Relaunching The Benfell Blog

UPDATE: The experiment failed. The Benfell Blog has returned to

It says something that speech communication theorists don’t notice what for me is the central theme of James Carey’s Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society, that each improvement in communication technology leads not to a promised improved communication among people and thus, hopefully, world peace, but rather larger audiences for ever smaller groups of people. And it says something that mass communication scholars seem not to care.

Carey wrote of the printing press, newspapers, the telegraph, radio, and television. I extend his argument to the Internet, where still, a few voices dominate. Yes, I have a larger audience, via Twitter and Facebook than I ever would have before: a few hundred people, on Facebook, mostly vegan animal rights activists who spend their online lives signing petitions, sharing shock videos, and expressing outrage at human treatment of animals; and on Twitter, mostly vegans who have the prosperity to travel around eating at vegan restaurants. I am reading them, I think, much more than they are reading me, certainly on the Benfell Blog.

I’ve had The Benfell Blog up for several years, now, much longer than I’ve been vegan, on, and more recently on And it seems that whether I’m writing well on a particular day or poorly, my audience is the same. I might as well be back in the days before the Internet, writing my letter of outrage to the editor.

But the Internet does make it possible for me to gather news from a wider variety of sources than ever before, and so I have more to be outraged about. On Wall Street, boosted by a bailout that has cost taxpayers billions, they’re convinced we’re in an economic recovery. That Gross Domestic Product continues to decline is not nearly so important as that it is declining at a slower rate. The bottom is near, they sigh with relief, as they push stock market prices ever higher. They even take heart from another bubble, produced by the Obama administration’s “Cash for Clunkers” program: buyers have flooded automobile dealerships, quickly wiping out the initial $1 billion allocated to remove less fuel-efficient vehicles from the road. But there is only a little hand-wringing, and none of it from people in power, over the ever wider discrepancy between rich and poor that makes the consumer spending this economy has relied upon for so long unsustainable.

And the Iranians, bless their hearts, who for all their outrage, have more of a democracy than we do here in the United States: because you see what happens in the U.S. when someone steals an election. I guess that’s okay as long as the one blessed by evangelical Protestants is doing the stealing. Never mind that Obama won by a large margin both in popular and electoral votes; for conservatives it only matters that they can focus media attention on a perfectly good birth certificate. In Iran, it seems at the moment as if the regime is untenable; it must fall and we are now just waiting for the divisions among the clerics who rule to tear the government to pieces. But in the U.S., the Obama administration is trying “trickle down” economics again: bail out the banks, bail out the automobile manufacturers, but not the homeowners facing foreclosure, the workers losing jobs, or ever, under any circumstances, the poor. Obama has been backtracking on every campaign promise he ever made, but “the system works.”

The system indeed works, as we squabble over “cap and trade.” (Conservatives see it as high treason.) This allows us to keep on emitting greenhouse gases, as long as other countries do not. (Can you say “gap between rich and poor?”) And so the polar ice keeps melting, poor people in Bangladesh are forced from their homes, we’re going through a massive species extinction event, and we can’t raise taxes on oil companies, and we sure as hell can’t stop subsidizing ethanol production from what would otherwise be food for the hungry. “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” says the Obama administration.

Yes, I have a few things to say, even if no one ever reads them. And now I’m hosting my blog on my own server (actually a virtual machine sharing a real machine on a very fat Internet connection) with software that offers more options than LiveJournal ever thought of. Among other things, it should do a better job of publicizing my rants.

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