Give Us Three Minutes and We’ll Give You the World

The original version of Robocop hilariously satirizes TV news and television commercials.  Sure, a movie made in the 80’s is bound to get a couple things wrong, but overall it captures the shallowness of modern culture excellently.  Years on our culture still too often feels like an 80’s action movie.

One of the general plot points in the science fiction movie Robocop is that a military industrial corporation is trying to take over the police force of Detroit.  Knowing now how are police have often been militarized, thanks in part to the military industrial complex, a good deal of this movie is still more relevant than one would hope it would be.  

Jon Stewart to Retire

I only just found out about Jon Stewart’s decisions to retire from The Daily Show tonight.  I realize many of you have probably already heard about this.  I don’t need to be the one to tell most of you that we have been lucky to have him on television since 1999.  The Daily Show has been a place we could go to laugh and remain sane in these years of insanity.  Not only is his own contribution tremendous, but without him we would have never had The Colbert Report.  I have only seen one episode of The Nightly Show, but hopefully that and whoever takes Stewart’s spot will keep this kind of truth telling comedy going.

I think the most important thing Stewart is done is helped people decode the bullshit that is cable news.  It’s true that many people before Stewart knew that something in our media wasn’t right, but sometimes it helps to have someone that can adequately verbalize what you feel.  Night after night he was not only able punch through the mask of talking head absurdity, but provide people with the tools to do it themselves.

Why is it that, so often in our society, comedians are the only ones that can get at the truth?  If we had a mainstream news media that was actually doing its job, Stewart wouldn’t have been needed.  However, many of us unfortunately know that he, or someone like him, was needed.   Because he could do what he did through humor, he was able to get away with things that others could not.  One of my favorite quotes, that I have probably used too frequently here is Oscar Wilde’s quote, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

Hopefully there will come a time when someone like Stewart isn’t needed, when we can actually trust television media to give us an accurate picture of what is going on in the world.  I don’t think that time will be soon though.  In the meantime, lets be glad that he was able to slip unnoticed through the gates, in this kingdom of madness.

Above is Jon Stewart’s famous Crossfire appearance.  Crossfire was a show on CNN.  It was a typical cable news program where you would have one rightwing pundit and one leftwing pundit debating the issues, without any kind of real insight give.  There also was no weight given to either argument, letting the viewer know if one or both were at all rooted in fact.  Jon Stewart went on and at the time did the unthinkable: He told the truth about why this kind of show was so meaningless.  Crossfire didn’t last much longer.  

AC/DC and the False Divide of Age

This morning I was trying to find footage of AC/DC playing the Grammys last night.  I didn’t watch the event.  I don’t have cable, but I also know that if I was to watch the event as a whole, some small part of my soul would die.  Anyway, I stumbled upon some well known blog where they made a comment that AC/DC was appealing to parents, but also recognized by kids who played Guitar Hero.  Well there may be some small sliver minuscule truth to that, overall I call horseshit.  The guys in AC/DC are 25/30 years older than my friends and I, but we always listened to them in high school.   I would imagine that there are high school kids listening to them now, whether or not they play Guitar Hero.  In high school we listened to the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Beach Boys, and a whole variety of musicians that were technically my parents music.

Not only does great music not age, but one of the way in which society and the media tries to divide people is through age.  This is done all of the time, but is more openly acceptable than the equally ridiculous divisions created by race, gender, and sexual orientation.  Although AC/DC are just a rock n roll band, albeit one of the greatest, often this is used to silence people that speak truth to power.  However, anyone with even the slightest amount of brain power knows that there are twenty year olds who have nothing to say, while there are grandparents who keep towing the line for truth and justice.  Even the physical side of aging can be misleading.  Their are twenty year old couch potatoes, while my dad still runs several miles a day.

Anytime the media tries to group people I am suspicious.  There is some use in grouping people.  It can be used a kind of shorthand to get a point across.  However, one must always be thinking.  Sometimes I even get caught up in this myself.  I often talk about corporations and the harm they are doing to our democracy.  I am using it as shorthand for the kind of multinational corporations that have the money and power to influence our politics.  But even most bands, that are at least somewhat successful, are corporations.  It’s fair to talk in terms of generations, as each generation has a sort of big-picture experience that is different from the one that comes before or after it, as long as one is also able to keep in mind that within a generation are an almost infinite number of personal experiences, views held, etc.

Although one should always keep in mind what is good for the group, realize that everyone is in this life together, one should also try to judge people as individuals whenever possible.  It’s true that many people willingly or unknowingly take on the behavior of a tribe.  It is fair to criticize a tribe, as you are criticizing a set of beliefs.  This is not the same as criticizing individuals.  Many of the most insane politicians are Republicans, but not all Republicans are insane.  Like most of life, it’s complicated.

Anti-Science America and More On Experts

Gap Between Scientists and General Public

President Tells Parents to Vaccinate Their Children

The first article is about the gap between the opinions of the general public and the second is about how the President had to remind people that it was safe to get vaccines.  One of my last blogs (I will link it at the end.) was about how our society relies too heavily on experts, especially the kind on TV that are used to shape public opinion on moral and political issues.  However, where experts are really valuable is on technical issues, which Howard Zinn, in the excerpt I published, eludes to, although perhaps not strongly enough.  Scientists can’t teach you morality, but scientists can give you the technical facts on which to base morality on.  Scientists are not experts at complex ethical questions regarding manmade climate change, but they can in fact tell you that man is contributing to climate change.  Scientists should not be the ones laying out the reason why it is ethical to vaccinate your children, but they should be the ones that tell you if vaccines are safe or not.  Yet on climate change, vaccinations, and other topics of the day, we have a large percentage of the population that ignores the cold hard evidence on such issues.  What does it mean when a President has to waste his time telling people that it is safe to get vaccinations when the overwhelming scientific evidence is that it is indeed safe?

Again the only way a democracy can work is if the general population actively tries to stay informed.  We have too many people that believe in nonsensical unsupported gibberish.  There is a great deal of senselessness on the internet, but at the same time it is actually pretty easy to get the correct information if you diligently search for it.  A democracy is supposed to put leadership in the hands of people, but people, in order to deserve that leadership, must also assume the burdens of that leadership.  That means spending at least part of your life trying to stay informed as to what is actually going on.

Why are we spending so much of our time arguing over things that are settled science?  I think it is because of the corrupting influence that the god of money has on our society.  There scores of think-tanks that have been created, often by corporate money, to try to influence public debate and public policy.  There are a great deal of political “leaders” that are often shills for different industries.  Many of the so-called “experts” on TV have been bought and paid for by different industries.  People like the Koch brothers are purposely trying to dismantle education, particularly science education, but really education that gets people to think critically.  In an age when we are bombarded with information, it is more important that people can think critically than ever before.  People need the ability to actually tell the difference between respected technical experts of certain fields and bought and paid for talking heads, which I admit can be hard to do if you don’t actually have the time to read up on stuff.  The media, especially the mainstream corporate media, does not do its duty in telling its audiences who is receiving checks from where.

There is so much to discuss on this topic, but for the time being I will leave it to you to explore on your own.  Try to teach yourself about the role of think-tanks in our society.  Also, google Barry McCaffrey, who was a military expert often brought on TV shows in the lead up to the Iraq War.  Then spend some time googling where he gets his various paychecks from.  He is a great example to understand how money corrodes public debate.

My previous post on experts here:

The Problem With Experts

Hat tip to my friend Peter for the second article.

Highway Deaths > Airplane Deaths

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Most of the news sites that I visited this morning were going apeshit over the missing plane.  If we are being honest, this is news precisely because it doesn’t happen a lot.  Meanwhile, last year 32,719 died in road accidents.  The year before 33,782 people died on our roads.  The amount of people that were injured on our roads in those respective years were roughly 2.3 million (2013) and 2.4 million (2012).  These are just the totals in the United States.  (These numbers were gotten from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)

I know far more people that are afraid of flying than driving.  Yet if you view the two side-by-side statistically it makes no sense.  Meanwhile, the news coverage is equally senseless.  I’m sure they will be spending hours and hours covering something that, while sad for the people who lost loved ones, comparatively to other issues, has no bearing upon our day to day lives.

Ebola, disappearing airlines, terrorist attacks, all have one thing in common:  You add them all up together and they don’t come even remotely close to other ways that people die prematurely.  They are just sensational and therefor gather larger coverage in the news.  This is why our democracy often fails to work.  Threats are distorted out of all proportion and people focus on things that bear no relation to their lives, while at the same time ignoring things that do.

P.S.  Order!  We must submit the following statement to the official record:  It’s sad to say, but my initial reaction on seeing that another plane had disappeared was, “Jesus fucking Christ, we’re going to be hearing about that goddamn plane for months!”  

Journalist Sentenced to Die For Insulting Muhammad

Journalist Sentenced to Death for Insulting the Prophet Muhammad

As much as I lament the current state of U.S. politics and culture, I am always aware that compared to a great deal of the world, that we have it quite good here.  In a West African country called Mauritania, a country I have never even heard of before and that sounds like a fictional country in a Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (Val Verde!), a journalist is being sentenced to death for “insulting” the Prophet Muhammad, although last time I checked it was impossible to insult someone that wasn’t alive to be insulted.  I hope the sentence is not the end result.  I looked for a petition online or something, but I couldn’t find one.  This is religious insanity at its pinnacle.

It’s a shame that in other countries journalists often have to risk their lives to tell the truth, where here journalists regularly censure themselves by choice.  Although, one should always note the difference between a journalist and a Ken or Barbie doll reading a teleprompter.

Colbert Final Sing-along

I finally got around to watching the final episode of The Colbert Report.  There is probably no show I have watched more often since the show began.  While my brother and I lived together it was almost a tradition to watch it through the web as we ate dinner.  During often dark political times, it was always a breath of fresh air that kept you laughing as insanity seemed around every corner.  It often did what the American media so often does not:  It exposed the truth.  It did this while being extremely funny.  On of my favorite quotes is Oscar Wilde’s, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”  That was Colbert’s trick in a nutshell.

I found myself getting surprisingly emotional at the above final sing-along on the the final show.  Again, Colbert was something that I enjoyed along with my brother.  I just took him to the airport today to fly back to Pennsylvania.

I’m sure that Colbert’s new show will be a success.  He is one of the most brilliant comedians around.  I hope there is at least some political element to what he does next.  There are so very few people in this country inhabiting the mainstream that can enlighten while they entertain.  It was a good run…

John Lydon Exposes Fake Media Behavior

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John Lydon Interview

On the road last week I finished the second book I have read by John Lydon (Johnny Rotten).  This book was called Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored.  A couple weeks ago I read his first book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.  The first book dealt explicitly with his younger years and especially his time in the Sex Pistols.  His newer book dealt with his entire life story.  Out of the two books I felt that Rotten, the one on the Sex Pistols, was essential reading if you are interested in the topic of popular music, where the newer one was more for the completist or fan.  I read the second one because I am a huge Public Image Ltd. fan, which was Lydon’s second band after the Sex Pistols.

Those books are the reason I have been posting a large amount of John Lydon stuff in recent weeks.  As well as reading those books I have been checking out interviews and videos on YouTube.  Lydon is admittedly very shy.  The Johnny Rotten persona was a way of dealing with that shyness.  He was able to go into the media world and speak truth to power while being able to protect himself with a persona.  Somehow, while utilizing this persona, he was able to be more authentic and real than just about anyone he was paired with.  If you watch him on film as much as I have the last few days, you start to notice some interesting things with the way he deals with the media.

If you were to only catch one clip of him you might just come away feeling he is egotistical or rude.  However, if you watch a multitude of clips you start to realize that he is getting at the truth through his behavior.  He exposes the fake politeness that not only is prevalent in the media, but also keeps the media from doing their job.  He says the things that many people are thinking, but are afraid to actually say.  When you watch a lot of these interview shows there are unwritten rules as to how people should behave.  The hosts and the guests kiss each others’ asses for lack of a better term.  The host gets people to come on their show and the guest gets to promote whatever product they are there for.  It’s such a normal thing that we don’t even question it.  However, in real life, people rarely act this way, like best friends, if they don’t know each other.  The reason why this can be bad is that, as a viewer, it can make it hard to know what you are being sold.  If it is entertainment this might be OK, but if it is politics, this can actually be dangerous.  Lydon goes on various forms of television and through his disruptive behavior exposes the facade that the viewer is being sold.  An example would be when he went on American Bandstand and refused to mime the words.  Another example is when he was supposed to go on the Rosanne Show and he refused make an agreement with her producer that he wouldn’t be rude.  Unfortunately for the producer, he had already made a legal agreement that he could film backstage with his own crew.  He captured her asking him not to be rude and how he was thrown off of the show once he wouldn’t make a verbal agreement to behave a certain way.

I’ve realized in reading his books and watching footage of him, just how many barriers he has broken down. We are lucky that there is someone as fearless as him out there.   He was harassed by the police forces of England, Ireland, and The United States for the political and personal stances that he made.  He was thrown in Mountjoy prison in Ireland and he was often harassed in airports traveling between England and our country.  His fearlessness came at a price.

Anyway, if you are looking for some entertainment it is worth seeking out John Lydon footage on YouTube.  there are plenty of pieces of film worth watching.  If you are at all interested in pop music, his first book is really worth checking out.  If you are interested in him, but don’t have the time to devote to reading a whole book on him, the above interview with The Quietus is an excellent overview.  For those of you that only know him through his work in the Sex Pistols, his other work is really worth investigating.

Good Morning America: Happy Horseshit

Last day of the road as we are heading back to Austin. Good Morning America is playing in the hotel.  My god this stuff is depressing.  A bunch of a shallow people talking about meaningless nonsense.  Or, even worse, a bunch of intelligent people acting like shallow people pretending to care about meaningless nonsense.  The low point today was when Carson Daily came on and they debated whether a Joan Rivers Saturday Night Live skit was too soon.  If you are sitting around your house worrying about a Saturday Night Live skit, then the brain is dead, but the body still lives. 

I know I have been harping on the same stuff lately, but I can’t help it.  I remembered a very useful term that I used to use in college a lot: Happy Horseshit. 

This morning TV stuff is happy horseshit.  It is happy on the outside, but empty on the inside.  It can’t really even qualify as entertainment instead of news.  Entertainment allows you to escape and disconnect your mind.  It serves the altruistic purpose of letting you recharge your batteries.  This stuff gives you just enough real world info to make you worry or to make you think in a real shallow way, but not in anyway that is actually relatable and useful to your daily life.  Good Morning America: Happy Horseshit!