Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Occupy Movement


(Re-posted from Out Of Tune)

I know it is probably a little late to be chiming in about the Occupy Wall Street movement at this point but, what the hell, everybody and their mother has voiced their opinion about them at this point so I'll offer my two bits.

Last month my wife, our daughter and I marched with Occupy Chicago. We found, as I expected, a group of people who care deeply about the future of the world and the glaring economic inequity and the damage it has caused. I was proud to have my three-year-old daughter alongside of them. It is not my future they fight for, it is my daughter's.

A big dig at the movement I've heard from the right-wing media is that it is just a bunch of disgruntled young people. This isn't really true, there is representation from all age groups in this movement, though the leadership does seem to be heavy on a younger generation. But even if this was just young people, so what?

Who the fuck do you think makes real change happen in this world? By and large it is young people. Who was marching against the Vietnam war in the 60s? Who fought the civil rights battles alongside Martin Luther King, Jr? The reason we have so many of the leaders and participants of the civil rights movement still with us today is that they were so young back then. Julian Bond helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he was 20-years-old, led protests against segregation all through his early 20s, was only 25 when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law and began serving as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives at the age of 27. Stokely Carmichael, Diane Nash and the great John Lewis, other co-founders of the SNCC, were all of similar age. MLK led the Montgomery bus boycott at the age of 26.

Of course this movement is young people. This is what young people do. Our world has done its best to keep them distracted with gadgets, TV, video games, etc to make them as apathetic as possible, but they care about the future a lot more than we want to give them credit. Instead of dismissing them we should be thanking them.

And how can anyone put down a movement for being a bunch of disgruntled young people and then turn around and support the crazy crowd of screaming, angry, middle-aged white people that calls itself the Tea Party?

To the Occupy movement I say this: Stay strong brothers and sisters and screw those people that dismiss you because you're young. Keep fighting for your future and my kid's future.

And, at the risk of sounding like a condescending middle-aged guy, I'm so proud of you. The next generation is not full of nothing but those who have buried their brains in the world of iPods, texting and angry birds. Like I sometimes think.

You are beautiful and I love you.

And thank you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is Wikileaks The New Media?

Short and sweet: Yes!

I write this full of emotion and incredulity on the heels of breaking news that Julian Assange has surrendered himself in the UK on weak, trumped-up rape and sexual abuse charges by two Swedish women--one of whom is a CIA collaborator.

I admit that initially, just after the newest round of leaked documents on U.S. diplomacy, I believed Assange was being naive and was conducting a personal vendetta against government in general. I thought: what in hell is so controversial about this particular disclosure? Anyone with half a political brain knows the machinations of State Department wrangling with foreign governments behind the scenes. The geopolitical world has always been a backroom of nasty deals and compromises with shady characters working on behalf of "squeaky clean" administrations. And so Assange must be personally after some kind of entity or organization.

But as with any opinion I form in haste, the line of my thinking quickly changed. I realized Assange himself (like many curious people who vote and who bother to read political science literature and exposé) was quite aware of what goes on in diplomacy. The stuff he made public was, more or less, already out there. If you happen to watch PBS' "Frontline" you'd know. Or read things like this.

Assange's point was not to embarrass governments--they do that quite well on their own. Instead, the newest disclosure is meant to educate the likes of the Palin brigade, and the insufferable parrots aligned with either party, who robotically list party talking points lifted straight off Olberman's or O'Reilly's shows when conducting an argument.

In a simple answer: Yes, Wikileaks is the new media, in that it makes available to the (sometimes un-educated) public the nasty truth behind diplomacy, war, social, and financial systems (Bank of America is in the crosshairs).

There is a brilliant line in the fifth episode of the first season of Mad Men with which Don Draper defends his career choice in advertising to a young, beatnik-type. Draper says: "Americans like to be told what they want. What to do." And the media has quite happily agreed to borrow and carry half the baton from its boss, the advertising industry.

This is what Edward Murrow said about television in 1958, at the RTNDA Convention in Chicago:

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER.

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done--and are still doing--to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.

This sentiment holds beyond prophetic now, for the media in general. If there exists an outlet truly designed to inform the public of the realities of our modern world, as it exists now in the 21st century, then that outlet ought to be given, even nurtured, its voice.

The criticism that Assange and his Wikileaks is committing treason (put forth with much vigor by Sarah Palin herself) is beyond obtuse. This is where an ill-educated public comes into play, repeating and disseminating this inaccurate statement into the public psyche. Assange is not an American citizen, and Wikileaks does not operate on American soil, therefore a charge of treason cannot be leveled.

It's this idiocy perpetuated by the ill-informed parrots and followers of any particular party that Wikileaks aims to stem with its disclosures.

On the heels of Assange's arrest, and of the several attempts to hack the Wikileaks site, as well as the "circling of the wagons" by many of the world's governments and multi-national corporations (fuck you Amazon, fuck you PayPal, fuck you MasterCard, fuck you Joe Lieberman--you spineless political parasite, fuck you Twitter for not listing Wikileaks as a trending subject the last few days, fuck you France and Sweden for not having the balls and fortitude to support free speech, etc.), I am happy to report that over 500 mirror sites have popped up online.

A group called "Anonymous" is working hard to launch these mushrooming venues all across the Internet, making sure nothing is disrupted as Assange moves forth with his defense.

This is the real media, in the real age of information. Wikileaks would make Edward Murrow proud.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Forget 911...

...the media is a bloody joke.

Yesterday, checking up on my Twitter feed (which is basically an endless 'wire' of news and information set up a la the good ol' Telex days), I ran across this wonderful juxtaposition of headlines tweeted back to back by CNN: "North Korea Warns Region is on Brink of War" / "Shoppers Crowd Malls All Night Long."

This absurd pairing of news came rat-tat-tat-ing on my Tweetdeck literally within two seconds, and it efficiently introduced my coffee to my keyboard, via my nose. The latter piece of information was then basically regurgitated and repeated throughout the entire day and evening and into this morning by virtually every American news outlet I can think of, accompanied by the usual B-roll of herds of people pressed against glass doors, waiting for someone to open the malls, so they can trample one another for the iPad or the newest generation iPhone.

I worked in "the media" for nearly 7 years, from 1993 to 2000 (television), and before that for almost two years, just out of college from 1991-1993-ish (USIA-radio/Voice of America). My experience in the television field was quite interesting. I was a freelancer working for a brand new cable network run by the insufferable Roger Ailes (now president of Fox) named "America's Talking." Soon after my position there, the network folded and its airways were taken over by Bill Gates and Microsoft, who created MSNBC. I stayed on, and within a short period of time became one of the directors of Chris Matthews' show, which went through several incarnations before settling on "Hardball." Ailes went on to helm the newly-created Fox News for Murdoch. We all know how that has turned out.

But being there, at the inception of the 24-hr news cycle networks (aside from CNN and Bloomberg, this was a revolutionary concept, and at the very least it provided competition for CNN; Bloomberg was and is an all-business TV outlet) was savage and weird. Gone were the standards of journalism I had learned and practised while working in the VOA newsroom. People no longer needed to check sources, they just ran with whatever stories surfaced--whether inaccurate or not.

Being on for 24 hours meant there was a huge need for content. Any kind of content. Controversial content. Ridiculously mundane content. Even made up content.

I remember being called in to direct a live shot out of Washington during the "breaking news" that president Clinton's plane (Air Force One) was temporarily stuck in the mud at the airport in Memphis. We had aviation experts and chattering talking heads go on for literally two hours, speculating what might have gone wrong, what could be done right, and whether or not this was some sort of conspiracy by the Right Wing (imagine the off-air jokes containing right/left wings and airplanes--this was happening during Clinton's impeachment process).

"Producers" of these types of shows were literally 21-year-olds, straight out of university with poli-sci degrees, not seasoned veterans of journalism with ethics and standards. These kids were busting into our studios looking to put on the air anything that might carry some controversy. They had taken their cue from the daytime Jerry Springer shows and were implementing the strategy into this sacred field of journalism, which was systematically being eviscerated and fucked proper by their doing.

Chris Matthews took to literally muttering at all times off air: "...numbers, we need numbers tonight, anything to get the numbers..." (referring to the ratings of his show).

Anything to get the numbers. This was in 1995! I quit the business five years later, but scanning the airwaves just this morning, the same gang of usual suspects is making the rounds on these insufferable all-day and night outlets.

You name the talking head, I've worked with him/her. I remember hanging out on K-Street and 18th, just outside the entrance to the MS/CNBC studios, smoking stogeys with the fellows on the crew, when a then unknown Ann Coulter joined us, clad in a puffy Chinchilla coat, talking all kinds of nonsense about how much better clubs in New York City are than in Washington. We smiled and nodded politely at the emaciated Valley Girl holding court on a subject neither of us had any interest in. We all know what's become of her now.

I lost an acquaintance and a professional friend in the attacks of 9/11. Barbara Olson was the wife of the then-Solicitor General Ted Olson. She was a frequent contributor and guest, and a lovely person-despite her GOP leanings and ideas. She had concise, cerebral arguments that counter-balanced the madness and screaming among the other guests. She and I often went on to digest these issues in the Green Room, after the segment or show. She was a good person.

I got into conversation several times with Chris Hitchens--another frequent guest--who would usually show up in the late afternoons dis-shevelled and somewhat inebriated, yet lucid and sharp as hell. Most of the time, the issues he discussed with me went above and beyond my head, and I was always intimidated, but he took an interest in me and in the fact that my mother had been a translator in Romania for Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, when they visited in the '70s. We all know the scathing books Hitch has written on Kissinger and Nixon.

There were a handful of good people that walked the guest beat, but even they were prodded and pushed (off air) to say something ridiculous, to create some sort of fight within the segment.

"Numbers, we need numbers tonight...anything to get the numbers."

And so, now almost 11 years removed from an ever-rotting field, I make sure I perform my due diligence when it comes to digesting news and information. I literally don't trust any one single outlet. Even Wikileaks has come under my scrutiny. Stories in which I have interest get cross-checked and cross-referenced at least five times, from different angles.

The truth always lives somewhere in between the barriers and distractors and smoke and fog and mirrors and layers of information. If it exists at all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On Pride and Prejudice

The greatest thing about not having any ambition to seeking political office is freedom to talk. Or even better, write. Or even mo' better: think. Over the past two years, this medium has given me ample opportunity to spill vitriol...or talk sense, depending on your political affiliation and/or religious beliefs. I am forever indebted to the founders of this site, who have respectfully asked me to "come back to the fold" to plagiarize from The Beige One in his column below. So here we go: 2012 is looming. We're back in business baby!

Checking through my news sources this morning I see the elephant dung beetle that is Sarah Palin has launched a barrage of usual horse shite against Michelle Obama--questioning her patriotism and pride in a racially-charged passage from Palin's new book (link and book name purposefully not included).

Audacity and obtuse racial and religious sentiment in this country has me raising my leery eyebrows. Just a few days ago Roger Ailes, Fox News channel president, called NPR a bunch of Nazis. This term has been thrown around loosely by the GOP now for over two years, and alarmingly seems to be accepted.

The cycle, as I see it, goes like this: outlets like Fox and its cronies start circulating ideas about Communist/Fascist influx into this country's government. Other news organizations give that 24-hour play because it's controversial...and controversy = ratings = advertising dollars. The Archie Bunkers plopped on their recliners watching tee-vee believe this is the word of God. Which in turn fuels their inner, dormant racism, and gives them the balls to actually put Hitler mustaches on Obama posters, carry firearms to protests against gays/lesbians/atheists/Muslims/insert anything you want here that doesn't jive with their values or lifestyles, and vote the aberration that makes up the Tea Party into our legislature.

It's a pretty simple cycle if most of your audience likes to not think for itself. Not to sound like an elitist, but if you don't have the curiosity to cross check ideas and sources (coming from either Left or Right or Middle or wherever), then I have no mercy for you and will assume you are a glib sheep who whistles Dixie on the way to your systematic slaughter.

It may very well be that we will get what we deserve. Or that we have already gotten it. After all, we are a democracy and we choose the evil that we choose--not necessarily wisely--but nevertheless consistently.

I can honestly say that my pride for this country, especially in the last two years, has dwindled down to nothing. And the level of frustration as I read or listen to these simpletons spew their fearful, racist, religious, and most importantly uninformed vitriol before news cameras, has over-spilled the mental vessel.

Strangely enough, I still have hope. But it's of the skewed kind. That is to say, upon seeing the stalemate that is now all but assured in Congress for the next two years, the same Einsteins who voted these incompetents into our government, will turn around and "punish" them by voting them out. And so it will go into my twilight, our economy slated to follow in Japan's footsteps.

To be perpetually continued, and made into a Hollywood movie starring Sisyphus and his buddy: one large, pesky rock.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2012: Starting A List, Checking It Twice

So, while the White House fritters away portions of its day by doing little things like the historic Four Loko decision*, Republicans begin exerting their influence by saying to women: "Equal pay for equal work? Fuck off."

And so, the march toward 11/6/2012 begins, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. It's been remarkable to see the atmosphere since the mid-terms took place: Conservatives and the Tea Bag Party candidates proclaiming that we're going back to the '50s; Democrats running around yelling "WOE IS US! THE SKY! IT FALLS! WHAT DID WE DO WHAT DID WE DO?!?!!", only to be outdone by the lefty pundits; Progressives yelling at them to stand the fuck up, fucking pussies. and fight for their honor.

And the losers in all of this? The public, especially those who thought that the Tea Party was going to do for them. One wonders when they'll finally wake up to the reality, or if they'll just continue echoing the noise coming from the top down (in this instance, I'm not an idealist).

Well, after essentially taking it easy for the last two years, I'm fucking tuned in; not that I was too far gone...And while I am impressed at all that Obama has done in his first two years, if he doesn't take this last election as a wake up call to feed his supporters on the left, he's doomed to be a one-term president.

Seriously, what's the point of continuing to cater to the right? They pillory him at every turn, so come back to the fold, Mr. O, come back.

Anyway, onward and leftward.

*I maintain that these little empty caloric decisions are part and parcel with daily life in the White House, regardless of administration. What's sad here is that there's nothing else the current White House can claim as new policy, yet.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stupid Is As Stupid Does


"I decided talking to a conservative is like talking to your refrigerator. You know, the light goes on the light goes off; it's not going to do anything that isn't built in to it. And I'm not going to talk to a conservative anymore than I talk to my damn refrigerator." ---Utah Phillips (1935-2008)


Pick up my New York Times from the hallway outside our apartment door this morning and start perusing the headlines before my daughter would wake up. First one I notice is an article titled, Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith. I start reading the article and it opens with a scene of an incumbent Indiana Democratic congressman defending his climate bill vote in front of a hostile crowd full of people self-identified as part of the "tea party" movement. He calls global warming real and indisputable, just like the vast majority of scientists who know anything about climate.

He is showered with boos. This is the next bit of the article:

...including a hearty growl from Norman Dennison, a 50-year-old electrician and founder of the Corydon Tea Party.

“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”


And here we have the fundamental problem with trying to talk sense to conservative Christians. Put the facts in front of their face, shower them with reason, use real data to make your argument and you will be wasting your time.

The liars that are Glenn, Rush, Sean, Sarah, et al; a 2,000-year-old piece of poorly written fiction. This is who they will choose to believe, this is where they get their "truth." These sources give them the narrative as they want it to be and that's good enough for them, no matter that it flies in the face of all common sense or what the actual truth might be.

This is how it is possible for Obama to be simultaneously a Socialist and a Nazi. How he is trying to make you enroll is big, bad, government-run socialized health-care and also take away your Medicare. How he wants to redistribute the wealth and is also the puppet of Wall Street bankers. they believe every one of these things about him, never mind that they are all contradictory of each other. I suppose that makes it just like believing in their bible.

They are stupid and they are very proud of it.

This country is fucked.

(Originally posted at Out Of Tune)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Screw Tolerance


Things are heating up for gay rights issues in this country. "Don't ask, don't tell" is gasping at its final breaths and the issue of gay marriage is winding its way through the court system on its way to an inevitable showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, and even if it loses there the next generation of Americans - the ones who are now in their teens and twenties - will legalize same-sex marriage anyway.

This is all great news, as the bigots - though it has taken way too long - are losing again. That is always a good thing. It has been, and still is, a long hard-fought battle for equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in America. We're winning the argument, us progressives, because, well, the argument on the other side is stupid.

There is one aspect to the argument that comes from the liberal side that I do have an issue with. It seems that since the 90s we have been urging people to be "tolerant" of the queers.

I say, fuck tolerance.

Gay is not something to tolerate and it sends the wrong message to the bigots and hate-mongers of the world.

I tolerate the asshole walking down the street texting who bumps in to me, instead of elbowing him in the face like I really want to do. Because in a civil society I need to resist those urges, even if someone deserves it.

I tolerate the moron on the subway listening to his headphones so loud that everyone can hear his music, instead of ripping his iPod out of his hands and crushing it with my foot. See above reason.

I tolerate conservative bible-thumpers, instead of stabbing them in the throat. Because there are too many too kill them all and it would be very messy and tiring.

The point is, you don't tolerate something that's not bad because there is nothing to tolerate. By using this word you are giving credibility to the bigotry. You are saying it is OK to think of homosexuals as sinners who are going to hell, but just be hush-hush about it.

Look, if two people enter a committed relationship with the intention of spending their lives together, regardless of their gender, it is either a) something to be celebrated and honored, or b) something to not give a shit about at all. Period. There are no other options. And you can switch back and forth between the two. I have friends and family that are answer "a" and others that are answer "b."

I'm not sure who decided on this "tolerance" mantra many years ago, and I wish I could find out what they were thinking. I suspect that comes from the left's own faulty tolerance. Specifically tolerance of fucked-up religious beliefs. Too many people on the left try to cling to their own religion that they go too much out of their way to respect the religion of others. So we ended up tip-toeing around their religion and the result is asking them for their tolerance. But in that process we give credibility to their dumb religious beliefs and we head down the road of respecting all sorts of asinine things, from polygamy to female genital mutilation. Where will it stop?

What we are supposed to say to these people is, "fuck your religion."

And there are only two real reason we have to make in our argument of why their religion should be fucked:

One is, your religion has nothing to do with what should or shouldn't be against the law in a secular nation. If you want to live in a theocracy go ahead and move to Saudi Arabia or the Vatican.

Second, I call bullshit that this is really about your religion, anyway. There are tons of things in the bible that you choose to ignore (like slavery or selling your daughter being just fine and dandy with your god) so why are you so hung up on this one? I know why, and it has nothing to do with your religion. It's because the thought of two dudes doing it grosses you out. (And let's face it, if only women were queer they would have been allowed to get married years ago, because even your most conservative born-again guy thinks two chicks getting it on is hot.) OK, maybe not all of you are grossed out by it. As we've learned from several militant "anti-gay" preacher-crusaders, some of you are turned on by it and it scares you.

But you know what? Just because gay guys can get married doesn't mean you have to have sex with guys. Or watch those guys have sex.

Hey, truth be told - and I'm sorry my gay friends - a couple of guys going at it kind of grosses me out, too. I thought maybe I was hipster enough in college and my years in Seattle in the 90s that maybe I could go gay or bi, but I just don't dig the fellas.

One night out at a bar in Seattle one of my gay pals planted a big old kiss on me, wet and sloppy with a tongue in my mouth. I acted all cool about it, but in the back of my head I was thinking, "Yuck! Gross! Ewww!" Just wasn't my thing, you know? It certainly affirmed that I'm straight, no question. (I later told said friend that I didn't enjoy it and he never tried to do it again, and we stayed friends. Just like I would do with a girl I was friends with but not attracted to.)

But just because I didn't dig it why would I try to stop him from sticking his tongue (or dick for that matter) down the throat of some guy who does? Why would I care? I was never in to black girls either - just never had any attraction to any - but that doesn't mean I should want to stop other white guys from hooking up with black women.

People have incredibly varied sexual and relationship preferences - an infinite amount, really - gay, straight and bi. They don't have to be in to the same thing as me for me to be OK for them to exists, or even be friends with them.

People are attracted to who they are attracted to, for reasons they only have to explain to themselves, and that's a beautiful thing. To try to keep them apart is such an asshole thing to do. It's as stupid as hating people for being left handed.

So fuck tolerance. As the bumper sticker I saw years ago said, "I don't tolerate differences, I celebrate them."

I think we need less tolerance in the world. Specifically, we need to stop tolerating people who use an over 2,000-year-old piece of fiction as an excuse for a pass on their fucked up bigotry.

I will never, not ever, tolerate them.

(Originally posted at Out Of Tune)