Monday, March 26, 2018

Week of 03/26/2018

You Still Do Not Understand
In the great Christopher Nolan movie “The Dark Knight”, Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, tries to understand the Joker and what his ultimate plan is.  He makes the mistake of thinking that the Joker is just another criminal thug, like the thugs that have been running rampant in Gotham City.  That’s when his loyal guardian and servant Alfred tells him that he doesn’t understand the Joker at all because the Joker is not like the other players and bosses in the city.
To explain his point, Alfred tells Bruce the story of a warlord who was terrorizing people.  His superiors think that this warlord could be bought, so they bribed the warlord with precious jewels.  Then they discover that this warlord was giving the jewels away to the people and continuing his reign of terror.  He wasn’t motivated by greed or power; he simply wanted to watch the world burn. 
And so did the Joker.  Everything the Joker did was out of chaos and anarchy.  He didn’t want power or money.  He just wanted to watch the world burn.  But Batman didn’t understand that.  He couldn’t comprehend that everything the Joker did was to upset the way things are and the way things work.  Because of that, the woman he loved was killed.  The man he looked up to as the city’s “White Knight” was turned into a villain.  And Batman’s own name and reputation was sullied just to keep the Joker from “winning”.  Which, of course, was still a win for the anarchist clown.
And so too do a lot of you, the great unwashed, fail to understand a few things that are going on in the world right now.
Let’s start with the biggest and most obnoxious...
President Donald Trump:  I still keep hearing people talk about how “dumb” Trump is.  He’s supposedly a “moron”, an “idiot”, “dumber” than a box of rocks, and all because he claims to be a “really, really smart guy” and “almost, like, a genius”.  He supposedly doesn’t listen to briefings, he needs flash cards to say the obvious, and he supposedly has an attention span sorter than my cat when she was a kitten.
Look, I get it.  You don’t like him.  I don’t like him.  He is quite literally the anti-Obama.  That’s why the cult members are embracing him as their messiah.
But, come on, folks.  Donald Trump is not an idiot!  He may not be a genius, but he sure as hell is not the exact opposite of one either.
Think for a minute about all of the business dealings he’s been able to conduct before becoming President of the United States.  Think about all of the bankruptcies he’s gone through.  He went through a lot of failures, but people still bought into his ideas.  An idiot wouldn’t be able to do that.  An idiot would have been stopped at just one failure and would not be allowed to try again, never mind again and again and again and again and then given a reality TV show and then become President of the United States.
Think of all of the relationships that Trump has been through.  This is someone who has been caught going from wife-to-mistress-to-wife-to-mistress over and over again, as a matter of public history, and yet he’s still able to find women to bed.  So... who’s the real idiot here?  The man who manages to bounce between wives and mistresses even after his infidelity is a matter of record?  Or the women who think that they’re the “special exception” with him?
Trump is a narcissist, not an idiot.  That’s the reason for his eccentricities.  That’s the reason why he claims to be something he’s not.  That’s the reason why he acts like he does and says things like he does.  It’s not because of a lack of intelligence. It’s because of an overinflated ego and a perverse sense of self-superiority.  The sooner everyone else can comprehend that, the better we would be in knowing how to deal with someone like him. 
And we better comprehend it soon, because this is the same person with access to nuclear weapons.
And speaking of bombs...
The Austin Bomber:  So apparently the man responsible for sending package bombs to various people in the Austin, Texas, area went by the name of Mark Anthony Conditt.  He also apparently blew himself up when cornered by police.
And now everyone is asking the same question: “Why?”  And they apparently are not hearing what they want to hear.
The mad bomber had pre-recorded his confession, but it doesn’t really answer that all-imposing question.  Instead, he just says that he’s messed up and that isn’t sitting too well with people.  They expected Conditt to have some sort of manifesto or declaration stating what social or political or religious cause he was doing all this for.  They wanted him to say that he was doing it for Islam or for white nationalists or for less filling or the right-side Twix candy bars.  Something.  Anything.
Because that would make things so easy, right, people?  It would be so easy for him to just say “I’m a terrorist” and leave it at that.
Here’s a thought... maybe he wasn’t a terrorist.  Maybe he just picked victims at random.  An improvised explosive device with a tripwire, which was the third bomb, is not selective.  Anyone could trip it, which means he wouldn’t be going after any particular person.  Maybe he just wanted to cause pain and misery for the hell of it.  Maybe he really did just want to watch the world burn, like the Joker in “The Dark Knight”.
We want to believe that bad people do things for a reason.  Sometimes there is no reason.
Terrorism is a tool, not an enemy group.
That brings us to the third clueless subject...
Protesting Gun Violence:  There is nothing more insulting for this commentator to open up the local Sunday newspaper and find that there is an opinion column praising the people who stood up and marched as a call for dealing with gun violence, and then, on the exact opposite side of that section, is a full-page ad for guns, guns, and more guns, in, what they call, “2nd Amendment Days”.  Yeah, so much for “the adults in the room are the kids”.
Look, I get what the “March for Our Lives” protests were all about.  I know you want change.  I know you are sick and tired of hearing “thoughts and prayers”.  You’re sick of hearing politicians whore themselves to the National Rifle Association.  You want something done.  I get that.  I’ve been at this for over two decades now, so all of you folks are really in my wheelhouse.
But I also know why the NRA and their conservative whores are mocking you and ridiculing your efforts and your claims of turnout and successes.  And, yes, they are mocking you.
They’re mocking and ridiculing you because they know… that it is the end of March (as of this column’s posting) and not the end of October, and there are seven whole months between your protests and the next election in November.  And they remember all of the other times that other people who are pissed off and demanded change in the spring and summer would magically forget to actually do the one thing that really mattered… and that is to vote!
That’s why I dismiss all of the claims of “record voter registration”; because I know, just like the conservatives do, that all of the registrations in the world mean absolutely nothing at all if those people don’t actually vote on Election Day.  You can have a million, billion, trillion people “registered” in March, and it will mean nothing if those same people don’t show up in November when it truly matters.
Let’s get brutally honest here… the NRA and the conservatives have the luxury of mocking children and mocking the parents of those children who are demanding action because they know how the game is played.  They have their legions of cult followers that are properly conditioned like Pavlovian dogs to show up and vote accordingly.  And they know that everyone else… don’t.
And, I’m sorry newly-woke Parkland activists, but the politicians are not scared of you.  Not now.  Not for another seven months.  If you’re still here and you’re still pissed by then, then maybe, just maybe, they might be nervous.  Can you stay pissed for that long?  I don’t think so.
You’ll get angry today, and you’ll protest today, and you’ll scream and shout for change today.  But today is not Election Day.  So you’ll wait and stew.  And then spring will turn to summer, and thoughts will go to prom and graduation and TV season finales and baseball and summer vacation and basketball playoffs and the start of football and the return to school and the World Series.  You’ll forget about primaries, because those are intentionally scheduled so that nobody will really know they are going on.  And by the time you remember that election time is getting near, you’ll all be so disgusted with all of the candidates and their negative campaigning that you will do the one thing that you always do… and that is to not vote.
If you don’t believe me, then look at our collective history.  The vast majority of registered voters in America do not vote for mid-term and off-term elections. 
And the NRA knows this.  And so do the conservatives.  And so do I, because that is how the game is played.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m glad you’re pissed.  I’m glad you’re wanting change.  But that is not enough.  It is never enough to simply want things to change.
We are living in an age of rampant anti-intellectualism and propaganda.  That’s part of the reason why things are screwed up and we just can’t seem to know why that is.  We need to understand just how things work in order to make things happen.  We need to truly understand the people that are elected, not as we want them to be but as they really are.  We need to accept that sometimes thing happen for no reason other than because someone wants to see the world burn.  And if you want change, you need to be more than just angry and frustrated.  You need to actually make some of that change happen when the time calls for it.  And we’re not talking about simply reposting a Facebook meme from some Russian troll farm.
It's ironic that the legend of Batman is based on his supposed understanding of the criminal element.  Batman supposedly believed that criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot.  And yet his worst villains are those that are neither cowardly nor superstitious.  That’s why he ultimately lost to the Joker’s plans in “The Dark Knight”.  So too must we go beyond our preconceived notions of how things “ought” to be and deal with how they really are.  It’s reasonable to presume that the ones that already know this are the ones making sure that you don’t.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Week of 03/19/2018

Sorry Fox, But You Are Still A Propaganda Mill
There was a time, two decades ago, when this commentator was just starting his column, and an upstart cable news service came into being just six months into his own column.  This upstart cable news service was called Fox News.  And while their commentary programs were deplorable even back then, they still provided news with a supposedly neutral outlook to them.  There were some stories that the other news services didn’t touch because they didn’t involve the antics of Washington D.C. that this upstart news service would provide.
But then a few years into it, I noticed a different slant coming out.  A subtle and manipulative undertone started to emerge, one that set off warning flags for me as a never-ending student of history, especially when it came to Orwellian warning signs. 
I saw Fox News becoming a propaganda mill for conservatives, and, by extension, the GOP.
While the network claims to be focused on news, you can’t help but notice that their biggest selling point was not news, but on opinion-based personalities.  Instead of touting news anchors, Fox would tout commentators, who would give their carefully-guided view of the world to the masses.  They would each spread the same message... that liberals – and, by extension, the Democratic Party – are evil, that only conservatives – and, by extension, the GOP – know how to govern, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein is the source of all evil in the world, that Islam in any stripe is inherently evil, that 9/11 justifies everything the US can do, that Christianity itself is under attack, that capitalists are always right, and that we are all going to die unless we surrender ourselves to the conservative “saviors”.  These messages, given in small doses, would keep the masses afraid and glued to their channel, and it would also convince them to vote blindly for the GOP.
This is not speculation, folks.  I’ve seen, with my own eyes, old people going into voting booths and, when told the candidates, utter either “conservative” or “liberal”, with the latter in a disgusting tone like a dog defecated in front of them.  That is how extensive the propaganda has become, people.  It is downright scary to see how George Orwell’s deepest fears of society have manifested themselves here in the United States of America.
Anyway, fast-forward to today, with an orange-skinned narcissist in the White House, with a bible-thumper as Vice-President, with sociopaths controlling both houses of Congress, and with a judicial system that is slowly becoming the enablers of all these aforementioned groups.  This is the dream of Fox News made real.  They have everything they wanted in place.
And yet all is not well with the Ministry of Manipulation owned by an Australian billionaire and originally founded by a sexual predator.  There is discord among the masters of message.
Shepherd Smith, one of the few actual news anchors in Fox News, recently told Time Magazine that he’s not particularly happy with the commentary part of the network and how they conduct themselves.  You know, the big-name personalities that provide most of the propaganda.  Smith said that the “opinion people”, as he calls them, don’t have any rules to follow and can say pretty much whatever they want.
That apparently didn’t fly so well with said “opinion people”, specifically Sean Hannity, a well-known colon parasite and loyal propagandist for conservatives going all the way back to his days with Atlanta’s talk radio.  Newly-hired Laura Ingram then joined in on Hannity’s side saying that she “liked” Smith but didn’t care for his criticism of the network that employs them.  Both of them are claiming that they are “reporters” just like Smith and they supposedly “deserve” the same respect as “reporters”.
It should be pointed out that both Hannity and Smith are the few remaining media personalities from the original days under the late sexual predator Roger Ailes.  And unfortunately for Hannity, their mutual employer just extended Smith’s contract, so Shep is not going away anytime soon.
As you can probably tell from the tone of this article, I’m siding with Shep on this.  He has always been known as someone who tells it like it is, not as some political script demands it to be, and he’s not afraid to call “BS” on anyone, no matter what political party or faction they adhere to.  I may not agree with everything he says, but he earned my respect as a news anchor, and that is not something given blindly.
Let’s get brutally honest here... Sean Hannity is many things, and none of them kind, but one of the things he is clearly not is a journalist.  To regard him as such is an outright insult to those legitimate reporters that bust their butts to provide news and not be slurred by Hannity’s fans, especially from the orange-skinned narcissist in the White House.
Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram are media personalities and commentators, the same field that I’ve been in for almost twenty-two years as of this column’s posting.  I’ve been a reporter for small publications and Internet radio, and I know the difference between being a journalist and being a commentator.  I’ve walked that line.  Those two have not.  It’s more than just surrounding yourselves with the trappings of a news program and giving interviews, because anyone can do that.  Stephen Colbert got famous for doing that and nobody in their right mind would ever consider him to be a journalist.  Hell, Kermit the Frog did that and he’s a Muppet!
Hannity himself has said clearly in the past that he is not a journalist and even boasted about that when it came to his discussions about his “best friend” who is the said orange-skinned narcissist in the White House.  So now that a sour eye is glancing at the profession he has enjoyed for decades, he expects to be treated like he’s Edward R. Murrow? 
No.  Hell no!
To do so would be the true embodiment of “fake news”, from a fake “reporter” in a fake setting for a fake news service.  It would be an outright insult to legitimate news services large and small that are struggling to not only stay in business in the age of online information, but also to weather the slur of “fake news” coming from Hannity’s “best friend” in the White House and their red-hat-wearing MAGA cultists.
Sean Hannity is the Joseph Goebbels and “Baghdad Bob” of the modern age, in a cable news service that has picked up where Pravda left off.  This is not something that has happened overnight.  Hannity has spent decades getting to where he is now.  He needs to be recognized for what he really is, not for what he wants us to pretend he is.  I salute Shepard Smith for having the courage for calling Hannity out on that truth.  We need more people like Shepard Smith and far fewer people like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram.