You Are What You Eat

March 31, 2010

“Even the President of the United States chooses what he wants to hear.” –Ray Tuers

We live in the Information Age.  We are constantly bombarded with information, but we really understand little about our world.  Aside from the tiny portion of space and time that we occupy throughout the day, our knowledge of the world comes from other persons, organizations, and corporations.  We make choices about our information based on established thought patterns, preconceived ideas and political ideology.  In ways that are eerily similar to how we feed our bodies, how we choose to feed our minds determines so much about what we think we know and who we are.

Like the food we eat, the information we consume may be momentarily pleasurable, but ultimately quite harmful.  Prepackaged, processed information looks appetizing on the surface but further inspection reveals the presence of artificial ingredients and self-serving analysis, not to mention the omission of essential facts and historical context.  Sometimes we aren’t even hungry, just bored or tired; so we find ourselves munching on the media equivalent of fast food- it doesn’t nourish, or satisfy and may leave us more ignorant than we started. The information that is best for us often requires more effort: we must take the time to read, contemplate, challenge assumptions and compare different sources and opinions.

Those of us burdened with the knowledge of where our information comes from have grown very wary of whose interests are being served by the way information is presented and what information is selected for presentation.  It should be clear to everyone by now that you can find someone willing to sell you any idea you want to buy.  But before you go filling your brain with junk food, you ought to ask yourself, “Who benefits?”  Probably not you.

The TV doesn’t so much tell you what to think, it tells you what to think about.


If you’ve been wondering how we can overcome seemingly impossible odds to bring positive change to our world…

There are wise teachers who have been pondering these questions.   Francis Moore Lappe is one of these.

Don’t you wish your representative or Senator had the guts and the integrity of this guy?  The footage is a few years old now, but Bernie could just as well be talking to Ben Bernanke, the current chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Much like the Health Care Reform now and the Banking Reform to come, when you peel back the layers you find that the decisions are being made in ways that help all of us very little, but helps those that least deserve it very much.

The large print giveth and the small print taketh away.

The Oath Keepers are an “organization” that consists of soldiers, marines and law enforcement types who swear an oath to disobey any of a list of potential orders from the president that they deem to be unconstitutional.  So you may ask, “that doesn’t sound so bad, what’s the big deal?”  The problem arises when you also take into account the paranoid conspiracies that swirl amongst these erstwhile patriots.  Many or some at least are decent, reasonably well-adjusted individuals.  Others would likely have gotten on really well with Timothy McVeigh. 

Here’s the real problem as I see it: 

You’ve got emotionally unstable, heavily armed men who harbor hysterically paranoid fears about the impending totalitarian coup being planned by the Obama administration.  What happens when the impending disaster that these guys “know” is coming doesn’t come soon enough?  We end up with a situation where people who have already made preparations for the end of the world as we know it, and are in some ways looking forward to the coming battle get impatient and figure that they may as well start it and get the jump on things.  Mark my words, these nutty bastards are going to blow something up or assassinate someone- and who knows what these unstable crackpots are likely to do when the Feds come to manage the crime scene.  Hopefully they’ll scurry back under the rocks from whence they’ve come.

Here’s the link to the Mother Jones article:

Here’s the sanitized for public consumption promotional video, complete with inspiring patriotic orchestral theme music:

In light of the nearly continuous media coverage of the tragedy last week at Sea World in which Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca, one might almost be excused for assuming that accidental deaths at Sea World are an ongoing crisis.  If the breathless media coverage were taken as any indication- this situation with killer whales is one of the most pressing issues facing our country today.  It is however worth considering that in the space of the last week at least 1069 people died unnecessarily due to events and issues that are a direct result of the apathy of the American people.  8 US soldiers died in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Approximately 95 servicemen committed suicide.  As many as 27 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in a NATO air strike.  21 Iraqis died in a suicide bombing. 17 died in suicide bombings in Afghanistan.  And approximately 901 Americans died preventable deaths for lack of access to health care. 

How often to you hear an expression like, “…it seems like every day on TV you see [whatever].”  What do we see on television every day?  We see a parade of useless trivia, a circus sideshow of dysfunctional celebrities, advertisements for products masquerading as news stories and endless rounds of talking heads giving us the talking points for whatever economic and political point of view they represent.  We are being manipulated not informed.  We are distracted by spectacle, confused by contradictions and deceived by those who promote the interests of the wealthy and powerful people who run this country (and I don’t mean the jokers we cast votes for every couple of years).

The freedom of the press was enshrined in the Constitution to safeguard citizen’s access to information so that Americans could make the informed decisions necessary to the functioning of a free and democratic society. In the early days of the American republic, the postal costs for newspapers were almost completely subsidized by the Federal Government.  Thousands of small, medium and large newspapers across the country sought to inform the American people.  Today, it is profit that drives news coverage not purpose. 

 The bottom line dictates two primary objectives for news coverage: viewers (or readers) and costs.  Sex, violence, scandal, famous people, controversy- these subjects attract the interest of consumers.  Cost is the other factor that dictates coverage.  Investigative reporting or extensive research takes time and costs money.  Exposing frauds and conspiracies, covering complex issues requires investments that cut directly into the bottom line.  From a dollars and cents perspective, coverage of the aftermath of the death of Michael Jackson is far more profitable than extensive reportage of events in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Whenever possible, coverage of news stories requires little more than lining up a few talking heads or even “experts” who are happy to pontificate on television for little more than a 60 second opportunity for some shameless self-promotion.  Even on the most serious issues of the day we get little more than he said, she said with scant fact checking and even less historical context.  We get the expert opinions of retired generals with ties to defense contractors, political partisans and lobbyists who serve other powerful interests and academics (with who knows what actual qualifications) who work for corporate funded “think tanks.”  And we should know that whether it is news anchors or talking heads, each one is acutely conscious of the fact that if they say something that upsets the powerful people in charge, their services will no longer be required.

This he said, she said style of reportage allows the illusion of objectivity to be maintained without actually providing the viewers with anything more than the opinions that reinforce whatever preconceived beliefs they may already have.  One can disregard the facts or opinions that don’t coincide with one’s own values.  Facts have become a matter of opinion and ideology an article of faith.  Global Warming is either a serious crisis or a complete hoax.  Terror trials in New York are an expression of our values or a dangerous failure to take the “War on Terror” seriously.  Banks either need to be regulated or they have been over regulated already.  If you find all of this frustrating, perhaps you would like to watch some reality television.

Can I offer you some Wonderbread with you Circuses?

War on the Working Class

February 28, 2010

This is part one of a six-part series.  A must read.  I don’t agree with every detail of his analysis, but the basic premise is spot on.

How soon we forget nearly 200,000 years of history.  We consider ourselves separate from the natural world, and yet think we reside within it as one might live in a house or a city.  And this is a problem because we can’t just slap a new coat of paint on this one; we can’t simply throw some new shingles on the roof.  It is readily apparent that the health of the global ecosystem is in poor and rapidly worsening shape.  We see: the declining health of the oceans; global warming; the extinction of species at more than 100 times the normal rate; the decreasing availability of fresh water- I could go on and on. The rate of population growth coupled with industrialization has transformed our planet in ways beyond parallel in only a few short generations. 

It is an old story in businesses of all types: a well-known and all-too-common pitfall is to grow too big, too fast- to get overextended and then go bankrupt.  A man can lose his business, his home.  His employees lose their jobs; his clients are left out in the cold.  This happens everyday.  This is unfortunately an apt metaphor for the fate that may well befall human civilization (as we know it), though the consequences will be far worse.  Billions of lives depend on the physical, financial and commercial infrastructure that now stretches to all corners of the globe.  And for this reason we should have long ago (at least a few decades) paused to consider how we might seek to promote a balance that might sustain us all in some reasonable level of comfort, peace, prosperity and health.

 I am afraid that what we see happening around us is the natural inviolable pattern that seeks always to enforce balance.  That dynamic tension between creation and inevitable destruction, like the string on a bow, can only be stretched so far before it returns to equilibrium or breaks.  We are bound by the same laws of nature that govern the terrible violent beauty that is found in jungles of the Amazon or the Great Barrier Reef.  We fool ourselves at our own peril to think the laws of nature do not apply to us as well.

Am I the chicken or the egg?

February 25, 2010

Our media says something about who we are.  Yes, we as consumers don’t actually participate in the production of whatever mindless, silly, useless, pointless, inane, shallow, venal, dehumanizing, manipulative (use whatever adjective you like) media in all its many varied and invasive forms.  We do however consume it, willingly or otherwise.  Other people in expensive suits I imagine- in places like N.Y., D.C. and L.A., determine the exact nature of the media that we consume.  But they design it all very carefully with you and I in mind.  They create the songs, movies, TV shows, billboards, magazines, books, flyers, inserts, pop-ups, jingles, commercials and 30 second attack ads based upon what they think about who we are.  They think they know from extensive research, polls, studies, experts, psychologists, questionnaires and surveys just what we will buy, watch, read, glance at, stare at, laugh at, listen to, and tolerate whenwherewhyandhow.   Very often they hit the mark.

Consideration of such matters begs circular questions about life reflecting art and art, life, made more troublesome by the increasing absence of anything resembling actual art.  Is it the chicken or the egg?  Am I the chicken?  When some combination of pictures, words and sounds captures my attention, just who or what is doing the capturing?  When these things that I see and hear that were made by someone I will never meet affect the way that I may think, feel, desire, or understand what exactly is changing and who’s ends are served by that change?  My answers to these questions are my own, and incomplete at that.  I would not presume to answer these questions for you or your children, that is your job, your duty in fact. 

So, next time you are watching that ad for cars or beer or chewing gum or a political party you might want to ask yourself, “who do these people seem to think I am?”  And what does the answer to this question say about those responsible for such an ad (or any other form of media to which one might be subjected)?  The answers to these questions may make you very uncomfortable, and they should considering what they say about who we are as a people and a nation.

This is a clip from one of the most impressive scenes in a truly visionary motion picture from 1976.  This movie anticipated the advent of Foxnews in particular and infotainment in general.  This movie understood the power and the danger of the television.  If Carl Marx had written his works in the late twentieth century he would most certainly said that it is the boobtube that is the opiate of the masses.  We should follow the advice of Howard Beale- shut it off, shut it off right now.