cases shows that the Commission is anything but consistent.

In order to understand the ambiguity in FCC evaluations, it is helpful to first attempt to understand the language of its standards. According to the FCC web site, “obscene” is defined as material of a pornographic nature, “indecent” material is that which “depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs or activities in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards,” and “profane language” is the use of words considered offensive enough to be considered a “nuisance” to society. In addition, the FCC has defined a “safe harbor” period (currently from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., daily), during which a broadcaster may air indecent and profane material without fear of punishment. These terms help the reader understand the classification process used by the Commission when evaluating complaints. Additionally, these terms give the appearance of consistent evaluation criteria. However, much of the language used in the FCC web page is ambiguous, and this ambiguousness leads to subjective conclusions. For example, indecent material must be deemed “patently offensive” in order to be considered a violation, but language which is offensive to one person is commonplace to another. Also, to be considered profane, language must amount to a “nuisance”; this is another ambiguous term, as one could consider government’s intervention in broadcasting a nuisance.

The vagueness of government’s definitions for the terms “indecent” and “profane” is not clarified by a review of FCC decisions. Rivera Sanchez and Ballard explain that “[a]lthough the FCC has said that it will consider whether the offensive language is fleeting or isolated,…when it comes to expletives, the FCC appears to have zero tolerance” (147). The FCC claims to have a policy of fining the first incidence of an offense with a small fine, putting all other broadcasters on notice as to the seriousness of the matter, and then escalating fines for subsequent cases by any broadcaster of the same or similar offenses. However, when fleeting expletives are used, the data show that the Commission takes a hard stance toward the offender. For example, in 1992, a station was fined $3,750 for the use of one expletive, “shit,” which was broadcast only a single time. In 1997, another station was fined for four separate incidents, wherein the disc jockeys and their call-in guests were graphically describing sexual acts. The conversations were reminiscent of the Howard Stern Show, which had been receiving incrementally higher fines for the same type of offenses, yet the station in the 1997 case was fined only $2,000 per incident (Rivera Sanchez and Ballard 147-48). These contrasted cases show clear ambiguity or favoritism in FCC rulings, and a particular affinity for escalating fines in response to broadcasted expletives.

However, not all the ambiguity rests on the shoulders of the Commission. Congress and the courts have played a large role in changes in FCC policies during the past twenty years. In 1987 the FCC changed its benchmark for indecency, and simultaneously reduced the safe harbor period by pushing back the start time from 10 p.m. to midnight, shrinking this period from eight hours to six. A series of legal challenges and policy changes ensued until 1995, when the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that a midnight start time for the safe harbor period was not the “least restrictive” policy to apply, and overruled the decision, declaring a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. safe harbor for all broadcasters. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in 1996, and the safe harbor has remained unchanged since that time. (Rivera Sanchez and Ballard 145). This final example shows that Congress has repeatedly attempted to give greater powers to the FCC, but that the courts refuse to allow such transgressions. It is also important to note that in the entire eighty-two year existence of either the Federal Radio Commission (1927) or the Federal Communications Commission (1934), only two cases have been heard by the Supreme Court regarding indecency or profanity with the Commission as a litigant: FCC v. Pacifica Foundation in 1978 and FCC v. Fox Television Stations in 2009. It is truly shocking that only two such cases have been heard by the Supreme Court in the long history of the FCC given the sensitive nature of the First Amendment and the FCC’s tightrope walk along its restrictions.

In these two cases, the Supreme Court declared that the FCC’s actions were legal, both in issuing an NAL to Pacifica in 1978 for its broadcast of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” sketch during daytime hours, and in issuing NALs to Fox Broadcasting in 2002 and 2003 for expletives used during the Billboard Music Awards.

It is nothing new to see government attempt to expand the powers of the FCC. As far back as 1969, members of Congress have taken this tack. However, Olga Hoyt observes that historically, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a private organization, has policed the industry voluntarily. While broadcasters’ membership in this organization is not required, the NAB strongly encourages and puts forth great effort to recruit broadcasters to join the NAB and conform to the its Radio and Television Codes, which are aimed at reducing profanity, indecency, and obscenity, as well as “words derisive of any race, color, creed, etc., any attacks on religion” (97). While this was seemingly intended to keep the FCC’s fingers out of broadcasters’ affairs, mention of these codes are difficult at best to find at the NAB website, at least not worded in these ways. What can be found, however, is a message from David K. Rehr, President and CEO of the NAB. He writes, in part, that the role of the NAB is “to [promote and protect] the interests of radio and television broadcasters in Washington and around the world.” So it would seem that the NAB is a large lobbyist organization, that would ostensibly seek to self-regulate the industry, so as to appeal to lawmakers’ interests, and keep the status quo with the FCC.

Unfortunately, with such an organization’s existence can come attempts to alter its intended functions and strengthen its power, and not necessarily from within. Olga Hoyt writes that during the 1960’s Senator John O. Pastore (D-RI) sought to remove all violence from television in both news and entertainment programming. He wanted all networks to put their produced works before “the [NAB] Code Authority before they went on the air.” This would mean that television would be censored before being broadcast, or “pre-censored” (99). This was obviously nearly forty years ago, but it is still surprising to see such a move by a member of the Democratic party; on the contrary, one might expect this request from the Republican party, spurred by religious organizations. However, Jane Kirtly, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, observes in her article, “How Dirty Is That Word,” that generally, it is the Democrats who lean toward more control over “content” and greater restrictions on “media ownership,” while Republicans tend to turn a blind eye to the control of content and do not favor ownership regulations (66). Thankfully, it seems no such policy has ever been adopted by the NAB, and Congress has not submitted any such legislation.

However, certain members of Congress are seeking to control broadcasters’ newscasts for political means, by returning to old ways. In 1987, the FCC repealed its “Fairness Doctrine,” which was aimed at providing freedom of speech, but instead discouraged broadcasters from airing political or opinionated discussions due to the requirement that they then air an opposite response if it were requested. Daniel Patrick, former FCC Chairman, and Thomas W. Hazlett, professor of law and economics at George Mason University, note that while there was no means of measuring the reduction of programming under the Fairness Doctrine, there was a sharp increase in the number of “informational” programs. This fact indicates that the Fairness Doctrine served to limit what news agencies broadcast for fear of appeals for equal airtime to counter previously aired information. Patrick and Hazlett observe that at the time the doctrine was rescinded, Congress did not wish to do so, as Democrats saw the measure as a means of “counter[ing] the slant of ‘corporate’ media,” and the Republicans wanted to use the doctrine to “oppose the liberal establishment.”

These trends continue to this day. At least two members of Congress, Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D., N.Y.), are introducing legislation designed to bring back the concept of fairness in news broadcasting (Patrick and Hazlett). Essentially, there is concern over the amount of radio and television devoted to one political side or the other. Some in Washington believe that mandating “fairness” would rid the world of Fox News’s and CNN’s style of political broadcasting (Patrick and Hazlett). However, this might make the airwaves more confrontational, or eliminate political discussion altogether. If fairness is the goal, it might be better applied to the concept that news agencies ought to represent both sides of any non-political story, rather than just the negative “shock value” aspects.

Furthermore, in recent years the FCC has been rather vague about what incidents will incur fines. Deborah Potter, executive director of the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, notes that in 2004 following the infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco, the Commission rescinded its past judgment that single utterances of profane language are not at risk of being fined. Specifically cited was the Bono Golden Globe event, which the FCC had previously ruled a non-violation, but about which it had changed its mind in the wake of Jackson’s misstep (Potter). This is a sharp turn in a very dangerous direction. Congress not only took no action to prevent such a measure, it has actually encouraged this policy by steadily increasing the maximum allowable fine per incident from less than $10,000 to more than $30,000, and hinting at increasing it “to as much as $500,000 per incident” (Potter). Then again, John Files and Todd Shields independently observe that in 2005 the Commission ruled that the unedited airing of the film “Saving Private Ryan” by ABC did not violate indecency standards because it accurately depicted events of Word War II. If Congress successfully passes a bill increasing fines, an accidental live broadcast of a stream of profane language could bankrupt a local station. The past decisions of the FCC would leave broadcasters paralyzed with confusion over what is allowable in broadcasts, which would mean that newscasters would be forced to self-censor their stories, restrict what they report, or actually restrict their broadcast of live news to the safe harbor period. However, no such restriction will be placed on cable broadcasters, so there will be discrimination against network television (Potter). This would be most unfortunate, and most likely would not be upheld by the courts.

In our history, society has slowly grown wary of subjecting children to indecent and profane language and pictures, and we have enacted legislation designed to protect them. This directly led to the creation of the FCC and to subsequent Congressional decisions on the extent of its powers. Further, the Commission has been granted considerable leeway in application of policy, and has largely run unchecked since its inception: particularly so in the past twenty years. Worse yet, Congress and the White House actually seek to use the FCC as a political tool to reduce the influence of their opponents and critics, and these policies have been largely successful. When we rely on government to aid us, generally it aids itself in its aims. A better tack is for society to work together to regulate itself and protect its children. In this way, we keep the power for ourselves, and ensure that we view and hear what we wish, and not only what politicians would like. Certainly, no one would wish a society in which our government can actually control the messages we are allowed to broadcast on television and radio, but we are dangerously close to such a reality. Americans must move toward self-regulation of what our children see and hear, and stop relying on our government’s slanted ideologies to help us raise our children.

References

Alpert, Leo M. “Judicial Censorship of Obscene Literature.” Harvard Law Review 52.1 (1938): 40-76. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Tunxis Lib., Tunxis Community College 25 Jun. 2008 <http://plp.txcc.commnet.edu&gt;.

fcc.gov. Federal Communications Commission. 2008. 12 Jun. 2008 <http://www.fcc.gov&gt;.

Files, John. “Arts, Briefly; Approving ‘Private Ryan’.” New York Times on the Web 2 Mar. 2005. 10 Jun. 2008 < http://www.nytimes.com&gt;.

Greenhouse, Linda. “Justices Take Up On-Air Vulgarity Again.” New York Times on the Web 18 Mar. 2008. 10 Jun. 2008 <http://www.nytimes.com&gt;.

Heins, Marjorie. Not In Front of the Children: “Indecency,” Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.

Hoyt, Olga. Censorship in America. New York: Seabury Press, 1970.

Hull, Mary E. Censorship in America: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999.

Kirtly, Jane. “How Dirty Is That Word?” American Journalism Review June, 2001. 24 Jun. 2008 <http://www.ajr.org&gt;.

Mauro, Tony. “Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission”. Illustrated Great Decisions of the Supreme Court. Washington: CQ Press, 2000.

nab.org. National Association of Broadcasters. 2008. 22 Jun. 2008 <http://www.nab.org&gt;.

OT Granted/Noted List. 07-582 FCC V. Fox Television Stations. United States Supreme Court. 19 Jun. 2008 <http://www.supremecourtus.gov&gt;.

Patrick, Dennis and Thomas W. Hazlett. “The Return of the Speech Police.” Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition) 30 Jul. 2007, east. ed.: A13. ProQuest Newspapers. Tunxis Lib., Tunxis Community College, 10 Jun. 2008 <http://proquest.umi.com&gt;.

Potter, Deborah. “Indecent Oversight.” American Journalism Review Aug./Sep., 2004. 24 Jun. 2008 <http://www.ajr.org&gt;.

Rivera-Sanchez, Milagros and Michelle Ballard. “A Decade of Indecency Enforcement: A Study of How the Federal Communications Commission Assesses Indecency Fines (1897-1997)”. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 75.3 (1998): 143-53.

Savage, David. “Supreme Court to Rule on Broadcast Indecency; The Justices will Consider Whether Federal Regulators Can Impose Large Fines.” Los Angeles Times 18 Mar. 2008: A13. ProQuest Newspapers. Tunxis Lib., Tunxis Community College, 10 Jun. 2008 <http://proquest.umi.com&gt;.

Shields, Todd. “ABC’s Ryan Airing Not An Indecency Violation.” MediaWeek.com 7 Mar. 2005. 17 Jun. 2008 < http://www.mediaweek.com&gt;.

United States. Cong. House. Office of the Law Revision Counsel. The Code of Laws of the United States of America: Title 18-Crimes and Criminal Procedure. 109th Cong., 1st sess. Sect. 1464. Washington: GPO, 2005. 12 Jun. 2008 <http://uscode.house.gov&gt;.

August 12, 2009

The shrinking world

Filed under: Opinion,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 5:23 pm

This article began more than two months ago, and was never finished; other things demanded attention, most notably our adjustment to the move from Connecticut to Rhode Island. But it was important to finish, because it illustrates a remarkable twenty-first century truth. My inspiration for this post came from the fact that I learned of the death of the renowned David Carradine as a result of a tweet from Courtney Cox Arquette, whom I followed at the time on Twitter.

On June 4, 2009, Mrs. Arquette delivered the news of Mr. Carradine’s death, and this prompted thinking about how news is delivered in today’s world. As though calling to tell one another, Twitterers announce information, often before live humans sitting to their lefts or rights can announce it.

Similarly, as mentioned in an earlier post, last month I learned of the existence of bestselling author Joseph Finder via his following me on Twitter. I’ve since become a fan of his work, and have come to greatly appreciate his monthly newsletter, “For Writers.” And I might never have found him had it not been for the Twitter community.

Most appealing is that simple snippets of news are given to me from new friends from all over the world: the U.S., Canada, Scotland, Sweden, Australia, and Germany, just to name a few of the locales of my Twitter pals. It’s really a wonderful thing, as for me it has made the world even smaller than previously found. But more importantly, through the world of news, market, writers’, and other feeds, information is available to me that might otherwise be available only via network or (worse!) cable news. Again, that’s another article, and would be quite a rant, neither of which does anyone wish to read right now.

What is fascinating is that the world gets smaller and smaller with time. Today, one can network into the publishing industry via computer, without having to travel all the way to New York or London, in real time. This was a luxury that earlier writers didn’t have. Furthermore, established authors now have the ability to speak to their entire fan base, something they could never have done thirty years ago, at least not if they expected to actually publish more work.

It’s just remarkable that we can all communicate in this way. Of course, for an aspiring writer, the key is in finding a balance between reading about writing and the publishing industry, and actually writing and submitting. So in that vein, I must write.

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


 

July 25, 2009

Passion

Filed under: Thoughts — Jeremy @ 5:34 pm

Passion is amazing. Never let it get away from you. That can be difficult, but it’s important to surround yourself with positive influences to keep reminding you of it, in case you lose it due to interferences.

Along those lines, I’ve just spent the better part of a day catching up on David Farland‘s “Daily Kick In the Pants” e-mails. To do that, I had to read forty-one of his messages in a row. You might say my backside is in excruciating pain from all those kicks. But it was good to do, and that, among other things, has really fired me up again. I’m very happy about that.

Near the end of David’s mail from this morning, he mentions a friend who was tragically struck by a car a few weeks ago and died. He had taken one of David’s seminars ten years ago, and had always wanted to stop working and write his novel, but never did it. That really got my attention.

In the wake of the death of Michael Jackson, I realized that the main reason I want to write is to entertain people. A good story is definitely the best way to do that. Not to mention that I also get a charge out of playing around in fictive worlds and seeing where my mind goes. Michael Jackson arguably was (and will remain) one the best, if not the best, entertainers in history. He had his issues of course, as we all do, but he ultimately dedicated himself to entertaining the world. That’s a lofty goal, but I want to make my mark in at least some small shadow of that.

Interestingly, I’ve only completed one longer story in my life. I’ve written many poems and short stories, and I have three novels working (none of which have I dedicated sufficient time to finish). But I finished one story, the first one I ever tried to write. It was the summer of 1985, when I was approaching my thirteenth birthday.

That summer, having completed the sixth grade, my younger brother, Jason, and I stayed with our mother at her apartment, which was in a grey building that looked more like a motel than an apartment complex, and it didn’t attract the best clientele; I distinctly recall one of the most frightening experiences of my youth in that apartment, at the hands of the son of one of my mother’s best friends.

But probably the nicest thing about this place was the courtyard out front, away from the road, which was a dead-end in a less-than-urban area of downtown Salem, Oregon, which is saying something, if you’ve never been to Salem. (Though, I encourage everyone to go; it’s a beautiful city, and I’ll never forget waking up to clear summer skies with Mt. Hood on the horizon.) This courtyard had a couple of trees, grass, and a picnic table. Within a couple of days, I decided that I wanted to write a book, so I borrowed my mother’s typewriter and started writing.

By the way, Mom, if you still have that typewriter, it’s rather nostalgic for me. I’d be more than happy to take it off your hands.

So I wrote, all day, every day, for a few of weeks, until I finished a story. If I remember right, it was about sixty-five pages, single-spaced. Not bad for a first effort. I even went so far as to identify publishers – in Salem – via the phonebook, and actually call them to find out how to publish a book. Don’t forget that I was twelve at the time. Of course, none of the publishers in Salem handled novels, which I sadly found out. I hit a big wall, and I quit. But that’s acceptable to me, because the story was absolutely awful. It was a horrible combination of Dune and Star Trek. Really embarassing in hindsight. But I probably could salvage it today, if I had it. Around eighteen, I threw it out, having “wisely” decided that writing was silly. Biggest mistake of my life.

However, I chalk that up to a lesson in following probably the one guiding philosophy of my life. Some might think it silly, but it’s from George Lucas, or Yoda, specifically. Every time I hear myself thinking “I’ll try,” my mind automatically follows it with: “No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

I know that when I fail, it’s almost invariably because I tried instead of doing. When I “do”, I succeed. I might have hardships and seemingly insurmountable difficulties, but I succeed.

So that brings me back to the lesson brought back to my attention by David Farland. Life is very short. Too short to spend doing things I hate, and not doing things I love. I want to be a person whose last thoughts are that I did everything that I wanted to do. Unfortunately, the older and more educated I get, the longer that list becomes. That means I must work harder, faster, and smarter to accomplish all my goals. But I’ll never get there by waiting or by trying. I can only realize my goals by doing.

Passion is perhaps the most powerful tool in our personal reportoire. It is bubbling up within me as I write this; I can feel it. It is critical that we each find our passion and harness it. If we do so, we can accomplish anything. And the good thing is that there are far more of us with a passion for good than with a passion for evil.

Find your passion, channel it until it burns within you, and do.

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


 

July 23, 2009

Learning by Discovery

Filed under: Non-Fiction,Opinion,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 3:49 pm

I had one of the most interesting experiences of my life today. I learned the name of a best-selling author, Joseph Finder. I’d never heard of him before (I’m behind the curve in the literary world, but coming up as quickly as I can). But that’s not the point.

What shocked me is how I learned of him. It wasn’t from a bookstore, or Amazon, nor did I see him on any of his television interviews in the last month.

I learned of him today because he started following me on Twitter.

I’ve had a lot of new followers this week, thanks to Lorenzo, The American Poet, of Crowned With Laurels. He listed me – and many others – in a recommendation to his followers, and we all started connecting. Things took off from there. My number of followers increased more than threefold, and most likely through one of those links, Mr. Finder found me. (I’ve yet to ask him, but I will.)

It’s fascinating how small the world is becoming via tools like Twitter. Not only was I introduced to a best-selling author, whose new book I will buy based on his pitch, but he was introduced to me.

Simply incredible. As we all get closer together, I can’t help but wonder what it all might mean.

It makes ideas swirl in my head, so I can see myself taking Finder’s advice and “just [writing] the damned book already”.

July 21, 2009

Getting My Head Working Again

Filed under: Fiction,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 11:13 am

After a very stressful move and the burdens that go with that, I am finally getting myself straightened out.

I am being spoken to by one Mr. Ben Compton, though one wouldn’t necessarily refer to him as a “Mr.”.

I’m not sure I like him very much. We’ll see.

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