mad drunk genius

I used to have all sorts of problems. Now there's just the one.

Tag: America

September 2010: I achieve moderation by contrary excesses.

I’ve tried to live in silence the past several days, at home & in the car. There’s a bit too much me in my mind than I’ve come to be comfortable with, without the external doolaadurp available. I want my liquid ego to drip out my ear, or creep out & recharge at a Kandrona pool, Yeerky little thing it is.

Surprising, smothering, almost unwelcome generosity.

  • But he bought everything for the four of us.

‘I had a conversation with a dog. I think Palestinians can have a conversation with Israelis.’–a friend on psychedelic mushrooms and peace in the Holy Land

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Time to tell you nothing new about the popular media

I don’t think I’m actually going to make any new points that haven’t been made elsewhere and better, but hopefully you don’t come to me for your political commentary and this will be entertaining, regardless.

I think many people, journalists at least, would like to believe that news is supposed to be an unbiased, accurate medium of gathering and reporting information to common citizens who otherwise would have no idea. These same people and many of the average citizens you’ll find on the street would then say that today the news is biased. How it is biased depends on who you ask. Rush Limbaugh, for example, will charge that there is a liberal media bias, while having the largest radio reach in the country. Meanwhile, you have CNN, MSNBC and programs like the Daily Show or Colbert Report charging that channels like Fox News make the media have a conservative bias.

The answer of course is that they’re both right. There is both a liberal and conservative media bias, depending on where you look and what you consider “biased”. However, it’s also true that there’s never been a time when media was NOT biased, or at the very least inaccurate.

Going back to the beginning of America, newspapers had a stated affiliation with some political agenda and everything was written or reprinted to further it. Was it done with more skill and sophistication than modern pundits? Probably. But it wasn’t apolitical.

Later on you have yellow journalism, sensationalism for the sake of selling a product. This was usually still done to promote some kind of political point or bring about social change, but clearly increasing the circulation was as big an impetus as anything.

Now let’s move up to the modern age that seems to have the qualities of both the former. Fox News is a Republican mouthpiece and CNN has no problem overhyping a story on a slow news day to the point that it becomes something seemingly crucial to the national consciousness. And yet, I will claim both have the exact same bias. That bias is money.

Any time you think that Fox News is right wing and Rupert Murdoch a hardcore conservative, just look at some of Fox’s other programming. The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad. None of them miss any opportunity to satirize Republicans and President Bush in particular. But this is the same guy who owns a station broadcasting Republican propaganda on another station, right?

What Fox News and the Simpsons have in common is that they’re both very profitable. Lots of people watch, albeit for different reasons. But all of those shows are on the air because they make money for their owners. Murdoch isn’t going let an unprofitable show stay on, no matter how good it is (RIP Titus, Firefly, etc.) or how much it’s in step with his political views. Fox News exists because there was a large demographic of patriotic conservatives who were being ignored by the more left-leaning CNN, and as soon as it came on the air, Fox News was able to tap into that once neglected viewership, and ratings mean more money. This kind of revolution that occurred forced other channels to include more conservative shows in their own programming. Not because they wanted to actually be the “fair and balanced” Fox proclaimed to be, but because they wanted to steal back some of the viewers Fox had taken.

September 11th happens and Bush is very popular, everyone is very popular and coming together. The media shifts to the right in order to meet the demands of the people. The Iraq War starts, it stays where it is. Then Iraq starts to go badly, Bush’s approval ratings start to slip, and who benefits? Anyone who can get up or promote entertaining programs that are on the left.

All of this is in political terms but it works with just about anything. There’s a large pool of sharks out in the ocean, one person has gotten attacked. Suddenly there are a million stories on cable news about it, even though shark attacks are extremely rare and for there to be hundreds of them together at that time of the year is totally normal.

Better example is probably missing girls. How many ugly girls have you ever seen or heard of gone missing? Is it because there are less of them out there? I doubt it. I doubt it’s a coincidence that Natalee Holloway is pretty, young, smart, blonde, and white. Well, I take the “white” part back. Even though I’m sure you can find that kind of bias statistically, I don’t think a pretty black, latino, or asian girl would be received any different.

The media gets money for getting viewers. That means it caters to the desires of the masses, whatever those desires are. Whatever has the greatest return for its cost will be put on the air. There is no morality, no political slant, and no agenda except getting you to watch. At the moment, other agendas may exist, but if they aren’t profitable, they will be gone.

I find it comforting, myself. This total lack of principle has an ability to shove people in a certain direction, but really it’s only a direction they were already going. It can lead to extremism, but just as easily it can jerk us back the other way.

Cable news has 24 hours to fill up every day, that’s why they’re the most important, despite not having any more depth than network news or papers. How they fill up those 24 hours is not based on what the executives upstairs want, it’s on what you as a consumer want. And to me, that’s comforting.

Not that you didn’t already know this.

Republicans’ Osama

A cat is placed in a sealed box. Attached to the box is an apparatus containing a radioactive atomic nucleus and a canister of poison gas. This apparatus is separated from the cat in such a way that the cat can in no way interfere with it. The experiment is set up so that there is exactly a 50% chance of the nucleus decaying in one hour. If the nucleus decays, it will emit a particle that triggers the apparatus, which opens the canister and kills the cat. If the nucleus does not decay, then the cat remains alive.

In quantum mechanics, this thought experiment devised by the physicist Erwin Schrodinger to illustrate the seeming paradox of superposition, possible realities existing simultaneously. Inside the box, the cat is both alive and dead, until the observer opens the box and sees either a living or dead kitty.

There’s obviously more to it than that, but quantum mechanics makes my head asplode, and it’s only here for the foundational purposes of my comparison, anyway.

See, Osama bin Laden is in the news again for being dead, and a friend of mine made the comment, “Osama is the Republican version of Schrodinger’s cat”, referring to the above thought experiment, of course.

Beyond just being witty, I found it to an incredibly succinct way of describing the complex relationship conservatives in this country have with bin Laden. As much as he is an enemy ofAmerica, he is a powerful friend of its conservatives.

I don’t mean that in the dastardly, conspiratorial way it may come across. Rather, I mean that for all of the enmity that surely exists between Republicans and Osama, they do a great job of helping one another out. Bush’s poll numbers have never been higher than they were immediately after 9/11/2001, and in the 2004 elections, national security was the big win for Republicans across the country. When people feel threatened by an external threat, the current hawkish conservative government is comforting. And of course for bin Laden, despite the infrastructure of al-Qaeda surely damaged by military efforts against it, you have to imagine enrollment is at an all time high considering the amount of U.S. involvement in the Middle East right now.

Osama bin Laden is good for Republican business, and again I mean this in a strictly political sense, not a conspiratorial one. I’m sure almost everyone on both sides genuinely hates the other, but Democrats do not benefit from a terror threat in the days leading up to an election the way Republicans have and do.

The problem is, as great a face to put on terrorism as he is and as winnable  a goal as killing him seems to be, Osama not being dead after five years of trying makes us look impotent. Combined with continuing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, not getting him makes it appear like we haven’t accomplished anything at all.

Which is why he’s dead right now. Osama’s dead, and that’s progress. A great blow struck against terrorism and justice for the thousands of American lives he took. It feels really good for a while, but unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t last. Because it becomes quickly apparent that terrorism is still continuing without him and his death does absolutely nothing to win our war on terror. Now terrorism is a faceless, unstoppable phenomenon, and hell, that’s depressing. Osama’s death is a positive, but an extremely temporary one.

So he’s also still alive right now. In fact, as long as we never “look inside the cave”, Republicans are able to play up both advantages as needed. When an audio tape promises more attacks on Americans, that’s proof we can’t let our guards down and in fact need to be more vigilant. When (unconfirmed) reports of bin Laden’s death reach news agencies, we get to feel good about it and feel like we’re safer, that we have won something as a result of our pressure on him in Afghanistan. The feeling fades, but in the short term, it’s quite beneficial.

I know what you’re thinking. First, it’s entirely possible to play up the negatives and use this all against Republicans. Second, people will surely grow tired of continued fake reports of bin Laden’s death and they’ll become ineffective.

But I’ll remind you that Republicans are quantum politicians, and the American attention span is hardly long enough to get us through commercials on television. After all, do you remember the last time bin Laden was reported to be dead, if you remember he was reported dead before at all?

The good news is bin Laden is barely hitting 50. We have a solid 30 more years of this ahead of us, if we can restrain our curiosity that long. Because that would kill the cat.

Overload

I went to a minor league arena football game the other day because the Odessa Roughnecks were hosting championship game. It was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve had in a long time and I don’t know if I can fully explain why. “Sensory overload” is maybe the simplest description I can give.

Being indoors is a lot of it. As you sit in your seat, you are utterly within the realm of control of the people running the event. It’s never quiet or still. Never. You paid money to be entertained and they don’t trust that the game itself will suffice, as fast paced as arena football is supposed to be. If you were outside, there would be distractions, but not of a completely different kind. Sun, wind, cold– basically nature and the real world to remind you where you are. But indoors, it’s almost a parody of something else, even though somehow it’s reality. Or whatever passes for reality these days.

You come inside with your ticket, get some junk food that’s doing its best to make your heart and kidneys explode, then go find your seat just in time for kick off because that’s what you came for anyway.

There’s a lull in the action. The speakers play hip-pop songs, or 90s techno, or oldies rock to get you through safely through it. Some of the songs have a tenuous relation to the events in the game, most don’t.

There’s a time out, children come out and have a hula-hoop competition to see who can go on the longest, or little boys race to put on shoulder pads and a helmet for a gift certificate to somewhere. If it goes on for too long, mascots run out on the field and help them finish.

The game stops mattering at some point. There’s a vague desire to cheer for the home team at appropriate moments, but that’s not really the point at all and except for a handful of diehard fans, everyone knows it.

Without really noticing it before, you see the seconds tick down to halftime and both teams leave to go to their locker rooms. Suddenly, a tiny Chinese woman on a fifteen foot high unicycle comes out with Oriental music playing in the background while she pedals around on a thin wooden board, then flings stacked dishes balanced on her foot onto the top of her head in another stack, receiving great applause. She leaves, and you’re left with a sense of numb wonderment at the non sequitur spectacle, but before you can recover, out walk eight or ten beautiful (West Texas Nissan) girls dripping with youth, sex appeal, and vigor.

The dancing girls come out throughout the game and entertain the crowd at lulls as well, but at halftime they change into non-matching casual wear which includes short shorts, tight pants, and skirts. They also wear high heels to properly accentuate all of these qualities. When they’re through performing their routine, spongy balls are thrown at a man-sized gopher standing on his head in the middle of the field and the one that lands closest to it gets something free. Then the dancing girls come back onto the field and spend a few minutes bending down to pick up all of the balls in front of the wolf-eyed crowd of hundreds.

A Brobdingnagian beach ball is rolled into the stands, but it’s not just any giant beach ball, it’s a “Pacific Tan giant beachball”! It rolls around for a bit, and is then taken away once again.

Yes, everywhere you look there are ads. As a culture we’ve grown used to it, but if you stop to really look, you can be amazed at the sheer amount and intrusiveness of them. Of course in the programs, but also the walls, and lining the rim of the field, and on the field itself. And then, it’s not just visual. Every ball that goes into the stands is announced to have been some business’ ball. There are no first downs in the game at all. Instead there are “Sonic Drive-in first downs”. And “Capital One field goals”. And “State Farm touchdowns”. “Best-selling” Nissan Tundras drove onto the field firing free T-shirts into the crowd, while the scantily-clad young girls sit atop it and wave.

I went to junior high and high school with those girls. I’m sitting around fifty year old men with beer bellies, lusting along with them at girls who two years ago I sat in class with and it would have been considered shameful to think about the things they’re celebrated for doing in front of us now. What a difference a couple of years make.

After a while, the game is pretty much over, my senses are completely overloaded, and I just want to go home and go to sleep. But as I sit there looking at all of this and as I finally leave, I can’t help but think about it and try to figure out what it all is and means.

It’s beer, and it’s soda, and it’s junk food. It’s kids running around screaming while their parents sit and drink, ignoring them. It’s advertisements, it’s sex, it’s meaningless free crap. It’s constant stimulation at the price of coherence. It’s violence in the context of a game most people don’t even care about. It’s loud, obnoxious, and overblown in every imaginable way. To me, that’s America and America’s desires wrapped up as neatly as three hours will allow.

But hell, I enjoyed it. Isn’t that what being an American is all about?