I have been reading a lot of articles about the Iran deal this morning. Over at The Atlantic alone, a magazine that has a reputation for serious writing and features different political stripes, there are four detailed articles that take a number of stances about the deal, though they come down overall on the side of being favorable of the deal, if cautiously so. Above are links to the four Atlantic articles. The third, the one that is most skeptical of the deal, is by Jeffrey Goldberg. I will admit that I am no fan of Goldberg, as I feel he too often totes the Israeli line. However, I do think he is an intellectual that is at least coming to the table with serious intent. I find that when trying to parse what is going on, it is best to try and read a bunch of information, weigh out different opinions, and decide for yourself. It’s always worth reading people that are on the opposite end of an issue, as long as they seem to be coming to the debate honestly. However, as always, read, weigh the various facts against each other, think, and decide for yourself. I personally am in favor of the deal at this point as it seems the best option based on what I have read. If you know history, even presidents that I would not view favorably overall, such as Reagan and Nixon, negotiated with countries that we were at odds with, and ended up with better outcomes than would have been seen with force. I think today is a day for celebration, if cautiously so. However, I acknowledge that I am basing this opinion on my world view, along with the various things I have read today and over the last year as this deal was worked on. Don’t take my word for it. Get outside of your propaganda zone and do the heavy lifting yourself.
I have been a longtime reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic. Although I occasionally think Coates’s blog is too narrow in scope, there is no doubt Coates is an unusually gifted writer. (Andrew Sullivan, who wrote alongside Coates at The Atlantic for awhile, was not only able to be an uncompromising advocate for marriage equality, but was also seemingly able to cover an unbelievably wide scope of topics. I found that having a sense of how Sullivan viewed the wider world actually strengthened his arguments for justice. Anyway, this is splitting hairs and is a topic for another day. I would feel amiss if I didn’t say anything, but this is really an argument about format and outcome, and not quality of writing.) Coates has a curious mind and without a doubt is someone that is always reaching for truth. Before I found myself reading a lot about the Civil War, Coates own research and exploration of that time period was extremely fascinating. I am happy to see that his new book, Between the World and Me, is getting rave reviews. The above piece is not only about the book, but also a look at Coates as a man and writer in general. It is a well written and interesting piece worth your time. Also, if you are someone that reads several blogs a day, I would definitely add his blog to your list.
I would never argue to ban a flag. Not because there are any flags that I’m expecting to wave anytime soon, but because I believe in freedom of expression, even the freedom to express views that are misguided. However, there is a big difference between giving people the choice to wave their own flag and putting it up over a statehouse, where it carries the weight of law with it. I know there are some that say the Confederate Flag carries history and heritage with it, but if you look at that history it is troubling to say the least. Up above Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the argument that the Confederate Flag should be taken down, with the weight of history on his side. I picked Coates because I know that he has done a great deal of time studying the history of slavery, The Civil War, and the legacy of those times. I’ve read him long enough to know that he has done the heavy lifting, the research, on these questions. Anyone can spout their opinion, but Coates has long been interested in these very things. I’ve read enough history myself that, while I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on such things, Coates words ring true to me in that they stack up with the things that I have read.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like culture wars for the sake of them and I don’t like acts of symbolism. I’d much rather know that racism was stamped out than to see a flag taken down. However, again the fact that this flag is hung up on a public building is what I find troubling. Taking the flag down in no way means that issues of institutional racism are stamped out. But at the same time flying a flag that has stood for institutional racism over an institution is a little strange, especially if you are one of those that claims there is no institutional racism. Taking it down is a symbol and a gesture and no more. It doesn’t solve anything in and of itself, but it at least says, “we’re working on it,” doesn’t it?
If you want to hang that flag on your house or put it as a bumper-sticker on your car, as they say in Deadwood, “That is between you and your god.” But I think, given what that flag has represented over the years, taking it down from government buildings is a pretty damn good idea.
The above link is to an Atlantic story that talks about how the social safety net actually increases the chances of taking the risk of being an entrepreneur. The evidence presented in the article seems to back this idea up. It personally seems like common sense to me. A safety net is not meant to provide someone with a comfortable middle class existence. It merely allows for survival in the face of economic hardship. If one knows they can take a risk starting their own business without facing abject poverty, it seems to me they would be more willing to take that risk.
The above article is about how governments, The United States and The Soviet Union in this case particularly, viewed literature as a powerful tool for propaganda. This story focuses on Doctor Zhivago and how the CIA had it distributed within The Soviet Union. I always have felt that if more people read, and spent less time watching the brain deadening junk that is mainstream television, that this country would be better off. Not a bold or original though I know, but most likely true.
There is a really great book by George Orwell called All Art is Propaganda. In the book Orwell uses literary criticism as a jumping off point to tackle larger ideas concerning politics and society. It is a fascinating read that I highly recommend.
As the review on amazon.com says: All Art Is Propaganda follows Orwell as he demonstrates in piece after piece how intent analysis of a work or body of work gives rise to trenchant aesthetic and philosophical commentary.
The above is an interesting article on how advertising influences kids. It was written by Derek Thompson for The Atlantic. I think with Netflix, DVD’s, and video games, that now is a better time than ever to keep TV advertising out of the home. Plus as George Carlin has pointed out, they can always just go out in the yard and dig a hole with a stick!
I read The Atlantic a good deal, because overall it’s writing seems to be above average. Even if I don’t agree with a certain writer, I usually hear a reasoned argument. However, today I was scanning the headlines and there was a headline so stupid it made my head explode. The headline was: Lou Reed Made Generation X. First of all Generation X is nothing but a marketing term used to describe people of a certain age, that as all people of a certain age can run the gamut in terms of political beliefs, religious beliefs, and all manner of other things. So basically other than actually describing people of a certain age, it means nothing. Unless of course you are using it to describe the punk band that Billy Idol was in. Lou Reed no more made this generation than he made those of baby boomer age, or young kids now. Certain members of each generation loved him and certain ones did not. It is a lazy generalization on several fronts.
Now you may think that I’m nitpicking. But I believe that pop culture writing should be taken seriously by serious publications. Often people know more about what is happening in pop culture than they do about what is going on in some far away third world country for example. You can view this as sad, but it’s true. I remember onetime reading a New York Times article that about Morrissey that was so factually incorrect and lazy that it blew my mind. I thought if they can’t even get the facts on him right, which are pretty easy to find, how factually correct are their serious news articles?
Now one does not necessarily affect the other. A newspaper or magazine could hire a crack commando unit of investigative reporters, and then because of budgetary constraints, hire a bunch of ignorant amateurs to write their pop culture pieces. However, with the newspaper and magazine industry in such trouble, can they really afford anything that makes people question their credibility?
Let’s give these publications the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that given the current economic constraints that they are facing, that they are indeed saving money on hiring good entertainment writers, so that they can fulfill their mission of providing people with news on what is most important in the world. In 2012 it was estimated that the American people spent $490 million dollars on entertainment. It is expected to grow by 5% to $597 billion dollars by 2016. This is despite the current economic problems that the country is facing.
It is well documented that during the great depression that people turned to entertainment for escapism from their economic woes. It is true now that many people are turning to spending money on entertainment even as they struggle to pay their bills because it helps them cope with the world.
Another important thing to note is that entertainment plays a role in this country in how we interpret the world. Often when we see something in the news it might make us reference a movie. Movies have moved the dialogue on political issues. I can remember, growing up in a somewhat conservative town, that the movie Philadelphia was one of the first times my friends and I talked about gay people in a real and meaningful way. Even when entertainment might not directly move the needle, it can often give strength to existing political ideals. I was against the Iraq War before Neil Young’s Living with War, but it definitely gave solace to me in hearing someone lay out what I had already been feeling with such clarity. It strengthened my resolve to speak my mind when I was out in public.
Whether you believe it is for good or ill, we spend an amazing amount of money and time on entertainment. What we listen to, watch, and read, is not only important to us as individuals, but does have an impact on our culture at large. Hopefully these publications will keep that in mind as they think about who they are hiring.
Facts about the economics of entertainment were gotten from: http://atkinsbookshelf.wordpress.com/tag/how-much-do-americans-spend-on-entertainment/