Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thunder Snow at the National Gallery

The ways that the glass and space reflect
make thunder sound like a cheap effect;
like someone somewhere pounds a drum;
to cue the players: ‘Hark the storm!”

I like the way that we lose the Dome,
the home of late to so much wrong;
the world then ends at reflecting pool
frozen and circled by panicked gulls.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Searching for Lady Liberty

I've been moving about the country as they say at Skyhound, and also, perhaps as a result, laid low by stomach flu. Or perhaps I've been driving the porcelain bus in reaction to all that is afoot in these United States: the Rise of the Scott Brownshirts, et cetera. Yesterday the nauseous Right to Lifers were down on the Mall in numbers, some of them chanting "Personhood now, personhood now!" I reflected that Clarence and the Clowns at the Supreme Court had already bestowed personhood on the corporation, so perhaps their misguided prayers had already been answered.

We are so fucked.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On Faith

There has been much interweb discussion of faith, what with Brit Hume claiming that if only Tiger would come to Jesus he would be cured of his urge to bone beautiful sluts -- or something like that.

Another source of discussion on the topic of faith was Sarah Palin's divination that McCain's choice of her was part of "God's plan" (to make Obama win?). In passing, Demfrom CT said of this, Faith is a wonderful thing, and to be respected. "I don't have to study up on the issues because God plans for me to win" is not.

I couldn't let this pass, however, and so my riposte, basically Faith = figleaf for bigotry, and many other poorly spellchecked words to this effect. And upon futher reflection it occured to me that faith is a synonym for prejudice: strong belief in the absence of knowledge.

But in further retrospect, the issue seems a bit more complicated. I recall, some years ago, lying about with a lithe and earnest young scientist (a researcher of mating behavior) who, on the matter of faith, laid this bit of pillow talk on me, "Even empiricism is a leap of faith; it's based in the assumption that nature's laws will continue to operate as they have in the past." Shortly after that she turned us to further researches, but that conversation has always stuck with me, so, I must admit that yes, in action, faith is a good thing. We'd be paralyzed without the faith that our memories, calculations, deductions, intuitions et cetera are correct (even if sometimes they are not), and also, I agree, we take on faith that the laws of nature will continue as before. But our calculations, et cetera, and the operations of nature are confirmable or refutable, which is why we can make meaningful assertions about them, even if at some level they're predicated in faith.

There is another faith, on a higher plain, that I will also heartily endorse, despite its abundant conflict with the empirical evidence: the faith that it is better to be empathetic, ethical, honorable, than selfish, exploitive and deceitful -- though in fact there is very little evidence in the world of reward for virtue. Indeed, crime pays quite handsomely. This faith, that one ought to be "good" is the common essence of all decent religion. Insofar as I have any respect for Christianity it lies in the notion of Christ as a proponent of an ethic of reciprocity, and an example of the way, though the world will not reward you for virtue, it is best still to aspire to it, even unto the edge of doom. Any other complication of Christianity (or any religion) is just idolatrous gimcrackery, scam, magical thinking, or a combination of these.

Which brings us to the modern usage of "faith," the true contemporary definition, which is, all too often, just prejudice really, or superstition, a backsliding to magical thinking of the most primitive, sacrifrice-to-the-volcano sort, and that is the belief, against all evidence, in magic and miracles, messiahs and monsters, and above all the belief that God will suspend the laws of nature for people whop properly propitiate him. This sort of thing credulous millions (billions?) get sold on the most dubious exploitive authority; then they want desperately to believe, and they'll reinforce their shaky faith (in what their good sense tells them is nonsense) by trying to get others to Amen! it too, at the point of a bayonet if necessary.

The fundamental religious conflict is really between the ethicists, who say things like: 'God is love, love thy neighbor, judge not' et cetera, and the magical thinkers, who say thing like 'I am a jealous God, God wants you to be rich, God will beam you up to heaven', et cetera. The latter claims are what constitutes the Golden Calf of faith in our backsliding age, when the Generals of our crusade can claim 'My God is bigger than your god' (much to Brit Humes' delight) and gain the tacit endorsement of our leaders. I don't see how another Dark Age will not ensue.

(Illustration is Rodin's Christ and Magdalen.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Times Hearts Roger Ailes

The putative flagship of liberal media The New York Times, always seems curiously happy to plant big wet kisses on the anus of a brownshirt, and today they reach new depths of French dipping with the biggest asshole of them all Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Talk about stenography! – the whole thing reads like Ailes himself dictated it.

We get a thumbnail biography of Ailes, that makes him sound like a gem-quality paragon of Regular Americanism. Among the gems this:

Mr. Ailes, the son of a foreman at the Packard Electric plant in Warren, Ohio, described his upbringing with three words: “God, country, family” and said that credo was responsible for the success of Fox News.

“I built this channel from my life experience,” Mr. Ailes, 69, said. “My first qualification is I didn’t go to Columbia Journalism School. There are no parties in this town that I want to go to.”

The life experience Ailes refers to includes being recruited from the Mike Douglas show by the nauseating and despicable Richard Nixon to airbrush the Mark of Satan from Tricky Dick’s media persona, catapulting the rise of sociopathic politics in America. This was a trend that went on throughout Ailes overtly political career, culminating with the gutterball campaign he and Lee Atwater ran for Poppy Bush, the one that featured Willie Horton, the Revolving Door, and Poppy's carefully crafted lie to Dan Rather and the country abou this involvement in the felonies and treasons of Iran/Contra.

After he left politics, ostensibly, to go into journalism, ostensibly, Ailes was [prime promoter of Whitewater bullshit, especially the paranoid theories about the “murder” of Vince Foster. Since then of course, he’s gone on to run the “Fair and Balanced” Fox news channel, issuing daily Republican talking points to his editors and on-air personalities and putting the some of the scummiest, most unethical irresponsible people in history before the cameras, including Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, Hume, and Glen Beck. No single person can be more responsible for the degradation of journalism and public discourse in America than Roger Ailes; he has undoubtedly done far more damage to the country than Al Qaeda and the Medellín Cartel combined, but you would not know it from the Times article.

To David Carr and Tim Arango apparently Ailes is just another feisty and mavericky “Conservative,” in their view just about equally likely to irk establishment Republicans and liberal Democrats. The insufferable David Gergen does the money-shot fellating for them, “Regardless of whether you like what he is doing, Roger Ailes is one of the most creative talents of his generation. He has built a media empire that is capable of driving the conversation, and, at times, the political process.”

True, the stenographers do include some vague criticism of Ailes in their profile, making sure it’s undermined by its source, e.g. “liberal members” of Ruper Murdoch’s family. Thus they can kiss up to their future boss, while also appearing “fair and balanced” themselves, further evidence, in itself, of Foxification at the Times and all mainstream media. But they make sure it’s very vague criticism -- no mention of revolving doors, conspiracy theories, or a Federal judge’s threat to invalidate the trademark on Fox’s “Fair and Balanced” slogan – for being laughably false. The closest they come to real critique is a bit too eggheaded to draw blood, but still cogent analysis byRick Perlstein: “Like Richard Nixon, like Spiro Agnew, Fox News can never see itself as the attacker,” he said. “They are always playing defense because they believe they are always under attack, which attracts people that have the same personality formation. By bringing that mind-set, plus the high energy seamless stream of the aggression of talk radio, he has found an audience.”

But, speaking of laughably false – I had to love the one detail the Times stenographers put in so Ailes could wank to it later, his puerile paranoid fantasy of holding off the Evil-Doers from within the Wolverine’s free-market bunker/temple.

[It] was clear in the interview that the 9/11 attacks had a profound effect on Mr. Ailes. They convinced him that he and his network could be terrorist targets.

On the day of the attacks, Mr. Ailes asked his chief engineer the minimum number of workers needed to keep the channel on the air. The answer: 42. “I am one of them,” he said. “I’ve got a bad leg, I’m a little overweight, so I can’t run fast, but I will fight.

“We had 3,000 dead people a couple miles from here. I knew that any communications company could be a target.”

His movements now are shadowed by a phalanx of corporate-provided security.

That’s just too rich. Let’s hope Roger gets an infarction when he creams over it.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Tappahannock Terror!

A few moths ago I was driving through Tappahannock, Virginia, briefly famous a few years ago when the intellgence wizards of the W clique announced that they had intercepted chatter about a Muslim terrorist thingamajig that was supposed to go down thereabouts. I was living in Hollywood at the time and I literally laughed out loud hearing this on NPR, knowing that A.) Tappahannock is of no strategic value whatsoever, and B.) that it is chock full of very well-armed, extremely zenophobic Sons of the South, which would bode ill indeed for any swarthy Madrass-graduates who arrived suddenly, bent on mischief. (The ammo store is, swear-to-god, called RedNex Sporting Goods -- Click on it! I rest my case.) What would the terrorists do there anyway, blow up the Monument to the Confederate Dead? Take over the tony girl's boarding school? Blockade the marina? Michael Moore later picked up on all this in Farenheit 911, wherein he included several interviews with some of the more beer-addled citizens who expressed understandable befuddlement about the supposed terror-plot. But, I digress.

In Tappahannock I purchased, for $3.99, at at the very weird comix/used-book/etcetera store pictured above, a DVD of a really good movie, Max, starring John Cusack, which I was today discussing with a coleague at the Ministry, prompting this Post. Max is all about an art dealer in Germany after WWI who almost becomes Adolf Hitler's dealer, almost changing the course of history. A very sumptuous and rather intelligent story, which went practically nowhere when it played theaters, in part because certain people hated the recognizeably human (though still utterly despicable) portrayal of Hitler. It seems that, for many, Hitler must be an absolute monster, ablsolutely nothing like any of us, or else we're minimizing the monumentality of His Evil. This insistence is a crucial mistake, I believe, diametrically wrong and deeply counterproductive in understanding evil.

The truth is, of course, there's a little Hitler, a little murderous megalomaniac in all of us, and what people like Hitler (and their collaborators and exploiters) do is arouse and inflame those murderous tendencies in many peoples' hearts by fearmongering/scapegoating propaganda, and then aggregate that evil in a mass movement. It's not all that difficult and it's not all that rare despite the Negative Exceptionalism with which many wish to remystify the Nazis. All you have to do is come up with a slogan stupid enough for the couch potatoes to salivate over, and yet catchy enough for them to chant ("Deutschland Uber Alles", or "Cut down the tall trees!", or "Keep government hands off my Medicare!"), nominate a putative threat or impediment to your mouthbreathing agenda or Holiest Holy, and voila! Blood runs deep in the streets.

Of course nothing like that could ever happen here. That would require some really partisan, racist, irresponsible media conglomerate with cable channels, affiliates coast-to-coast and really sociopathic on-air personalities, who are doubtless very popular among the patrons of Red Nex Sporting Goods.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Different Decade, Same Shit

The utter, bottomless corruption of the American right (and American “journalism”) got a graphic demonstration on the first day of the year: the Washington Times headline which declared, “Blackwater Contractors Cleared in Iraq Killings.” Now, if one reads some less-corrupt news source (the Washington Times is after all financed by the fleecing of Reverend Moon’s credulous dupes, and the other criminal enterprises perpetrated by his minions) one might come to a slightly different conclusion, one which might be headlined, say, “Drugged Up Murdering Mercenaries Get off on Technicality,” or “Prosecutors Deliberately Botch Mass-Murder Case.” The Times, in this instance, pretty much speaks for every Dittohead, Teabagger, fascist, and war freak on the Right. You can be sure all the Foxagandists feel the same way. But only in the Republiverse can the events be considered a vindication. Of course, ever since McCarthy, Republicans have been pretty much immune to any sort of accountability at all. Theyve become American Royalty. They lack any sense of noblesse oblige, but like Leona Helmsley, their one martyr and patron saint, they consider themselves above the laws they use like Tasers on the “little people.” The fact that the mainstream media are largely ignoring the seamier side of this story, even largely ignoring what the commanding general in Iraq said about it, shows the typical perspicacity and courage of the industry’s top practitioners.