Yes, the media makes and breaks politicians. They tell us who the “serious” politicians are before the race has even begun, and it always seems to be about who can raise money. At his blog, Matt Taibbi writes thoughtfully about this issue of the way the media caricatures politicians:
The political media has always taken it upon itself to make decisions about who is and who is not qualified to be taken seriously as candidates for higher office. Without even talking about whether they do this more or less to Republicans or Democrats, I can testify that I witnessed this phenomenon over and over again in the primary battles within the Democratic Party. It has always been true that the press corps has drawn upon internalized professional biases, high-school-style groupthink and the urging of insider wonks to separate candidates into “serious” and “unserious” groups before the shots even start to be fired.
Taibbi’s post then morphs into some observations about Sarah Palin, who has constantly complained that she is not being treated fairly by “the liberal press.”
Back in September, Senator Al Franken and Rep. Steve Israel has introduced the “Household Product Labeling Act,” which will enable consumers to determine whether potentially harmful chemicals are present in the household cleaning products they use. Here’s the full text of the Senate version of the Act. Here’s the problem:
In many households across the country, the entire family pitches in on household cleaning chores. The effort is obviously intended to keep everyone healthy by cutting down on germs, bacteria, and mold. But unfortunately, many of the ingredients in commonly used cleaning products may be dangerous themselves. Current law requires that product labels list immediately hazardous ingredients, but there is no labeling requirement for ingredients that may cause harm over time.
Many chemicals contained in household products have been shown to produce harmful health effects. Consumers have a right to know which of these potentially harmful chemicals might be present in their kitchen and bathroom cupboards. This information is particularly important to families with small children, who as we all know have more direct contact with floors and household surfaces. This legislation simply makes that information readily available to consumers, giving them the opportunity to make an informed choice about the chemicals they bring into their homes.
This is an incredibly important bill, because consumers should have a right to know the chemicals to which they are exposing their families (see here for related post). How do you promote a bill when the “mere” sickness and death fail to attract enough attention? A private company called Method decided to shoot this clever (and somewhat provocative) video:
Customers of this Dollar Tree store in St. Louis are greeted with the following signs located on the main entry door:
Here’s how I interpret the above: Welcome, honored guests, but it you rip us off, we’ll throw your ass in the slammer before you can even utter “Merry Christmas.”
Ashleigh Banfield has finally gotten hired back to work at a major network, after losing her job at MSNBC in 2003 for speaking out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Here’s what she had to say back in 2003, which caused her to lose her job. She is speaking of what you are not shown by the news media when the nation is at war:
What didn’t you see? You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism or was this coverage-? There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you’re getting the story, it just means you’re getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that’s what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn’t journalism, because I’m not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid oaf horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn’t see what it took to do that.
Banfield also has some critically important things to say about the “Fox News effect” (the patriotizing and glorification of war).
Reading this Huffpo post about Banfield reminds me of this post featuring similar comments by Amy Goodman. It also reminds me how Phil Donahue also lost his job at MSNBC for being critical of the Iraq invasion (more about Donahue’s views here). These sorts of firings are actually predictable. The documentary “War Made Easy” reminds us that hawks close ranks around Presidents who start wars and they also put tremendous pressure on networks to do the same. Banfield’s story reminds us that we need to strive to keep dissenting voices prominent during times of war because something about war makes us insanely fearful and even less able to reason than in times of peace. It is during times of war that we become collectively willing to let ourselves run amok wrapped in the flag.
The divide between church and state seems on the one hand to be growing but on the other narrowing, especially when you consider how intrusive established religions have been. Representatives of the Catholic Church sat in Nanci Pelosi’s office of late while negotiations for the health care bill were ongoing, overseeing what she would do about abortion.
Any way one reads this, it comes out as a threat. The quid pro quo is explicit. “If you don’t bend to our will on this, we will stop services your city relies on.”
I have in the past believed that the tax exempt status of religions was a necessary work-around to preserve the fiction of separation. In the past, there have been instances of state intrusion directly into religions in, for one example, state funding for programs in parochial schools. There was always a quid pro quo in such offers and practices.
But never has a representative of the state sat in the office of a minister while he drafted a sermon to be sure certain details got left out or included. Never, despite massive abuses by religious institutions in real estate and related financial areas, has the state moved to revoke 501(c)(3) status. It may be that any state official who tried it would be booted out of office summarily, but nevertheless that has been the unspoken law of the land.
Seems the courtesy doesn’t go both ways. If that’s the case, I think it is time to revisit the whole issue. If the Catholic Church sees itself as providing services as an arm of the civil service sector and allows itself the conceit that it may use that service as a lever to influence political decisions, then they have implicitly given up due consideration as an inviolate institution, free from state requirements of taxation and regulation.
Seems fairly clear cut to me. Obviously, there will be those who disagree. But it’s time, I think, to seriously reconsider the state relationship to so-called “nonprofit” “apolitical” tax exempt institutions.
Over on her blog, Kelley Eskridge has a video of a “Bono Moment” in which you see two distinct types of fans interacting with U2’s lead singer. Check it out and come back here.
Okay, the guy in the t-shirt obviously is carrying on a conversation. he may be being a fan, but he hasn’t lost his mind. The female is being…a groupie, I guess. Though the groupies I’ve met in my time have been a bit more specific about what they wanted and had a better plan on how to get it. In any event, the questions Kelley raises are interesting and relate on so many levels to so many different things. The fan reaction—mindless adulation bordering on deification—looks to me, has always looked to me, like exactly the same kind of nonsense people put into religion. Mindless, utterly uncritical adoration of an image and the set of emotions with which that image is connected in the mind of the adulant. You can see the same thing in politics. To a lesser degree with less public personalities—writers, painters, photographers (I never knew anyone who elevated a photographer to the level of sex god, but I have known people who got off on sleeping with painters, and of course there’s a kind of Nabokovian/Bellow/DeLillo-esque subculture of writer groupies…) and other creative types—but actors and musicians seem to get all the dedicated obsessives.
I’ve never had this happen to me. I’m not sure if I’m grateful or resentful—having somebody want to associate themselves with you in a mindless swoon because your work has made them, I don’t know, climax maybe is on a certain level appealing. But it’s appealing the same way porn is—something most people, if they’re at all sane and grounded, kind of grow out of and get over. I know I would not find it very attractive now. When I was twenty-five? You betcha. Bring ’em on.
But if I’d had that then I think I’m fairly sure I would have wearied of it very quickly. I long ago realized that sex, to me, involved the other person—emphasis on Person—and the best sex I ever had included the good conversations before and, especially, after. (There is a point, of course, where you realize that sex is a conversation, of a very particular sort, and takes on a whole new dimension, which one-night-stands, no matter how good they might be, just can’t provide.)
But the real problem with all this is that art is more than just any one thing and the artist is not the art. The two are inextricably linked. Here is a video discussing the question of artist-in-relation-to-muse which I find illuminating. The notion that the talent “arrives” and you act as conduit through which creativity happens is not, as the speaker suggests, a new one, and it’s not one I’m particularly in sympathy with—it all happens in my brain, it’s definitely mine—but I certainly find her analysis of the psychology of following through intriguing and true. Once the muse is finished with you on a given project, you do not continue to exist as though in the grip of the work. There is a person there that pre-figures the work and who will be there after it’s done that has all the needs and wants and sensibilities of a normal human being. To be treated as some kind of transcendence generating machine by people is in some ways disenfranchising. For a writer, if the well from which inspiration and material are drawn is the honesty of human interaction, then the gushing idiot fan robs the writer, for a few minutes at least, of exactly that.
But it also sets the artist up to become a prisoner. A prisoner of other people’s expectations. Those expectations always play a part in anyone’s life, but certain aspects—the most artificial ones—get exaggerated in the instance of fan adoration.
Watch Bono shift from one stance to another when he finally acknowledges the female. No, he doesn’t stop being Bono, but it’s almost as if he says “Oh, it’s time to do this sort of thing now” as he first recognizes her presence and then automatically poses for the camera, with this not-quite-disingenuous smirk. Because he also recognizes that, however silly this person is being, what she’s feeling right then is her’s and to claim it is artificial is wrong. Maybe an artificial set of expectations led her to this point, but now that she’s In The Moment, the emotions are real. If he’d ignored her or told her something snarky in an attempt to snap her out of it, all that would have resulted would have been an ugly moment, a bit of cruelty, and a lot of confusion on the fan’s part.
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Over on his blog, Whatever, John Scalzi does an interesting analysis of just what Obama is doing with FOX News. I’m heartened by the idea that he’s playing the GOP in their own game of unfitness-by-association-with-a-label and winning, especially when it doesn’t actually appear that that’s what he’s doing.
You would think that the bloviations of such methane-rich mineral deposits like Rush Limbaugh would long since have caused people who might have basked in the eerie swamp-glow of Republican ascendancy to hide themselves from public view, but instead they are forming ranks. If Scalzi’s take is correct, they are simply moving into their own corner, isolating themselves, and making it easy to identify them. Those with any brains have begun to distance themselves, and the more FOX bleats about Obama This and Obama That the less sane they all look.
Still, the hard core of the GOP is still driven by ideologues who have a hard time understanding that not only are there other viewpoints but that some of them might make sense. Since that ideology is but a short space away from a belief that whether any other viewpoint makes sense or not it doesn’t matter because Jesus is coming back “real soon now,” they are utterly hamstrung. For years some of them have surely known that they needed to get rid of that wing of the party, but they couldn’t do it without sacrificing seats in Congress. Now they’ll be forced to not only rid themselves of that, but also disavow their cheerleading section. It will be a long road to recovery, but once they admit they are no longer in control of their own lives, that a higher power must be appealed to, that they have to turn this around one step at a time, we should then stop picking on them.
In the meantime, may I suggest no quarter. But let us not get ugly about it. Let’s take a page from our president and gut them with style.
According to Glenn Greenwald, if you want to see what Iraq journalism looked like, read the the hyped up news on Iran. Take, for example a recent Washington Times piece by Toby Warrick, which is:
purely one-sided, unquestioning and entirely anonymous series of dubious, unverified, fear-mongering assertions that can have no purpose other than to create the most sinister picture of the “Iranian threat” possible.
Some of the neighborhoods near my house in St. Louis have already celebrated Halloween. For instance, my street celebrates Halloween on the Sunday afternoon prior to Halloween. Celebrating in the daylight makes it easier for us to visit with little neighborhood children and their parents. The nearby Compton Heights neighborhood celebrates Halloween on the Saturday night prior to Halloween. Our family was invited to venture over to Compton Heights a few nights ago, and we weren’t disappointed.
Amidst all of the traditional candy-giving, we stumbled upon one particular house where the family had put together its own haunted house. The family owns a big old house, but also owns a separate large two-story carriage house in the back. They hired an electrician to wire up the carriage house with sophisticated lighting and they assembled a team of 20 friends and family to pose as various types of dead people inside the house. Not typical dead people, mind you. Dead people who stand still in the dim lighting and come alive just when you are convinced that they are mannequins (and there were quite a few mannequins too, some of them dismembered). When selected dead people came alive, they yelped, or they screamed; some of them reached out and grabbed you. There were ghouls and ghosts, a vampire, a mummy, floating bones, a guy with a “chainsaw,” and a beheaded guy who suddenly moaned, all of this horror looking rather real and all of these characters lurking carefully amidst the dim lighting as we toured this incredible house.
Each of the photos in this post is from this house. Note that it’s not always easy to take photos in a darkly lit haunted house. While I was taking a photo of a decapitated head on a table, for instance, a dead man reached out and tugged on my sleeve, smudging the long exposure.
How good was it? I stood outside for 30 minutes after I toured the haunted house, and every ten minutes or so, I saw a panicky grown child running from the haunted house crying. Bravo! I then learned that the haunted house family has been putting on this magnificent show, for free, for 15 years. Double Bravo!
But as I walked away from the haunted house, I wondered two things.