Monday, January 31, 2011

The spheres of society

There are several major fields of influence that make up our society as a whole: political, economic, media, and religion/spirituality. It is not to say that a person as an individual must have a position in each of these spheres, but that they all have an influence in our society and our discourse as a nation.

The important thing about these spheres of influence is that, while they do overlap, they are also patently separate. Too much cross-contamination is never a good idea.

A recent reminder of this is a bill being proposed by House Republicans that would change the definition of "rape" when used as an exemption to tax-funded abortion. Currently, the rape exemptions include cases of statutory rape, even if it is consensual. With the new law, this would no longer be the case. This new attack on abortion rights, a truce that has stood since the 1970's, is the result of strong religious opinion being mixed with political influence. The safety and humanitarian rights of the citizenry are not being discussed in this new bill. Rather, the bill focuses on the morality of the writers rather than what is best for the citizen.

Another example of a breaking down in the separation of spheres is the continual influence of big business and lobbyists in the discourse and elections of our government. When there are those who are professional lobbyists and they are more likely to get an audience in our legislative body than the average American, there is clearly something wrong. This is a breakdown between the economic and political spheres.

The point is, there are walls for a reason. We have safeguards and divided sectors and opposition for a reason. To pour everything together without regard for the consequences opens us up to corruption of our society as a whole. Our media is infected with corporate interests and extremist political punditry. We are barraged daily with distorted characterization and falsehoods from all sides. These are not problems in and of themselves, but symptoms of a larger breakdown of isolated influences.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Learning new words

In our media today, we hear a lot of words that are awfully misrepresented. These terms are used to demonize political opponents by invoking a response based on ignorance and echoic fears. The most common example is Socialism. This is a word that has come to mean oppression, fear, overpowered government, and the opposite of America. It is true that America is about as far from a Socialist system as is possible, but the assumptions and beliefs that have been associated with this word are incredibly misleading.

There are many different kinds of Socialism, and most of them are not bad at all. In fact, they make a lot of sense. Many Socialist theories reject government altogether, advocate self-government, and focuses on group ownership of production and distribution. The overarching premise of Socialism is to have no private ownership, no competition to keep costs down, and little government (if any at all) to keep the system operating. It is mostly run on the backs of those in the community.

Communism is a more classical term that has been demonized by our media. It is very similar to Socialism, but is something of a more purified form, in which there are no classes as well as no private ownership. Communism has gotten a bad rap recently because it has been implemented in a forceful way in many countries. Going back to Stalin and Lenin, Hitler (to some extent), Che Guevara, Castro, and Communist China, it's easy to see why Communism has become the kind of defacto Boogeyman of our political discourse. It has come to represent oppression, suppression of ideas and individual freedoms, and violation of human rights. Unfortunately, this is neither fair nor true, as these problems arise when the country is run by the "Communist Party" in power, a notion that is completely foreign to pure Communism and that has more in common with Fascism.

On that note, let us consider Fascism. This word has become a description that is often associated with the other two previously discussed as the inevitable end result. It is toted as an extremist Left-wing ideology, and is spoken of as if it were quickly becoming rampant in our country. The fact is, Fascism does not adhere to one ideology over another; it is neither Left or Right, but borrows from both. It is intensely militaristic, forcing its citizens to conform to rigid codes of conduct in order to maintain a kind of organic society. Now, consider the beliefs of many conservative Americans who say that the government should be reduced to roughly the size of the military. In my view, that sounds an awful lot like Fascism.

The point of this post is to point out the gross disinformation, distortions, and outright falsehoods that are being projected by our media and elected officials when they use these words without understanding their meaning. When we see or hear something like "Communism vs. Capitalism", it generally doesn't register that this is essentially the same thing as "Apples vs. Oranges." Capitalism is an economic system, not a sociopolitical one like Communism. However, in America, we seem to have progressed to the point where our Neo-Capitalism has taken on aspects of our societal and political structure; whether this is for the best or not is another discussion.We continually hear about Capitalism as the standard by which we should measure the world, that it is the Free Market that is the sole reason for our current place in the world. But hasn't it also poisoned our society, turned us against one another, our fellow man, in order to get ahead by any means necessary?

In my view, Capitalism draws on the worst of the human condition, while Communism draws on the best. Capitalism feeds our animalistic competitiveness and infighting, rewards ruthless attack and personal gain, and frowns on weakness. Communism stresses our innate draw to collective groups, like-minded individuals, and our base needs for community and preservation of the group. These two conflicting viewpoints are often in conflict, and are equally valid in the human psyche. Whichever one is more predominant for the individual will likely determine which form of governance and society they value or agree with.

One should not have to fear the ramifications of espousing their beliefs in our current culture. We are meant to be a culture of free thought and opinion. I believe that Communism is a better choice than Capitalism, and yet to express that openly is to entice backlash, even as an unimportant individual in this society. The facts are that we as a society have turned these words on their heads, are using them to fuel distrust and disquiet, and that few people who use them freely in our media seem to have a working understanding of what they represent. We must do better, must be more open-minded and educated about our system and the other systems that exist in our world. There are dark sides to every dawn, two sides to every coin, and no one right answer that will make everything fall into place. However, we owe it to ourselves to understand fully what our options are, and what we can do to better ourselves and society.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Corporate jobs

We have been told that, for the last several months, the stock market has come bounding back and corporations are once more raking in huge profits.

So where are the jobs?

The GOP claims that the health care reform bill stunts job growth in this country, and cite the fact that few jobs have been created in the last few months. However, study after study have found that this isn't the case. The bill allows those who are looking to retire to do so earlier because they have coverage independent of their jobs, and allows others to leave their jobs to start their own businesses without having to worry about losing coverage. This will undoubtedly lead to more jobs, since small businesses, as the GOP is so fond of telling us, are the backbone of our economy and the greatest source of job growth.

I'm curious why, if the GOP really thinks this about small businesses, why they would fight a bill that clearly helps them. Anyway...

The question of where all the jobs are is a simple one if you think about it. Companies have had to tighten their belts for over two years, shaving spending (including jobs) to make ends meet and stay competitive. Now that they are out of the woods financially, they will likely maintain their streamlined businesses in order to turn greater profits. There may be more jobs created, but not nearly as many as there were before, and some spending might increase, but it is unlikely to reach pre-recession levels.

If you consider this, it makes sense. Imagine you owned a business that hired 100 employees. During the recession, you had to let go of 50 of them to cut costs, and were able to keep the rest and still meet quotas and maintain production. Now that you're doing better financially, do you hire 50 people to a company that is still maintaining its quality and quantity of work, or do you keep doing what you have been and work with a streamlined workforce in order to make more money? Remembering that humanitarianism is not the strong suit of business, and that businesses are required by law to consider their bottom line before everything else, it's no surprise we haven't seen greater job growth.

So how do we jump-start the jobs?

Follow Obama's plan. If the private sector won't open up new jobs, then it has to be done somewhere else. Get people going on rebuilding our infrastructure, creating green technologies, and converting our energy system into a more productive enterprise. If the private sector won't hire Americans, the public sector will have to do so. Another option is to penalize businesses that send jobs overseas rather than hire Americans. Keep in mind that most small businesses don't send jobs overseas; that is a phenomenon of the big corporations. By making it more fiscally sound to keep American jobs, we open the private sector to hiring American workers once more.

SOTU 2011

Last night's State of the Union address was rather more subdued than in previous years. What struck me most, however, was that Obama was still very eloquent, direct, and specific about the direction that the government will be taking. I'm taking it as a good sign that Obama was able to outline specific decisions and positions that he hopes to pursue in the coming weeks and months.

The overall tone of the speech was on of reserved optimism, and the general theme was coming together to earn the future. It was a bold and timely speech, considering the recent partisan politics that have plagued the House, particularly over health care reform. Obama made some very startling promises and plans in the speech, one of which was the promise to veto any bill that had pet project spending slipped in. This may mean a mass increase in vetoed bills, but if Obama can stomach that, so should we.

I felt that the speech was well-prepared, and deliberately skirted around various topics in favor of more pressing matters. The President didn't talk about gun control, for example, because it has little to do with our current national issues. Similarly, the President did not mention abortion rights or anything surrounding the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate. Again, this was a deliberate tactic used to focus people on the major problems that are affecting us.

Perhaps the most moving part of the speech, IMHO, was Obama's discussion of green-energy jobs, using a revamp of our infrastructure and a new focus on green and renewable energy to boost job growth and bring our dependence on foreign oil to an end. What struck me most about this was that these plans seem very reasonable considering the new advances in technology, make sense on paper as well as in practice, and will likely pay for themselves in a matter of years, yet there are undoubtedly those who will oppose these plans.

The response by the GOP was equally interesting. It focused primarily on the elimination of debt by cutting spending in our government, reducing the size of programs, or eliminating programs altogether. These are good ideas, but I hope that Congress can use good judgment when they decide where to cut and how deep. The President talked about investing in ourselves, keeping education funding and health care up while trying to shave wasteful spending wherever possible. If that is how this will go, then I'm all for it. But I am concerned that programs such as education, a constant punching bag for the GOP, will suffer greatly when these cuts are proposed. The President also talked about cutting money out of the defense budget, citing the Secretary of Defense who said that some money could be cut out without infringing on our national security. It's a great plan because the DOD takes up more than 50% of our annual domestic spending, but it is also the place where GOPers fight tooth and nail for every cent. It is going to be a tough fight, either way.

My final point on the SOTU is that Obama failed to mention very much about taxation, other than to discuss reworking the tax codes for all income levels. This might be a good idea, but he also failed to mention the fact that many upper-class individuals have come out and asked for a tax increase to help offset the deficit. I was hoping that Obama would touch on this and explain that taxation of the wealthy is more fiscally responsible than cutting programs to their bare bones to offset our deficit. It was left by the wayside due to the recent vote to keep taxes at their current level, but I was hoping to hear more about it.

Overall, I felt it was a passionate, well-written, and well-received speech. We have at least two more to hear before Obama is up for reelection, and I am very hopeful that we will be seeing great success in the months to come.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The fear engine

There is a lot of fear around these days. There's the fear that HCR will be repealed, that it won't be repealed, that the government will be shut down in order to force illogical action, and that there's a revolution afoot that this reform is just a small part of. These fears, some baseless and some not, have created an environment of paranoia that is being fed by media, filtered news outlets, and talking head pundits that continually debate style instead of substance.

Perhaps the most glaring problem with all of this fear is that it is based on supposition, quotation without context, facts without information, and are fed into people's predetermined beliefs. Some people have a sneaking suspicion of government or corporate monopolies of power, and the media pushes these views further down the rabbit hole of irrationality for ratings, disinformation, and influence on the masses. If individuals took about ten minutes to research things like HCR and its repeal, they may not be so afraid because they would realize that the things they fear are actually false. There are no death panels, no government takeover, no overarching conspiracy to control everything.

Our political discourse has become like a season of American Idol, the winner by popular vote being heard from again and again until they are no longer popular, at which point they silently slip into obscurity, write a book, and become a D-list pseudo-expert. There is no expertise anymore. There is no substance, like the foam on a beer. It gives you a taste, and looks like it fills a lot of space, but turns out to be mostly air. This gets back to the fact that the "people" have demonized expertise and academic knowledge as being part of the "establishment" and not to be trusted. Thus, and inevitably, our representatives become masters of yelling loudly, throwing out half-truths and citing studies and numbers that make no sense, but are somehow twisted into forms that fit what is trying to be sold to us through the airwaves.

And all of this disinformation, all of this not-knowing and pretending-to-know, feeds into the environment of uncertainty, the feeling that we are on shaky ground that might give way at any moment. We are consistently kept afraid, kept busy, kept moving so that we don't stop to question the validity of our fears or the information that sparks them. We are not given the time to investigate, to try to understand. When an outlet of unfiltered information is presented, it is attacked (WikiLeaks), and we are told that it is bad, part of the problem, part of the culture of fear. This then continues the process, and we are left feeling more vulnerable than ever.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The debate over life

One of the constant political platforms in Washington is the fight over abortion rights. The funny thing about abortion is that it never seems to get resolved. One theory is that the GOP has no intention of ever making abortion illegal, and that the argument is simply a ploy for votes since they can essentially suck up all the pro-lifers to vote for them due to that one issue.

I'm a pro-choice guy, but not because I don't value the life of the unborn. I believe that abortion should be legal, available, and rare. It has to be applied for, screened for, and only seldom executed in special circumstances.

There are several reasons I tell people that I'm pro-choice. I don't think that it is the government's job to regulate morality. The issue of abortion is a personal choice, with some people thinking one way and others thinking another way. It's not something so cut and dry that it can be made illegal. There are horror stories from the days before abortion legality, before our current health system, when doctors would carry out moral acts on others without consent. One example is a woman who continually had miscarriages and was made infertile by doctors without consent to keep her from "killing again."

Imagine what would happen if abortion was actually made illegal. For one thing, it wouldn't stop people getting the procedure, it would just make it much more dangerous. Secondly, it would be infringing on the rights of the living in order to preserve the rights of the unborn, something expressly deranged and illogical based on the moral beliefs of a particular group.

You can't legislate morality, just like you can't tell other people to eat right or exercise for their own health.

Marching backwards with eyes closed

There has been so much going on in recent days that it's hard to decide just what to post. First of all, the tragedy in AZ is finally being rotated out of the press, though there are still people talking about it, particularly in talk radio. The GOP is now taking credit for the recent turnaround in the economy, despite the fact that they've done nothing to help. In fact, the recent attack on HCR has kept Congress from doing anything even remotely useful in quite a while. Then, there is the fact that Obama's approval ratings are starting to turn around, indicating that either people are starting to notice that he's not a screw-up, or people are more susceptible to media coverage and analysis than I feared.

With all the stuff going on, all the spin in the media, and the absence of substance in our news and information outlets, it perhaps is not so surprising that people believe the things that they do. What really gets to me is how innovation, invention, and new ideas are often held hostage, as if they were political pawns, and are kept from being public knowledge by powerful lobbies in Washington and the newsroom.

There are two great examples of this that come to mind. One is a book that was first published back in the 70's called Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. This book presents an argument for effectively eliminating world hunger in approximately one year. World hunger has been a humanitarian issue for decades, and yet this book is relatively unknown to most outside the activist circles. In fact, most people have never heard of this theory, which supposed altering our beef production methods to allow more room to grow grain for human consumption. Why is it that this theory isn't well known? The only logical assumption is that those who own beef production have lobbied to keep it out of the public arena, have shouted down the theory with disinformation, and have essentially blocked it's move into the mainstream.

The second example is a more recent one. An American company has recently received a patent for a bacteria that absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere similar to trees, then turns it into fuel that can be used in modern engines. This is a tremendous breakthrough for several reasons. First of all, it allows us to have a renewable source of fuel to power our infrastructure. Secondly, and most importantly, it is practically carbon-neutral, because the bacteria absorbs the CO2 from the air, turns it to fuel, which is then burned, releasing the CO2 back into the air where it would once again be absorbed. It's an amazing cycle that is all too similar to other cycles we see in nature. And yet, there is no word in the media about this breakthrough, no discussion of integrating this new technology into our current infrastructure, and no public discussion of the ramifications of this new method for getting fuel. Oh, and one more thing: the cost of this new fuel source would be approximately 1/3 the cost of fuel we use now, so gas prices would drop by and equal amount if we were to implement it. You could argue that this is such a recent breakthrough that it hasn't hit our media yet, but the link above is to a news group that is not even in the U.S., and other news stories have hit the media in a matter of moments, as is the case with a major catastrophe. The only logical argument, once again, is that corporate oil interests have stepped in to block the story in the news room, since such technology would essentially render them obsolete. Add to the fact that this is an American company that has figured this stuff out, and you can even bet that the conservative "Buy America" crowd will jump on board. You can't defend foreign oil with them.

These are just a few examples, but the overall argument is that we as a people are woefully susceptible to the blinders of censorship, even when it doesn't come from the government. Censorship is being used by corporations, by the privately owned superpowers, to keep us from seeing a better alternative to what they can sell. We need to be able to have all the facts, all the information, all the technology and innovative practices available to make our lives here sustainable and neutral.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The timeline of gun control

This is an interesting time line that goes back to June 2008 and the decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, up until January 8, 2011, and the resignation of several politicians and government officials in Arizona following threatening letters, posts, and phone calls.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this time line is that, despite the fact that it only goes back to 2008, it is rather comprehensive, citing many sources, and is wholly disturbing in its contents. It doesn't assert an overarching conspiracy or any kind of political affiliation, merely expresses quotes and incidents that reflect the growing sentiment among American citizens to arm themselves against the government.

The interesting thing about all this is that the vast majority of entries (though not all) seem to center on individuals that are influenced primarily by conservative media, or adhere to extreme militia, supremacy, or terrorist organizations. Nearly all the quotes come from conservative politicians or media figures, and are almost uniformly and overtly violent. Some even name specific people as targets.

Now here's the hypocritical thing. If someone were to take up arms in defense of the government, they would be labeled by these people as part of the conspiracy, and yet people who talk about overthrowing the government are seen as patriots. How is that patriotic, to talk about overthrowing your government with violence? Why not try to vote for people who agree with you, or run for office yourself? Why not became passively active?

In my opinion, the Second Amendment provides a far too convenient excuse for violence. I don't think the point was for people to be able to shoot at law enforcement officers or government officials that they don't agree with. Why would anyone think it permissible to shoot at police officers who are trying to pull you over on the road? The Second Amendment is supposed to be for when the government sends the army to stop riots, recklessly abuses imminent domain, attempts to maintain power independently of citizen votes, or something else that is obviously tyrannical. The thing is, our government isn't doing anything like that, but people believe they are because it makes them feel better to blame someone other than themselves.

We have a right to bear arms, but all rights come with a measure of responsibility. If a person does not take the responsible approach that is necessary for procuring a firearm, they shouldn't be allowed to have one. If a person does not have a license, or has a history of crime, mental illness, or violent social activism, they should at the very least be screened for owning a firearm, if not denied outright. It's common sense. Common sense is the single most important response to the second amendment, or any other amendment and citizen right for the matter.

Monday, January 10, 2011


The recent shooting in Arizona has sparked a media sensation, sent shock waves through the government and both parties, and has begun to stoke the debate over gun rights. People all across the country are trying to understand what happened and why, and are trying to appropriate blame to those who they feel deserve it.

Some of the reactions to this have been understandable. For one thing, Sarah Palin has removed a picture of a U.S. map dotted with gun sights (Talk Radio Host Tammy Bruce said they were "simply crosshairs like you'd see on maps" and said they could be seen as "surveyor's symbols.") The interesting thing about this is that, if these symbols were truly meant to be innocent "surveyor's symbols," why would Palin feel compelled to take them down? Out of respect for the shooting of a woman she had clearly targeted (pun intended) as an opponent to be run out of office.

Some reactions, on the other hand, are no less crazy but much more convoluted. For example, The GOP backpedaling and claiming that their obstructionist rhetoric and continual fear-mongering over HCR was in no way a reason for the attack. This is odd, considering that this is not a direct conclusion anyone would draw from reading into the facts of the incident. If anyone bothered to look into what happened, it is pretty obvious that, while there are some implications, the direct reason for the attack is currently unknown. So, why would the GOP go through the trouble.

I think it's because they are now having to go on the defensive in the media environment that they helped form. They are trying to send up a smoke screen of disinformation and denial the preempts any accusation that they indirectly led to the shooting in AZ.

I don't want to read into their actions, but they do raise some eyebrows. It's similar to denying a crime to the cops that they didn't know about in the first place.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A couple of points

Firstly, here's a great editorial on the outcome of schools, and what exactly influences testing and school performance. The article, written by Martha Infante, discusses her findings after probing into the scoring of affluent community schools and finding them all at the very top of the scoring chart. Infante's conclusion is that it is not the teachers, the curriculum, the testing, or the unions that have the biggest impact on our education; it's socioeconomic status.

Admittedly, these other factors have an impact, particularly the curriculum and testing that determines the eventual funding of schools, but socioeconomics tend to be the big one. In affluent communities, the numbers are higher, due partly to the fact that students get steady meals, plenty of rest, and have relatively stable home lives. By contrast, students from lower economic classes have been found to have more disrupted eating and sleeping patterns, less stable homes, and many now are having to travel from shelter to shelter each evening to find a place to sleep. These are factors that no amount of testing, withholding of funding, or other standardized formats can account for.

The second article, in a completely different vein, has to do with closed perspectives on the constitution and its amendments. According to Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice, the 14th Amendment does not protect the rights of women or LGBT individuals. If anyone needs a refresher, here is the wording of the 14th amendment. What seems patently obvious is that this does protect the rights of women and LGBT's to not be discriminated against based on their gender or sexual orientation. However, Scalia's argument is that the original writers of the amendment did not have these groups in mind during their writing, and so we should not interpret the law this way.

There are several problems with this argument. First of all, Scalia can not confirm what group the writers were thinking of during the writing of the 14th amendment. For this reason, it can be argued that the amendment fails to cover anyone. If a white male is denied a job, it could be argued reasonably, based on Scalia's view, that the 14th amendment does not make this illegal. The ramifications of such a decision are mind-boggling. Secondly, the problem with Scalia's argument is that, in order for these groups to be protected by law, that additional laws would need to be passed. In the case of women, it probably wouldn't be an issue (I can imagine that some would vote against it, however. That's just the nature of the beast). The problem would come when a law is put to the vote that would protect the rights of LGBTs. This is the kind of thing that would become a hot-button issue, would certainly split the nation along party lines, and would end up being a media circus and major piece of legislation. The fact is, Scalia's view sets up a group of second-class citizens that are without equal protection or representation under the law, which is patently un-American.

I would have posted these separately, but I felt that they have a kind of social underpinning that tie them together. It is the undercurrent of ignorance and a belief in the division of the nation, of second class citizens. In the first case, we have been told time and again that if we privatize our education system, all of our problems would be eliminated. If the root of the problem is in socioeconomic status, then privatization will simply make the problem worse as families will then have to pay more out of pocket for their education. This, in turn, would create a second class of citizen, the one that can't afford education and thus doesn't get it. In the second case, you have the ignorance of the people being used to assert that certain protections are not afforded to certain groups of citizens. Anyone who takes the ten seconds to read the 14th amendment would see that what they are reading is contradictory to Scalia's claims, and yet few will actually do that. This is a case of using collective ignorance to influence public views and opinions. It also, as I said before, suggests a kind of second-class citizen, the one without rights equal to those of the more privileged class.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Flood to Fox

In the most recent announcement of a mainstream network anchor going over to the dark side, John Roberts of CNN has announced that he is now switching to the Fox News Channel as a senior national correspondent. This comes months after Juan Williams, formerly of NPR, switched to the conservative news network himself, though amidst a well-publicized scandal that invoked the nation's free speech hotheads.

The recent flood of premier journalists flocking to Fox may be due to several factors. One theory is that Fox is trying to balance its reporting to be more in line with the middle of America, that cutaway majority that has no self-proclaimed political affiliation and is so prized by both parties as a clutch group in elections. Based on this theory, the idea is for Fox to present as more appealing, thus bringing more swing voters into a media system that becomes, while more diluted conservatively, also more subtle in its message.

Another theory, and the one that I personally adhere to more, is that these journalists have been attempting to break into the conservative field of media with their own outspoken opinions, such as in the case of Williams. Fox picks up on these guys and offers them promoted positions in the Fox News empire so as to solidify their own credentials as a "fair and balanced" news source, while maintaining their conservative views, and simultaneously presenting a view that they are diversifying with these new hires.

In my mind, this second theory is more likely because it more accurately reflects the flow of media becoming more conservative over time, particularly in the last two years. The amount of disinformation and outright falsehood that is promoted throughout the echo chamber has become decidedly right-wing, meaning that journalists from all news sources have had to move farther right or be marginalized by the rest of the media. CNN is a fantastic example of this. Years ago, it was considered a middle-America, non-partisan news source that reflected no political ideology over any other. As Fox news and other conservative media began to gain momentum, CNN was largely attacked by them for being left-wing and having a liberal bias (their bias was created because they were to the left of the conservative media, even though they were centrist). In answer to these accusations, CNN began its shift to the right, thereby trying to appease the conservative media and quiet them. The same goes for most other major news organizations, but the result was that Fox has moved further to the right to maintain their distance so that it can continue to rant about the liberal bias and push popular media even further to the right. This second theory of conservative anchors and contributors being swallowed up by Fox more accurately represents a result from this phenomenon.
Of course, this has been years in the making, and will take just as many if not more years to unravel. It's like any knot: it takes a lot more time, thought, patience, and energy to untie than it did to get the knot in the first place. The same holds true for the economy, but that's a different subject. The point is, we as people must demand balance in our media, even when we find it lacking completely. The only place I consistently hear unbiased news is on NPR, but that has recently come under attack in Congress and has been threatened with a hefty slash in federal funding (never mind the federal subsidies that are granted to other, privately owned media).

It is likely that, as time goes on, we will see a greater shift in the number of reporters, premier journalists, and talking heads that are absorbed into Fox because they become conservative enough. Pretty soon, Fox will be the only organization with any legitimate journalists at all, and will have one more credential to tote in its war on journalism.

Top Ten List of Fox News Blunders has put out a list of the top ten news blunders by Fox News in 2010. I'm sure the competition was fierce, and it must have been a big challenge to narrow it down to just ten, but the list is rather interesting. There are several videos from Fox itself, plus some from Jon Stewart, regarding each of the top ten stories. Very funny, and worth a look.

Idiot America: A review

It's been some time since my last post, mostly due to the business of holidays and extra work, but I'm happy to announce that all went well over the Christmas season, and I'm back into the blogosphere with a new book I want to tout to anyone who bothers to read this.

One of the books I received for Christmas was Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce. The book discusses the rise of what other authors and activists, mainly Robert McChesney, have called rational ignorance. Instead of focusing primarily on media, as with McChesney, Pierce discusses specific points of controversy in our modern times, how they were related by media and projected to the masses, and how disinformation, distortion, and lies have perpetuated the idea that stupidity and ignorance are prized and that professionals and experts are not to be trusted.

The idea is central to the conservative notion that media in general has a liberal left-wing bias, which arises from the fact that right-wing media has drifted even further into conservative obscurity. The book explains how the media heads have taken it upon themselves to be experts on everything, and have essentially shunned good, real facts for opinion and outright falsehood. The interesting thing about this development is that it has come of very well with American citizens because it plays to "the Gut" as Pierce regularly notes in his book, the center of emotional, and often exaggerated, expression.

At first, I wasn't too keen on the book, mostly due to the style of writing. However, I came to revere the message that Pierce was trying to convey: that we as Americans have settled for a system of gross incompetence, that sells us trivial bits of information so we form the opinions and beliefs that are expected of us, and that teaches us not to question the expertise of the face we see behind the news desk but the one that appears on the back of the textbook or on the panel of experts.

Perhaps the most powerful thing about this book is how Pierce uses some of the most well-known controversies of our modern times (Terri Schiavo is a prime example, as is global warming) to make the point that, we as consumers of the American mainstream media system were and continue to be grossly misinformed about such events. In the case of Terri Schiavo, for example, Congress itself was so misinformed that they subpoenaed Terri to come and testify about whether she wanted to live or not; the irony is that Terri was completely incapable of movement, blinking, or swallowing, let alone speaking or getting up in front of Congress and testifying. This is just one example of how our media painted a false picture of a given story or situation in order to curve the public opinion into a predictable and thus marketable vein.

Overall, I strongly recommend this book to anyone. It is well thought-out and researched, and presents the words of President Madison as a view of what America is meant to be. Pierce does not denounce crazy beliefs at all, as evidenced by the many stories of "American Cranks", but believes that such beliefs are meant to remain on the fringes of our society and shouldn't be brought into the mainstream as they have been. It is a fairly quick read, is packed with information, and in the end gives the reader a sense that not all is lost, that there are still intellectual renegades out there who refuse to be marginalized, and that there is a foreseeable remedy to our current media environment. Check it out if you can.