In Sanity

31 10 2010

I had been planning to attend the big rally Saturday, but the logistics didn’t work out for me. This is a pity, because what I saw of the event on TV and online looked like a total blast.

In the aftermath of the rally, the usual suspects have been grousing and complaining about ephemera in a vain attempt to discredit the rally and any potential political impact it may have on Tuesday’s election. These people are either partisan hacks, have no appreciable sense of humor, or completely missed the point of the rally- or maybe all of the above. These same people who complain about the current administration and refer to the President in spectacularly pejorative terms also objected mightily because Jon Stewart called the President “dude” on the air last week. Based on this, I’ll venture a guess that the partisan hacks who are demonstrably unaware of their own hypocrisy would be similarly immune to the message from yesterday’s rally.

There was, in fact, a message for those who could unclog their mental arteries to hear it. Several messages, really. The biggest message came from the stage, of course, but a large number of smaller messages could be found in the scads of silly posters and signs held up by people in the crowd. For one thing, those signs were properly spelled. For another, the signs were usually funny.

Back to the message. Jon Stewart ended with a wonderful speech, which I reproduce here (thanks to Di Atribe from FARK for the transcription) with a couple of highlighted phrases I think are significant:

So. Here we are. We’ve had some really incredible musical performances here today. I hope you’ve enjoyed them. We’ve had what some would classify as comedy, as well. And now I thought we might have a moment, however brief, for some sincerity. Uh, if that’s OK. I know there are boundaries for a comedian pundit talker guy, and I’m sure I’ll find out tomorrow how I have violated them. I’m really happy you guys are here. Even if none of us are really quite sure why we are here. Some of you may have seen today as a clarion call for action or some of the more hipper, more ironic cats, a “clarion call” for “action.” Clearly, some of you just wanted to see the Air & Space Museum, and got royally screwed. And I’m sure a lot of you are just here to have a nice time and I hope you did. I know that many of you made a great effort to be here today and I want you to know that everyone involved with this project worked incredibly hard to honor the effort that you put in and gave you the best show that we could possibly do. We know your time is valuable and didn’t want to waste it. And we are all extremely honored to have had a chance to perform for you in this beautiful space… on the Mall in beautiful Washington DC.

So uh…. What exactly was this? I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult or that we have nothing to fear. They are, and we do. But we live now in hard times, not End Times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictonator did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and Theocrats. But those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more. The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we get sicker, and perhaps, eczema.

And yet, with that being said, I feel good. Strangely, calmly, good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun house mirror, and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist, and maybe taller. But the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month old pumpkin and one eyeball. So why would we work together? Why would you reach… Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin-assed, forehead, eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists, actively subverting our Constitution? Or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate. And how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get stuff done. The truth is, we do. We work together to get stuff done every damn day. The only place we don’t, is HERE [motions to Capitol Building] or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, or Conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often, something they don’t want to do. But they do it. Impossible things every day that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make.

Look… look on the screen. This is… this is where we are, this is who we are, these cars. That’s a school teacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car… a woman with two small kids, can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car… it’s swinging, don’t even know if you can see it. The lady’s in the NRA and loves Oprah. There’s another car, an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car is a Latino carpenter. Another car, a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is US. Every one of the cars you see is filled with individuals of strong beliefs and principles they hold dear. Often principles and beliefs that are in direct opposition to their fellow travelers. And yet these millions of cars must all find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30 foot wide tunnel, carved underneath a mighty river. Carved by people, by the way, who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by concession. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Ah. Well that’s OK. You go, and then I’ll go. I’m sure at some point, there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute. But that individual is rare, and he is scorned, and not hired as an analyst. Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together and the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land. Sometimes, it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.

If you wanna know why I’m here, and what I wanted from you, I can only assure you this: You have already given it to me: your presence is what I wanted. Sanity will always be, and has always been, in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today, and the kind of people you are, has restored mine.”

Can somebody please tell me why we have to hear this sort of positive message from a comedian and not our chosen representatives? Why can’t our political class be more like these two gentlemen instead of fear-mongering twits?

Perhaps it is time to do without a “political class”- by which I mean the professional politician. Far too many of our elected representatives have never held a job outside politics. We could still hold elections, but the pool of candidates would be selected like a jury pool from among eligible voters. Make public funds available for political advertising, divided equally among the candidates. Build a series of barracks in the Capitol for our elected representatives to live in when they’re working, and reduce their pay to the national average income. Forbid elected officials from accepting any gifts of any sort from anyone while in office, and apply strict term limits to all offices, to ensure regular turnover in the government. It would not be perfect, but would help rid us of the scourge of the professional politician.

Then, perhaps, we would no longer need a pair of comedians to hold rallies to highlight the general insanity of our current political system.

Current status: Amused

Current music: Numb by Linkin Park

Lost Opportunities

12 09 2010

It’s the 12th of September. I made a point of not posting anything relevant to 9/11 yesterday to allow more time for people to get over the national spasm of media hype surrounding the attack. For those of you who have just emerged from ten years of suspended animation, here is what happened: a bunch of religious zealots took over four commercial aircraft and conducted coordinated kamikazi attacks on targets in Washington DC and New York. They were ordered to do so by a ruthlessly intelligent man whose primary goal was the overthrow of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. Nearly three thousand innocent civilian died in the attacks.

Some people may be asking why flying airplanes into buildings here in the US would have any effect on overthrowing the House of Saud. Bin Laden knew that overthrowing the Saudi dynasty would be next to impossible so long as they were supported economically and politically by the United States. In order to remove the House of Saud from power, Bin Laden would have to reduce American power in the region. The intermediate strategic goal was to instigate a war between the West and all of Islam. If the West fell into that trap, they would remove the Saudi royal family for him- and he was pre-positioned to take advantage of the resulting power vacuum. Whether or not the West waged war on all of Islam, the inevitable counter strikes would likely inflame public opinion in the House of Peace against the West, making it possible for Al Qaeda to successfully take power on a wave of populist anger.

In the short term, this was a blitheringly stupid move. Bin Laden failed to appreciate the magnitude of the American response. He also failed to take into account the fact that Islam has a great many internal divisions which would also be jockeying for power. Governments all over the world started expending enormous resources to track and destroy the Al Qaeda organization and anyone affiliated with it (and- frequently- eliminate potential rebels and terrorists within their own countries). Still worse- from the terrorists’ point of view- much of the world started cooperating in this effort. Al Qaeda’s base of operations in Afghanistan was rapidly destroyed with contemptuous ease, transferring funds to the scattered units of the group became astronomically difficult, and Al Qaeda’s command-and-control structure was eviscerated. Further complicating Bin Laden’s plan was the US conquest of Iraq. Replacing one of the bastions of Sunni Islam with a largely Shi’ite government in Iraq meant that the Shi’a in Iran would be grow strong. Persian influence is now one of the most potent problems for Al Qaeda.

Sounds like a net loss for the Bad Guys, right?

In the short term, it was a loss for Al Qaeda. The long-term strategic goal has yet to be stopped. Al Qaeda shifted quickly (of necessity) to a widely dispersed, decentralized network of loosely-affiliated groups. These groups were directed to make trouble for the Americans in the Middle East. If American military and economic power could be thwarted- or appear to be thwarted- on the ground, then Al Qaeda could still move against the Saudi government, once the US was weakened internally and internationally. I challenge all and sundry to look at the current state of affairs in the Middle East and not see a net loss for the Good Guys.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was global support for action against Al Qaeda and similar groups. A huge opportunity existed to bring huge swaths of the world into closer contact, improve security, communications, and trade. That opportunity was carelessly discarded in favor of short-term political goals by governments across the globe. Seeing an excuse to hugely increase the power of the Executive Branch, the Bush Administration jammed a wide variety of legislation through Congress which would never have passed in the cold light of day. With national unity still waxing and a firm grip on public opinion, our elected representatives enacted sweeping limitations on individual liberties and began ignoring the Constitution whenever it suited their purposes. This is not solely aimed at the Republicans who were then in control. Huge numbers of Democrats joined in this collective raping of American ideals.

Individuals were arrested and locked up for years without benefit of trial. Government agencies forced their noses into the private phone calls and emails of American citizens without warrants- or any oversight by the courts. Individuals suspected of collusion or affiliation with terrorists were tortured by our government, or at our government’s behest by other governments with fewer qualms about violating human rights. Costly, time-wasting, and thoroughly useless so-called “security measures” were put in place at US airports.  American citizens could be prohibited from boarding any aircraft in the world if their names were on a secret list of suspected Bad Guys (and frequently if their names were just similar to a suspected Bad Guy), with no means of appeal and no way to tell if your name is on the list. Police agencies across the country were given millions of dollars worth of military equipment to help prevent terrorism, which was promptly used by those same police to commit terror attacks on the civilian populations they were supposedly protecting. In just nine short years, we have gone from enjoying individual liberties to cheerfully watching as those same liberties get stripped from our fellow Americans because they are “different”. Those who know their history will remember what happened in this country the last time we went down this road: thousands of innocent civilians- including children- were forced into internment camps because we were afraid they might “do something”.

Have we learned nothing from history? We, the People, are better than this. Irrational acts might be understandable in moments of blind panic, but they are still irrational. Sustaining a feeling of panic is one of the government’s goals, because it is easier to convince people to give up liberty in search of security when they are afraid.

In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Al Qaeda has won. We have become a nation frightened of the possibilities of the future we once embraced and created. They didn’t have to defeat us- we did it to ourselves out of fear.

Here is a short video clip on the subject.

Current status: somber

Current music: Total Eclipse of the Heart by Nikki French

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot … again

28 08 2009

Sometimes, I wonder why it is such a shock (to me) that the regular media outlets fail so astonishingly at providing anything which vaguely fits the description of “news”. Instead of the hard-hitting journalism of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite, we are treated to a journalistic, infotainment-like art product.

For example, when the people of  Iran were struggling against the despotic control of their government, the media profoundly and unbelievably dropped the ball. After ignoring the story for weeks in the desperate hope that the whole thing would just go away if they pretended it didn’t exist, the mainstream media giants finally dipped a toe into the waters of actual journalism. For a moment. The media giants were saved from having to provide meaningful content by the death of an aging pedophile 1980’s pop star.

Astronomers announce that they have detected clouds of methane on Titan. A woman who had been kidnapped by religious nutjobs, then imprisoned and raped repeatedly for eighteen years was finally freed. The Afghan election results are still unpublished amid rumors of scandal. The state of California is auctioning off public assets in a frantic attempt to avoid bankruptcy. Wars continue in Africa and parts of Asia. Mexico is on the verge of dissolving into warring bands of narco-warlords. With all of this important stuff going on, what are we treated to in the mainstream media?

The life and miracles of Saint Chappaquiddick.

Here is yet more evidence of the media’s inability to deliver actual news:


It is (or should be) deeply disturbing that the best news delivery services come from a late-night comedian on basic cable and a news-aggregator website which was started with a picture of a squirrel with large testicles. Both of these sources (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and, respectively) made their bones making fun of media hypocrisy and mocking journalistic failures. And yet, more and more people are getting in-depth coverage of important stories from these sources.

Local news programs are not immune from the lure of journalistic bubble-gum. The most watched news program in the Shallow South ran in-depth features on Michael Vick’s return to professional football for the first ten minutes of each broadcast for weeks. The daily rag in my town is just as bad. It is becoming a chore to search out real news anymore.

By contrast, Jon Stewart gets policymakers and other newsmakers on his show all the time. In-depth interviews are frequently conducted. Since The Daily Show is just a half-hour long (22 minutes of actual airtime), these interviews are often truncated when the show runs out of time, but the full, unedited interview is always available for free on Comedy Central’s website immediately after the broadcast. Why can’t the mainstream “news” organizations do this better? They have manpower and budgets many times greater than Jon Stewart and his band of happy wombats at The Daily Show.

Worse still is the miserable showing of the large news conglomerates in comparison to FARK. When major events take place, FARK is usually far ahead of the major media news programs- often by hours. Thousands of people, many of them local to the story or even part of it, post comments on FARK’s message boards. Facts are checked against available evidence and sources are vigorously vetted for bias by a totally unpaid army of basement-swelling troglodytes. Several hours before the regular media released information about the Garridos (from the kidnapping and rape saga in California this week), people on FARK had already searched out their names and aerial photos of their home. The man’s blog and website were posted on FARK at least a day before that information was released in the national media. I have already written at length about the media’s failure to cover the turmoil in Iran.

Once, there were giants. People who strode through the most important stories of their time and got at the facts behind the public story. Men and women who actually wrote the things they later reported on TV or radio or in print. Those men and women are all gone, now. All we have left are empty-headed mouthers of gibberish masquerading as news, who are too incompetent to be trusted to write their own material. Plastic Barbies and Kens with so little intellectual capacity that they would read a murder confession if it happened to be displayed on a teleprompter.

Assuming I am not typing these words for my own sole amusement, you may ask yourself how this happened. I can answer that. We made it happen.

Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow would never be stars if they were getting started in journalism today. They aren’t pretty. At best, they might get jobs writing material for the animatronic droids in front of the cameras to parrot. We are apparently more comfortable getting our news from soulless drones who look nice than from someone who actually knows whereof they speak. As long as the talking head on TV is attractive and generic, we don’t seem to mind that our “news” sources have dumbed-down the material they present to the level single-celled organisms can accept. “Oooh! Lookit! A scary fire happened on the way to work today. You like looking at pretty fire, don’t you? Yes, you do. There’s a good little consumer. Aren’t you a good little consumer? Yes, you are.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Worlds Away by Strange Advance