Archive for October, 2011

Stopping the noise…
October 31, 2011

The television is gone.

Literally. I threw out the television with a lot of other stuff when I had the junkman come and load his truck. But before that I cut the cable. Not literally, but I told the cable company, "No more! Cease! Basta! Stop!" That got rid of most of the telecrap, and a month later even the dregs were gone. I’ve been without the stuff since September 20.

I think my blood pressure dropped a few points.

I was addicted to the stream of images, yes. My brain wanted them, wanted that flow of motion and noise. And some sick part of my psyche reinforced the addiction because my social life barely exists and television characters had become my social life. Between those two forces I was letting myself wreck on the reefs of triviavision.

But a long time ago I quit smoking, almost thirty years ago, having my last two cigarettes on the day I went to divorce court. And I was a heavy smoker. If I could do that, I could certainly quit television.

Turns out television wasn’t so tough. After a couple of days I barely missed it, and now I have no interest in reviving it in my home or watching it elsewhere.

I do miss a couple of things. English soccer. The occasional professional rugby game from the far corners of the world. And that’s about it. There’s nothing else to miss on that misbegotten box. Maybe The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The news programs have continued their descent into trivia and hysteria, delivered by people who barely qualify to appear in a still photograph, much less to deliver the news on television. All that can be said of a news program that tells you there is something incredibly important happening, something you absolutely must know, something that affects your health or your welfare, and then says they’ll tell you at the end of the show, or in an upcoming segment which doesn’t come up until ‘later’, all that can be said of such news programs is that selling you their advertisers’ products is way more important than giving you that piece of information.

I won’t even go into the fraud that televised American professional sports commit every week. But just one little example, one serious peeve… The NFL broadcasts run three hours. Official game time is one hour. But actual play consumes about twelve minutes. Twelve minutes of the ball in play, twelve minutes out of three hours. Sorry, fans, that’s fraud. They’re telling you your time will buy you three hours of football, but they’re only giving you twelve minutes. That’s television. I gave up on the NFL some years ago, except for an occasional game, but I could barely stand watching because of the constant insult. The game that really turned me off had Cincinnati playing someone, and the game opened with five straight penalty calls from the horde of officials on the field. Game over!

Later

I wrote all that exactly one month ago, on September 30. The only television I’ve seen since then was in a restaurant where it was impossible to sit anywhere without seeing a television running sports programming (NFL replays, if I recall correctly).

But here’s the interesting thing. I feel calmer, more collected, more connected to myself. I suspect my blood pressure is down because I’m not constantly aggravated by television programming.

And here’s something a little more interesting. I don’t really care what happens in Libya or Somalia or Thailand. I don’t really care that Rick Perry is an arrogant, egotistical, ignorant Texas loudmouth. I’m neither excited nor worried about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It’s not that I’m not aware of the human element in all these dramas on the world stage. It’s not that I no longer appreciate human suffering or human triumph. But I am no longer assaulted by breathless reporters and concerned anchorpeople telling me by word and action that I should be concerned, that everything that is happening everywhere should demand my attention, should capture my emotions, should stay tuned in order to hear the latest developments in the next hour, developments which are exactly the same as in this hour, and whose subtext is ‘Watch our commercials!’ And of course the sub-subtext: ‘Isn’t my hair pretty!’

I see television now as an assault on emotions, an affront to intellect, a waste of airwaves. Its trivialization of everything down to the level of a child’s mind demeans the viewers. And what isn’t trivialized is generally dumbed down.

Apologists for television will say that it does some good things, that it is not all a Minowian wasteland. And that is true. Television covers live events pretty well. Freeway chases where cops race after felons on California highways, for example. Some battle scenes in various wars, as long as American television blurs out or simply refuses to show the devastating results of a child hit by bullets or shrapnel. They don’t want to upset the viewers, who might turn to another channel and watch those other commercials. So they lie. Here’s the war correspondent and his cameraman hunkering down behind a wall while bullets whiz around them. Wow! It’s as exciting as an NFL game and even less truthful. You don’t get real war on television. You get pretend war, you get prettified war that lets you go on cheering for your side because, after all, nobody really gets hurt. Not on American television.

Television almost never tells the truth. The truth hurts sales. Children turned to red paste and shattered bone by American arms just doesn’t sell McDonalds’ burgers or General Motors cars or Nike shoes. And anyway you can see all the gore you want at the movies or on the premium movie channels.

But yes, once in a while something worth watching shows up, but because it is surrounded by the rest of television, by triviavision, by pretendvision, by lievision, can you really trust that one good thing to be the real thing? And with outfits like Fox News imitating Pravda, can you trust any news channel?

So, my television is gone, and I’m doing fine without it. The noise in the air is gone and the tumult of noise in my head is gone. I’ve got reality settling in all around me now, and it’s a little banal and it’s pleasant and I think I’ll stick with it. And there’s no commercials to screw it up.

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Jon Stewart: “What the fuck is wrong with you people?”
October 21, 2011

See Jon Stewart’s commentary on the tiny Republican minds who are considered heavyweights in the Republican Party. 

And of course the rest of his commictary on the Qadafi toppling in Libya. (Ten minute video.)

Alternative Sex?
October 13, 2011

From Bryan Fischer, notorious Republican right-wing homophobe, speaking at the Value (??) Voters conference on October 8:

Fischer: I believe we need a president who understands that just as Islam represents the greatest long term threat to our liberty so the homosexual agenda represents the greatest immediate threat to every freedom and right that is enshrined in the First Amendment, it’s a particularly threat to religious liberty…. We need a president who understands that every advance of the homosexual agenda comes at the expense of religious liberty. We need a president who understands that we must choose as a nation between homosexuality and liberty, because we cannot have both. A president who understands that we must choose between homosexuality and liberty, and who will choose liberty every time.

Apparently ‘liberty’ is some kind of acceptable sexual orientation that is to be preferred to gay orientations.

Perhaps Mr. Fischer will provide us with a definition so that we can all engage in politically correct sex.

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An Impolitic Proposal…
October 11, 2011

    It’s become obvious over the past couple of decades that American governance has fallen down the rabbit hole, but not into the cartoon universe of illogic envisioned by the Disney studio. The American rabbit hole is dark, and it is dangerous, and it is becoming more so by the day. American society is being riven and shredded, broken into battling pieces playing a game deadlier than the Red Queen’s chess ever conceived of being. The forces of ignorance, ideology, hatred, and lust for power have taken center stage and now drive policy.

    In the short term, which may last decades, or be done relatively quickly, these forces and conflicts will work themselves out. The country may be better for that, or it may be worse, which may be the more likely result.

    In the long term, the country requires fundamental change if it is to continue to exist as a free representative republic.

    What follows is a possible path, an ideal, if you will, to be pursued.

    The primary consideration, the one thing that underlies any sort of reform in the long term, is education. Education on at least two levels, the general education of the public, and the professional education of anyone aspiring to work in government in either the bureaucracy or in elective office or offices appointed by elected officials.

    First, consider general education. Currently the mantra in general education from the early elementary grades through high school is testing. Standardized testing. The MCAS is an example of the sorts of high stakes testing the education bureaucracy wants to rely on to make decisions about education. High stakes testing has been developed for, I believe, the convenience of the bureaucrats, not for the education and edification of the students. Using a set of standardized numbers lets the bureaucrats make neat and clean decisions about educational policy without having to deal with the messiness of all those individual students.

    Students are learning how to pass the tests, but it would appear they’re not learning much else that would be of value. Colleges routinely complain that entering students aren’t prepared to do college level work. They can’t write, can’t do numbers, can’t read effectively, can’t think critically.

    On top of that, teachers are regularly excoriated by the political classes, parents, and ideologues of all stripes. The  schools are underfunded. Teachers apparently often find themselves having to spend part of their salary buying supplies for the classroom. Books are often out of date, too often by decades, and their content is too often decided by people with political agendas immured in dogma and ignorance and blind ideology.

    In a word, the public schools are failing their students and they are failing the country. Education should not be a political football, arranged and rearranged by whatever ideologues manage to get themselves elected locally and nationally.

    For elementary and high school grades I propose a different path, a different standard.

    First, high stakes standardized testing would be abolished. Children are individuals. They have differing abilities, capacities, and interests. They are not a mass of clones, nor a mass of equals, and should not be stuffed into a mass system.

    What’s needed is a professional teaching corps of highly trained, highly motivated teachers. A teaching degree should be as difficult to attain as a doctorate, but not as expensive. The successful teacher should be relieved of any debt incurred.

    Second, the communities must support their schools and their teachers. That means professional level salaries. That means no interference from politicians or from parents. That means increasing the tax base and the taxes to support modern schools and sufficient numbers of teachers to provide small class sizes. That means allowing teachers to use their own judgment and creativity in managing their classrooms. The Finnish model is an excellent example of effective modern education. That,  or something as effective, should be instituted nationwide.

    As for content, the usual reading, writing, and arithmetic, but taught in various manners to fit the individual students in any given classroom. But beyond that, there must be an emphasis on logic and critical thinking and scientific thinking, and these should start in the first grade and be rigorously pursued all the way through high school graduation and into college. Rather than hoping that students will absorb the principles through coursework in standard subjects, critical thinking skills must be taught in their own right. They are the absolute foundations of effective learning and education.

    That is the general basis of general public education. Everyone in the country would be educated in  such a system.

    The second level to consider is how to educate the people who choose government service, either in the bureaucracy or through elective or appointive office. An effective education for these people is absolutely critical to the continued success, even the continued existence, of the nation.
 
    Consider that the population of the United States is approaching four hundred million people, and that those people live in a complex world. There are no simplicities in the world anymore, not in politics, not in international relations, not in our relationship to our biological environment.

    Governance involves fifty states, hundreds of cities, thousands of towns, vast infrastructure, complex financial arrangements, understanding complicated interrelationships among those elements and the environment, and understanding a variety of world cultures and our relationships and interactions with the rest of the world .

    We can no longer afford to have simple-minded men and women operating from a narrow perspective governing the country. We can no longer afford to have ideologues, untutored in critical thinking, untutored in simple facts, running the nation. We must no longer allow just anyone who wants to run for office to run for office.

    We need instead to create a highly educated political class. Not an exclusive class, not a privileged class, not an authoritarian class. Membership, if you will, would be open to anyone who can qualify, and one of the hallmarks would be that the government would provide serious aid and assistance to those who want to commit to public service.

    Here’s a suggestion on how to accomplish this.

    First off, implement the general education system proposed above.

    Second, the first two years of college would be exploratory for all students, giving them time to sample various disciplines and possibly come to a decision about their future. The country might also institute a required public service stint of two years as a mandatory prerequisite for entering college: it could encompass military service or community service of some sort. Two years of working in the community could well give most students a leg up on the maturity they need to make  serious decisions about their education and their life. The current system of rushing from high school directly into college seems to end up with two years of college wasted.

    But the meat of the matter for the politically inclined would be the professional coursework required.

    To begin with, students will already have a solid grounding in logic, critical thinking, and scientific thinking, gained through general education. But they will continue to study in those areas as well as be expected to apply those principles to all their other courses.

    And those other courses would be broad ranging. World history, American history, political philosophy, political science, at least one language (they should have picked up fluency in at least one during general education), general philosophy, science, economics, statistics, law and ethics. The latter is not a vision of lawyers in government, but people knowledgeable about the principles and history and applications of law in the United States. Along with law there must be study of the institutions of government, their history and evolution, and the details of their functioning. And serious study of ethics.

    In addition, once a student makes a commitment to public service, or before he makes a final commitment, he must undergo rigid and thorough psychological testing, and, if deemed necessary, psychological or psychiatric counseling. The country has had more than enough of rigid, delusional, and blindly authoritarian people in office.

    It should be noted that a political career would not gain a person any special perks or positions. He gets a salary and a pension, and his salary and pension must be in line with average or normal salary expectations of the citizenry.

    Further, the question of money in politics must be resolved. Donations to politicians, to their organizations, to political parties, would no longer be legal. Campaign finance would be government funded, through taxes: if citizens are not willing to finance excellent governance, then they will have to settle for mediocre, or as the case is today, bad, governance.

    Campaigns would be severely limited in time. For example, Presidential campaigns might be limited to three months prior to the election. Senatorial and House campaigns to relatively less time. Similar restrictions would apply to local and state elections.

    Advertising on television and radio would be free. Radio and television corporations use broadcast frequencies that belong to the public. Corporations should not be charging money for fulfilling civic obligations.

    Additionally, the revolving door between bureaucrats, politicians, and corporations must be permanently closed. No member of the government may leave the government and take a private sector job lobbying the government. For example, a member of the Senate Banking Committee could not leave government to work for a bank in any capacity that would require him to interact officially with the government. He might get a job as a bank officer, but contact with government on any issue affecting the bank would be forbidden. And there must be a period of time after he leaves government when he could not work in banking at all. Nor could he work for any other business which would require contact with government officials to further the corporation’s issues.

    On the other side, the chairman of, say, Goldman Sachs could not serve the government in any capacity having to do with finance or banking. And for him to serve in government at all he must have completed the professional education and training required of all public servants, and never mind his work at Goldman Sachs.

    Furthermore, the insidious and irrational legality stating that corporations are persons and have the rights of persons must be wiped off the books. That bit of delusional legalism devalues human beings and corrupts government. And it is patently false. Were corporations persons, then the tobacco companies would have been put to death decades ago. Corporations are legal entities, paper existences: they have no human rights.

    Some will say that this program will create an elitist ruling class, that it makes it impossible for anyone who wants to run for Congress to do so, that it eliminates the common man from aspiring to public service.

    To the contrary. Public service would still be open to anyone. There would be no bar to any citizen willing to undertake the education required – there would be scholarships and so forth readily available. If you are poor and want to go to college, you will be able to do so.

    As for the common man, it is to be hoped that an enlightened and rigorous educational system will see to it that there are no common men, but that all are well educated.

    There would be no elitist ruling class. Governance would come from educated men and women who would receive no special favors from society, and who would not be allowed to turn their government service to benefit themselves. No one would, in fact, be allowed to enrich themselves or their families through government service. You would get your government pay, which would be reasonable and in line with the pay of the populace at large, and that would be all. No speaking fees, no outside income, no deals, no special favors. You would pay for your own haircuts, your own health insurance and medical bills, your own parking tickets, and so on. If you are rich to begin with, you would forego your riches for as long as you serve in government: you must live on your government salary and derive no benefit from whatever fortune you may have earned or inherited, nor can you undertake any action in government that would increase your fortune.

    Good governance requires committed, ethical, honest, highly educated people, and that’s just for starters. The United States does not have either good governance nor people in office who can provide good governance. American government, as currently existing, is corrupt, destructive to democracy, detrimental to the people governed, and internally violent. It is wasteful and inefficient. It falls all over itself as it seeks to undo its principled good and replace the good with the cruel and the exploitative. It is falling rapidly into that dark place where governance is done by the ignorant, the thoughtless, the delusional, the arrogant, and the greedy.

    It’s time for change. Not hope: hope is not a plan. Change requires action. Change requires planning. Change requires intelligence and long-term commitment.  And change must go deep into the structure of society. We need to start clawing our way back out of the rabbit hole and turn our backs on the Red Queens of ignorance and ideology.

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Melissa Says “Go lookie what I did!”
October 1, 2011

Take a peek. Bright spot maybe in a dimming world. (Hey, just because the Magnificent Alabama Blonde Blogger does good doesn’t mean I have to give up my cynicism.) Read all about her Courtneyish self’s new work at WriteChic Press.

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