December 2013


We all like to think we’re special, even if we don’t want to admit that we think we’re special.  And as much as I detest the ideas it stands for, this is part of the reason conservative talk radio has been so successful.  It makes Americans listening to it feel that the beliefs they hold make them special and set them apart from the rest of the country.

Glenn Beck is a master at this.  I’ve listened to him again recently, and it’s amazing how talented he is at what he does.  Human beings, especially in a world as fast-paced and confusing as ours, have a deep desire for meaningful existence, and Glenn plays that desire like a boss.  He tells his followers that they are soldiers in a war.  He tells them that God created them for a purpose.  No matter how small and insignificant they might feel, they have a job to do.  They were meant to be here to help the cause.  Now, “helping the cause” usually means sending money to Glenn and purchasing something he is selling, but that’s just how this higher cause works–it needs your cash.

So, slimy and manipulative in the worst way?  Yep, but I can’t completely knock that kind of evil genius.  If only I was as good at using my dark superpowers, and with the same financial results!

A few days after the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion, we were watching a news report about it on Polish TV.  The news anchor pointed to a black and white picture of Chernobyl.  It was a picture of the plant before it had exploded.

“You see, ladies and gentlemen, nothing happened.  Everything’s fine.”

There were political reasons for Eastern bloc television to cover up the accident.  It had happened in the Soviet Union, and our Russian big brothers were supposed to be perfect.  Nothing was ever supposed to go wrong in their Communist paradise.  Also, May Day was coming up, and the government wanted everyone out on the streets for the May Day parade.  The last thing they needed was people hiding in their homes, scared of radiation.

But we knew they were lying to us.  There was word of mouth information being spread by friends who had visited Russia and knew the real story.  Also, we had a farm and we saw the way the animals behaved.  The birds in the trees, which had been waking us up each morning with their early spring noise, fell silent.  The dog cowered in his doghouse and the chickens wouldn’t leave their coop, unwilling to come outside even to be fed.  We knew something bad was going on, but there wasn’t much we could do to protect ourselves.  We’ve been lucky, though–we haven’t experienced serious health effects due to our little brush with radioactivity.

Fast forward to now.  Another nuclear plant has had an accident–this time in Japan.  And again, I feel like I’m not getting the real story.  The media here in America isn’t doing anything as blatantly silly as showing us pre-tsunami pictures of Fukushima.  But the news about the continuing leakage of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean is painfully underreported.  I’m reading about the contaminated ocean currents reaching the California and Oregon coasts, and yet we’ve been spending more time on the Duck Dynasty bullshit.  What are we choosing to focus on?

I live on the West Coast, so the radiation is once again moving in my direction.  Maybe I’ve built up some kind of green glowing immunity by now, but still.  When I moved to this country, I expected more open communication in my news media.  Am I being given the Chernobyl act all over again?

For once, a coupling has taken place which is more disturbing to conservatives than any gay wedding can ever be.  Yes, Republicans and Democrats decided to get together and make a budget, and all day long, the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth was heard on the talk radio airwaves.  The conservative dog had awkward interspecies sex with the liberal cat, and the resulting litter doesn’t appeal to anybody.

One could see the budget as a Christmas miracle, a moment when two sides which had long been warring with each other came together in peace.  But right wing radio listeners think this really is a war, so a deal isn’t just a deal, it’s abandoning your position to the enemy.  And so Paul Ryan, formerly the golden boy of the Ayn Rand brigade, is now being dragged through the mud by his own followers for consorting with the other side.

Mind you, there are things in this budget that I don’t like at all, as a progressive.  But, well, that’s the nature of compromise–you get things you don’t like.  It’s a sign of where we are as a country that a compromise is considered an apocalyptic event.  Perhaps, for all the talk about our desire for bipartisanship, we–secretly or not so secretly–prefer the drama and division?

I have to take a moment to give some love to Lorde and her music.  I love that her song lyrics are about ordinary people leading ordinary lives.  I get so tired of all the music about lives of glamour and fame and materialism–lives I can’t relate to and will never experience.  I wonder why those kinds of songs are so popular and why there isn’t more music out there about the everyday life of the regular working person.  Is it because we’re so eager to escape into fantasy?  Wouldn’t we be happier if we stopped dreaming about things we can never have–and if our pop culture stopped selling us those delusions and dreams?

Toddler beauty queens.  Families which think that spawning nineteen babies is a great idea.  Gator hunters from the swamps.

See a pattern here?  Yes, I disagree with the Duck Dynasty guy’s views on homosexuality.  But the purpose of these characters is to be freakish.  The TV channels which rely on these shows for ratings scour the darkest recesses of this country and dig up the bizarre and the shameless.  And we’re supposed to be shocked that they have backwards opinions?  About a year ago, Michelle Duggar–of 19 Kids And Counting fame–made a speech at an evangelical conference in which she gave tips for being a more obedient wife.  Seriously…this is the kind of thing we should expect from this crowd.

More importantly, why should we care what these reality “stars” think?  It turns out Honey Boo Boo is in fact in favor of gay rights–so what?  This is still Honey Boo Boo we’re talking about.  Since when do we care what the circus sideshow thinks about marriage equality, or any other issue?  I guess we do now, and that makes me far sadder than anything Phil Robertson will ever say.

Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in the details of my daily life–or the details of the latest political PR stunt–that I forget I’m fortunate enough to live in very interesting times.  Well, fortunate or cursed, I’m not sure which one.  What I do know is that this is not a peaceful era in our country’s history.  As Grumpy Cat might say, “Good.”

Say what you will about the Obama administration’s achievements, his has not been a boring presidency.  He has been a Messiah to some–as we’ve found out this week–and an Antichrist to others.  I have yet to meet someone with a neutral opinion of Obama.  And that in itself is a good sign–if you’re not hated by anyone, you’re doing something wrong.

The country is not a neutral mood, either.  The Tea Party is trying to organize a constitutional convention–a meeting of the states to protest the direction of this government and to propose amendments to the Constitution.  State legislatures in two-thirds of the states would have to vote for this convention to happen, so who knows if this is something that will ever get off the ground.  Still, conflict and secession are in the air, as they have been pretty much since January 2009.

I wonder how we’ll look back upon this time decades from now.  If health care reform turns out to be beneficial to Americans, will Obama be remembered as the heroic President who made it happen?  Will we erase all the controversy and name-calling, the way we’ve done with JFK, and be left only with pictures of the new Camelot, of the glamorous First Family?  Will progressives do to Obama what conservatives did to Ronald Reagan when they wiped away all the wrinkles of his presidency and turned him into their Messiah?  Or will we continue to remember this as a contentious time, perhaps as the first rumblings of a deeper split in this country, or–if the threatening noises from Russia and China are any indication–the prelude to another global war?

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have the answers to any of the above questions.  Whatever the case, I’m excited to be here to witness all this and to write about it, however inadequately.  Despite the Chinese curse, I never did want to live in bland times.

Well, it looks like an extension of unemployment benefits will not be a part of the new budget deal.  Meanwhile, the long-term structural problem with employment in this country–that of jobs getting outsourced overseas–continues.  What are the unemployed to do?

There’s an obvious solution which would warm the cockles of even Paul Ryan’s bleak, Ayn Rand-infused heart.  It’s about time we had a real hunger games.  Except this one would involve only unemployed people.  They’re takers and moochers, so their lives are not worth as much anyway.  And there’s no way that any of the wealthy job creators should be risking their well-being in a competition like this.  We could have a contestant from each sector of employment which has been losing jobs to other countries:  manufacturing, high tech, call centers etc.  Just like in the movie, this would be a reality TV show–thus, getting rid of the jobless and producing a profit at the same time!  The lone survivor could get an extension of his/her unemployment benefits.  Or even better, the winner could be rewarded with a job.  Sure, chances are you would lose your life in the games, but if you’re not willing to do anything to get a job, you’re just not trying hard enough.

If nothing else, this would be a refreshingly honest proposal from Paul Ryan.  But I doubt we’ll ever see such honesty on Capitol Hill.

Next Page »