Sunday Video Roundup: a 9/11 special

Today, if we choose to listen, we’ll hear a great deal about America, about the last decade, about the lessons we’ve learned. Football will be played. Flags will be waved. Tears will be shed.

And tomorrow we’ll be exactly what we were yesterday, only moreso. Maybe today is a bad time for critiques. Or maybe it’s the perfect time. Hard to say. But if you find a few minutes today and need a breather, here are some innocent distractions for you.

First, it’s true – we’re all living in Amerika.

Continue reading “Sunday Video Roundup: a 9/11 special”

John, Elizabeth, Rielle and the dumpster fire at the end of the world

There’s a train rolling to a stop just outside of town. It’s a long train, and each flatbed carries 20 dumpsters. Each dumpster is filled to overflowing with nuclear waste and flaming grease. As the copter shot pulls away the final credits roll over the first few bars of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” We can all breathe a sigh of relief – all is well now, but just a few moments ago this train was hurtling at top speed toward the city center, its murdered conductor’s body holding the throttle in full-steam position.

This isn’t some wholesome, Focus on the Family-friendly Thomas the Train, folks. No, sir. This is the toxic, Viagra-addled nuclear dumpster grease fire Johnny the Train from Hell, and it came that close to plowing headlong into the unshielded nards of American democracy. Continue reading “John, Elizabeth, Rielle and the dumpster fire at the end of the world”

9/11 happened on Obama’s watch! GOP noise machine already hard at work on the history books of the future

Something wicked this way comes.

There are a number of problems with these assertions, not the least of which is that when Saudi terrorists started flying hijacked jets into large buildings on September 11, 2001, George W. Bush had been president of the United States for the better part of eight months. The lapses in memory noted above are all striking, but especially so in the case of Giuliani, who was, from September 11 until he dropped out of the presidential race on January 30, 2008 (a span of roughly 2,332 days, if my math is accurate), unable to say so much as “hello” without somehow shoehorning “9/11” into the conversation. Continue reading “9/11 happened on Obama’s watch! GOP noise machine already hard at work on the history books of the future”

The uneasy truth behind Tim Donaghy’s allegations

Disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was convicted of two charges related to betting on NBA games (some of which he worked as an official), is out of prison, pimping a new book and telling his story to 60 Minutes and ESPN. What he’s saying, and who’s backing him up, has to be giving NBA Commish David Stern a king-hell case of the nightsweats.

We’ll stipulate up front that the witness has a credibility issue. Continue reading “The uneasy truth behind Tim Donaghy’s allegations”

Democracy & Elitism 2: performance elitism vs privilege elitism, and why the difference matters

Democracy+ElitismPart two in a series.

“Elite” hasn’t always been an epithet. In fact, if we consider what the dictionary has to say about it, it still signifies something potentially worthy. Potentially. For instance:

e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism (-ltzm, -l-) n.
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.le

That definition, while technically accurate enough, could use a bit of untangling, because it embodies the very nature of our problem with elitism in America. In popular use, the term “elite” and its derivatives has been twisted into a pure, distilled lackwit essence of “liberal” – another once-proud word that fell victim to our moneyed false consciousness machine. Continue reading “Democracy & Elitism 2: performance elitism vs privilege elitism, and why the difference matters”

Democracy & Elitism: an introduction to the American false consciousness

Democracy+ElitismPart one in a series.

Is there a more radioactive word in American politics today than elitist?

Admit it – you saw the word and had an instinctive negative reaction, didn’t you? If not, then count yourself among the rarest minority in our culture, the fraction of a percent that has not yet had its consciousness colonized by the “evil elitist” meme. If not, you’re one of a handful of people not yet victimized by a cynical public relations frame that poses perhaps the greatest danger to the health of our republic in American history.

Pretty dire language there, huh? Perhaps we’ve ventured a little too deeply into the land of hyperbole? It might seem so at a glance, but in truth the success of any society is largely a function of the things it believes and how those beliefs shape its actions and policies. Continue reading “Democracy & Elitism: an introduction to the American false consciousness”

Is your house haunted?

Horror of the “gothic” variety that occupied so much of the conversation between Byron and the Shelleys (these would be the conversations that ultimately gave rise to Frankenstein) has traditionally traded in some easily recognizable tropes. Among the most common are your haunted places. Swamps and moors are always a little scary. Graveyards and crypts, of course. Transylvania.

And then there’s haunted houses. Dark mansions, castles on top of hills. Abandoned homes where terrible things once happened. Subdivisions built on top of Indian burial grounds. And so on. Continue reading “Is your house haunted?”

Why isn’t Rush happy?: Limbaugh inadvertently illustrates democracy in action

America’s democratic ideal doesn’t work perfectly. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, and in these cases it feeds our cynicism to the point where we’re tempted to conclude that the very possibility of true freedom is a sham. I know whereof I speak, because there are few people out there more soaked in bile than I am.

Still, this whole “marketplace of ideas” is a marvelous concept. Perhaps the most marvelous concept in history. Drawing on the Miltonian belief that if people are allowed to enter the agora and freely state their cases, then “the truth will out” (that is, an educated and informed citizenry will unerringly perceive the truth and that weaker ideas will be disregarded in favor of stronger ones), our nation’s founders crafted a Constitution that assured people the right to voice their opinions, free from government intrusion. Continue reading “Why isn’t Rush happy?: Limbaugh inadvertently illustrates democracy in action”

The Summer of Hate provides a watershed moment for “reasonable Republicans”

I’m not a Republican, but I know many people who are. I have GOP friends, co-workers and family members, and for that matter I used to be a Republican myself. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, to be sure. But it’s true.

It’s no secret that I don’t agree with the GOP on much of anything these days, but there’s kind of an odd element to my conversations with Republican acquaintances lately: a lot of them profess significant disagreement with the platform and policies of their party, too.

Taken in a vacuum, this is hardly surprising. Continue reading “The Summer of Hate provides a watershed moment for “reasonable Republicans””

Michael Vick and the problem with forgiveness

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has conditionally reinstated former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, who was convicted of running a dogfighting ring in 2007. Vick served 23 months in federal prison, followed by two months of house arrest.

Last Thursday the Philadelphia Eagles answered the question as to which team would sign a convicted dog-killer (there were 32 possible answers to the question, and “none of the above” wasn’t one of them), and in doing so touched off a long-awaited PR war for the souls of their stunned fans. Continue reading “Michael Vick and the problem with forgiveness”

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1

Part one of a two-part series.

From Cronkite to Couric: the Kingdom of Signal is swallowed by the Empire of Noise

The recent death of Walter Cronkite spurred the predictable outpouring of tributes, each reverencing in its own way a man who was the face and voice of journalism in America for a generation or more. The irony of all these accolades is that we live in an age where “broadcast journalist” is such a cruel oxymoron, and we seem to speeding headlong into an era where the word “journalist” itself threatens to become a freestanding joke. Why, against this backdrop, would so many people who are so involved in the daily repudiation of everything that Cronkite stood for make such a show memorializing the standard by which they so abjectly fail?

As I read what people had to say about Cronkite, I realized that something I studied and wrote about over a decade ago helps explain why our contemporary media has gone so deeply, tragically wrong. Continue reading “Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1”

America and its presidents: what the fuck is wrong with you people?

Let’s begin with a brief Q&A with America.

Q: Let’s say you’re sick with a potentially deadly disease. Who do you want for a doctor?
A: The smartest, most experienced and highly qualified expert in the field.

Q: You’re looking to invest your life savings. Who do you trust to handle your money?
A: The brightest, most agile financial mind I can find.

Q: You’ve been selected to participate in a “private citizens in space” program. Who do you want in charge of building the rocket? Continue reading “America and its presidents: what the fuck is wrong with you people?”

The NBA: where will “fixed” happen this year?

We watch sports for a variety of reasons. To revel in the thrill of head-to-head competition. To marvel at the athleticism. To root for the home team, in which we have somehow invested a piece of our own identities. To mark our place in the timeless ritual. To learn, even.

With the NBA, there’s one more reason: to see which narrative the league has decided is the most compelling.

Now, I’m not generally a conspiracy theorist. I don’t think the world is biased against me personally and I don’t believe that the refs are out to get my team. In most cases, my attempts to explain bad officiating, whatever the sport, need go no further than “basic incompetence.” Continue reading “The NBA: where will “fixed” happen this year?”

Still not ready to make nice: what does the Dixie Chicks saga tell us about freedom in America?

We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas. – Natalie Maines

I don’t even know the Dixie Chicks, but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when almost the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching. – Merle Haggard

Last night over dinner the subject of The Dixie Chicks came up, and I got mad all over again. Which is unfortunate, because when you think about artists that talented the last thing on your mind ought to be anger. But still, it’s been six long years now since “the top of the world came crashing down,” and I can’t quite free myself of my rage at the staggering ignorance that led so many Americans to piss on the 1st Amendment by attempting to destroy the careers of Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson. Continue reading “Still not ready to make nice: what does the Dixie Chicks saga tell us about freedom in America?”

Inauguration logistics: epic fail. General response: epic conniption.

inauguration_hippiesYou may have heard that Inauguration Day was something of a mess in our nation’s capital. People with tickets who couldn’t get in to see the actual inauguration (which included everything from an all-around offend-o-rama of an “invocation” to a Supreme Court justice swallowing his tongue to an example of why people don’t like poetry to the longest goddamned rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” on record”) and other people with tickets couldn’t get into the youth ball (one of them was an actual Hollywood celebrity, I hear). There’s some argument as to whether the purple, blue or silver gate was the biggest clusterfuck (although it appears that things went well at the orange gate, at least). From all around the Web we’re hearing terms like “frustrated” and “heartbroken” and and “tunnel of doom” and “madder ‘n a bobcat in a piss storm” Continue reading “Inauguration logistics: epic fail. General response: epic conniption.”

Confronting racism, then and now: a confession and an apology

I’m about to share with you the most humiliating moment of my life.

This morning something deeply disturbing happened to my 13 year-old nephew, Christopher. He got a text message, which had been forwarded around from person to person, from one of his best friends, a girl we’ll call Ashley. It went something like this:

America has elected a nigger. Today in school show your support for the KKK by refusinshookg to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Christopher lives in Alabama, where this kind of ignorance isn’t terribly hard to find, and he’s a bit more advanced than some of his classmates where racial issues are concerned. He grew up in Charlotte (and NC urban areas are a lot more progressive than the outback), has always had black and biracial friends, and like so many kids of his generation he simply doesn’t see race as a big deal. Continue reading “Confronting racism, then and now: a confession and an apology”

Some meandering thoughts on the myth of the “Christian nation”

Found this great essay by University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone over at ACSBlog, and I thought it might be of interest to some readers here. In short, no Mitt, Jesus didn’t write the Constitution. Pardon the longish quote, but it’s worth the read. Then click the link and go read the rest of the piece, which gets even better.

That version of history suggests that the Founders intended to create a “Christian Nation,” and that we have unfortunately drifted away from that vision of the United States. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Those who promote this fiction confuse the Puritans, who intended to create a theocratic state, with the Founders, who lived 150 years later. The Founders were not Puritans, but men of the Enlightenment. They lived not in an Age of Faith, but in an Age of Reason. They viewed issues of religion through a prism of rational thought. Continue reading “Some meandering thoughts on the myth of the “Christian nation””

Reframing the Republican lie about wealth in America

In America, the Republicans are seen as the party of money and wealth. This perception is certainly accurate in one sense – the GOP is the favored party of the wealthy elite. Unfortunately, the party is also supported in large numbers by those who have no wealth, and thanks to the policies of the Republican party, no hope of ever attaining any. But they continue to support the party for reasons that seem irrational to us. Why?

In a nutshell, I want to argue here that they do so because the GOP has, through a long-term and exceptionally effective messaging campaign, drawn around itself the ideology of hope. Forgive a brief over-generalization, but they’re the party that preaches wealth and that tells people they can join the club (never mind that the message is a lie, given our current economic policy structure). In the popular frame, the Republicans are often seen as being about getting and having money while the Democrats are about taking your hard-earned money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. Continue reading “Reframing the Republican lie about wealth in America”