Risking For Greater Colour

November 15, 2015 § 1 Comment

I’m sometimes vulnerable to an awful thought:

There’s nothing to look forward to.

The thought is awful both in its message and the state of being that usually accompanies it. Worse yet, it usually gives rise to another thought: not only is there nothing to look forward to; there can be nothing to look forward to.

When we feel this way (I’m now assuming I’m not the only one, god help me), we usually feel powerless to change these thoughts and feelings; therefore we must have also decided (since we weren’t feeling bad enough) that we have no power to create anything to look forward to.

What a place to be.

One of the gifts of experiencing this particular kind of pain is that it can catalyze us to confront dysfunctional, repressive paradigms inside us that often operate unchecked for long periods.

Here’s a doozy: wanting to be saved.

Isn’t that one of the reasons we check email, check our social media? We’re looking for something momentary to make us feel better (even when we’re feeling good: one can always feel a tad better), something to remind us that yes, we are important and yes, we are on a path.

A counter-thought...

A counter-thought to the old paradigm.

Well, everything can be a path. Therefore, surely the best path is the one we tread entirely for ourselves, without the need for anyone else to continue to provide it?

This is of course not to say that we don’t need others, or that collaborating with others isn’t a joy and fulfilling in personal and professional ways.

It is simply to say that feelings of flatness and helplessness that stem from seeing nothing on the horizon are malleable; they can be affected and transformed by the feeler. It is up to us to have joyous, creative, productive things to work on and live through that carry the promise of generating other joyous, creative, productive things, many of them in collaboration with others. It is only (I say ‘only’ with a measure of irony) a matter being acutely aware of the track we have carved for ourselves and then eagerly sniffing around for new paths, great and small.

Our struggles in life, these gray, empty moments, can be the spur to greater creativity, innovation and risk.

We don’t have to take risks purely for adrenalin, or for some notion of self-actualization. Nor do risks have to be life-threatening. We can also be motivated to risk in order to enrich our lives with greater color, vitality and the promise of more life flowing in, and these risks may not seem at all like risks to others. They need only be risks to us.

Risk is not exclusively the province of ‘brave’ people; it is there in manifold forms for those of us who need to wake up, on at least more than half of our days, looking forward to what will unfold.

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A GOOD MAN COMPROMISED : THE CASE FOR A THIRD PARTY

November 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

WHY CEDING A SCORCHED POLITICAL EARTH TO REPUBLICANS MAY BE THE FASTEST ROUTE TO REAL CHANGE FOR THE MAJORITY OF AMERICANS

Bill Maher recently made an impassioned (while obviously humorous) case for Barack Obama on his show, Real Time. He focused on all the things that may have happened had we elected John McCain president in 2008. This is really an accompaniment to the primary argument that is usually put forth when we are urged by our fellow “liberals” to vote for the President: that we need to focus on what he’s done, not what he hasn’t.
Yes, one can focus on a), what Obama has managed to achieve in his first term despite unprecedented congressional obstruction and b), the policy disasters that may have ensued under McCain (although that’s not a given, considering the Democratic numbers in congress post-2008 and the fact that McCain is not an extremist in comparison with other Republican crazies).
But a broader question can also be asked which has the potential to destroy the foundations of any argument for voting Democratic:
In which direction does it take a country’s politics if we continually vote for a party that lurches ever-rightward and more corporate with every election? What is the end game of this?
We know what the end game is. One only has to stand Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama side by side to see how far right the current corporation posing as the Democratic party has veered. The easy target is foreign policy- a brief look at Obama’s record in prosecuting the fallacious “war on terror” reveals a politician to the right of every President since Carter, the ‘highlight’ being warrantless and extra-judicial killing of American citizens (Anwar al-Awlaki and his son).
But it’s fiscal, socio-economic and now environmental policies where we see how much firm political terrain the Democrats have ceded, thanks to a liberal electorate that has been terrified and/or shamed into voting for faux-liberal Democratic leaders like Clinton and Obama.
Obama now talks like a Republican, big-business moderate. Yes, his Buffett plan is admirable but similar to someone who stands up and says “I’m against killing babies.” The fact that Romney won’t agree with the Buffett plan doesn’t make Obama a righteous, proud progressive- it just shows how far we’ve been pulled to the right that Romney can say it’s “fair” that he’s taxed less than his secretary and still be close in the polls.
Obama’s bailout was a travesty. His economic team was a Republican’s dream and we’ve seen the results of that, with very little of the stimulus helping the poor and working class. He never even fought for a public option in the Affordable Care Act negotiations.
His willingness to “compromise”, through the slashing of public programs, while only asking for moderate increases in taxes is, once again, manna from heaven for Republicans. The fact that they blocked what had formerly been Republican proposals and ideas doesn’t mitigate Mr.Obama’s betrayal of genuine liberal ideals; it only demonstrates the insanity of the corporate/religious right in its efforts to block legislation they had formerly supported.
Yes, Obama was also defeated in his attempt to put forward a jobs bill that, unlike much of the bailout, would actually help ordinary, non-rich Americans. But if one takes the time to listen to his verbiage in his first two years in office, his defeat was entirely predictable. The Republicans had happily watched him spend his entire presidency up to that point courting business while minimizing the power of government to affect positive change in people’s lives, and therefore suffered little political damage in opposing the bill. More rightward tilt.
In the recent debates, Obama actually agreed with Romney that corporate tax rates must come down. Game, set and match. This is what happens when corporations, through the parties they buy, convince us to vote for one of their gangs.
I won’t go into environmental policy. Obama doesn’t have one. He proudly asserted in those debates that he’s opened up more areas for drilling than any president in history. If we trust the scientists (and we should), our voting strategy will end up causing environmental holocaust. Again, corporate bosses raise another toast.
Is he a good man? Yes. Is he a better man to have in power than Romney? Of course.  Would he have behaved differently without the corporate yoke around his neck? Possibly.
All that notwithstanding, let us ask one more question: does the election of President Obama give us any hope of achieving fundamental political change on key issues such as the environment, campaign finance, the destruction of unions, erosion of our safety net and public services and our increasingly extra-judicial, illegal covert military adventures?
Based on what we’ve seen during the administrations of two corporate Democratic presidents, absolutely not.
We must accept the painful reality: our slavish adherence to a two-party system (and concomitant ostracizing of true progressives who have attempted to provide real liberal policies that could actually make a difference, such as Ralph Nader) is a glacier adrift, moving inexorably rightward and into the corporate domain.
Only a third party, unencumbered by corporate and campaign bribery, has the power to alter that insidious shift. Maybe we need to suffer short-term losses to even give ourselves a chance of changing course. Maybe in leaving this political scorched earth behind and ceasing to fight over an ever-diminishing plot of political terrain, we might in fact hasten the demise of 19th-century right-wing politics, through the offering of a genuine progressive alternative.
That is something worth fighting and even suffering for.
For those seeking a genuinely progressive, legitimate third party, the Green Party and its leader, Jill Stein, is a very good place to start. I am not a member of the Green party nor have I written this column on behalf of the Greens.   

WHAT CONSTITUTES JOURNALISM?

April 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

Provocative article today by David Sirota on the Salon website about the dearth of quality journalism (or even mediocre journalism) being produced today for the cable ‘news’ networks.

As an avid reader of superb journalists such as Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, to name a few, I am in complete overall agreement with Mr.Sirota. That notwithstanding, there are some aspects of his perspective on this issue with which I’m in disagreement.

Mr.Sirota is lamenting the state of cable news in general, yet doesn’t take pains to avoid drawing a false equivalency between Fox and MSNBC by grouping them together as he makes his argument.

MSNBC is as guilty as any network of being a mouthpiece for the corporate state much of the time. The difference is that it is not committed to being partisan irrespective of the facts, as Fox clearly is. Anyone who has watched the network would have witnessed consistent criticism of President Obama for any number of things, from his war commitments through to an abandoning of progressive principles during negotiations on the Affordable Care Act. No such consistent criticism can be found on Fox.

The temptation to see liberal-leaning (though certainly not truly progressive in any tangible sense) networks such as MSNBC as being the mirror image of a radical, far-right and often fact-free entity such as Fox ‘News’ Network is not resisted nearly enough by supposedly impartial media commentators, a problem which also rears its head when we see “unbiased” reporters speak of the ‘gridlock’ in Washington, an assertion which blithely implies an unwillingness on the part of both political parties to compromise and move forward with productive legislation. This, of course, if one is to examine recent history from even a moderate distance, is patently false- millions of progressives, this writer included, have found themselves exasperated at how often the Democrats are more than willing to surrender their supposed ideals in the service of ‘compromise’.

Which brings me to the other problem I have with Sirota’s article, as excellent and worthy as it may be. His abhorrence of the prevalence of “opinion” and the concurrent lack of actual journalism resulting in edifying, constructive journalistic content is valid- yet he doesn’t raise one of the major reasons for the rise in opinion ‘news’: that of the unwillingness of reporters in recent times to challenge political figures, and the policies they promote, in their reporting.

Is a journalist’s job to simply report both sides of an issue, to blandly repeat what prominent figures in our society say? Or is it to analyze the data, to interpret the rhetoric and examine the facts and educate us on what may be the ultimate reality  behind someone’s words, behind a piece of legislation, behind the polemics of a particular issue?

In their terror of being labelled ‘partisan’ or ‘biased’, reporters in supposedly ‘liberal’ media entities such as the New York Times, MSNBC and NPR often ignore the facts in repeating talking points by politicians. They regularly fail to provide crucial perspective on issues- when was the last time a reporter from one of these organizations was willing to examine what Israel has actually offered the Palestinians in past ‘negotiations’ or ‘peace’ deals, to name one example?

It is this lack of factual, interpretative reporting- and what true journalist  does not interpret?- that has contributed to a vacuum which has now been filled by what Mr.Sirota calls ‘opinion’. Keith Olbermann’s Countdown spiked in popularity in 2003 due to its ability to quench the thirst of those who wished to see someone- anyone- actually speak of the Bush administration’s real motives for its unlawful attack on Iraq. Very few ‘reporters’ at that time were willing to be so ‘biased’ as to actually report on the political elephant in the room, that of the administration’s clearly corrupted intent at that time.

I hope that Mr.Sirota’s voice is heard on this issue- his article addresses a enormous, systemic problem that needs more attention. If we’re lucky enough as a society to once again have access to a plenitude of real journalism in our mainstream news outlets, may that journalism not be afraid to offer an interpretation of current events that promotes the greatest possible truth- in other words, let it contain opinion, from people qualified and seasoned to offer it.

Picture: Chris Hedges, one of the great journalists in the United States today.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE COOL TO BE KIND

September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I can always tell if I’m patronizing a ‘cool’ establishment in Los Angeles. The most salient clue?

No one’s smiling.

Some time back, probably around the point at which the Goths sacked Rome, some self-ascribed ‘cool’ person decided that one isn’t allowed to show joy, enthusiasm or humour if one is to be considered chic, trendy, hip. I remember my first visits to nightclubs in Sydney in the late 80s; the brusqueness on display terrified me. It was as if all the Bond villains in the world had descended on this tiny room. These living monuments to the in-crowd were veritable statues. Impenetrable. I remember thinking, “geez, this nightclub stuff is serious. I wonder where these folks go after this experience to unwind?”

I was at my corner 7-eleven this morning, buying my favourite cup of corporate hazelnut coffee and, upon my turn at the register, I noticed a gentleman standing behind me with his cup. This person was clearly what we have to come to label a “working” man, a moniker never more appropriate in this world of capital gains, dividends and people making gads of cash at the touch of a button. On an impulse, I told the man at the register to ring up his coffee as well on my dime.

The first thing I noticed was the look of surprise on the cashier’s face. He asked me to make sure. I said yes, absolutely. He paused, as if to verify for himself that buying a stranger coffee was not illegal in Burbank. He then proceeded.

The victim of my random act of kindness was also in a state of mild astonishment, followed by a gratitude that was out of adjustment in its intensity. Clearly he, too, doesn’t experience this sort of thing too often. What followed was remarkable- he had already withdrawn his cash to pay for his coffee, and having thanked me he then put it down on the counter and said to the man behind him, “okay then, I’ll pay that forward!” and, shaking my hand, he then left the store.

The gent on the receiving end of this train of goodwill attempted to refuse and the chuckle that accompanied the refusal spoke volumes to me. It was the nervous laugh of embarrassment.

It is sad to me that we are conditioned to find unalloyed genersoity, kindness and exuberance embarrassing or silly. Our most powerful resource is kindness and love for others. We must be on the lookout for it on a daily basis. We must be ready to accept it when it comes along for, to be sure, every time that we reject or fail to acknowledge a kindness, something offered us without ulterior motive, we are conditioning the giver to withhold, withdraw and cease in their practice of generous acts.

Charisma is not aloofness. ‘Cool’ is not a face set in marble. Charisma and cool mean walking into a room ready to take an interest, to give of oneself, to offer and receive with jubilance, to laugh, to opine, to be outraged and to dance, with grace or otherwise.

Kindness and generosity are the new chic. If that sounds corny and a little silly (and I strongly suspect it might), it means I’m probably onto something. Or, as Dr.Dre put it in elegant, Shakespearean terms : “if you don’t like it, blow me.”

Picture :  I only know one song of Dr.Dre’s, his duet with Eminem ‘Forgot About Dre’. Pulsating.

 

LEAVE ‘FREEDOM’ OUT OF IT

September 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was waiting tables at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. I refuse to call them the ‘9/11’ attacks; every time that we neglect to locate the event from the perspective of the year in which it happened, we are condemned to thinking of it as a recent occurrence, as something with which we have to live on a daily basis. Terrorism is not a daily event and is responsible for far less loss of life than actual phenomena which kills ten times more people every year, such as filthy air, contaminated soil and water and useless, pre-emptive wars.

But back to 2001. In the aftermath of that day, people began to ask for ‘freedom’ fries, a symbol of the bizarre and ignorant resentment of the French that was aroused as a result of their shameless audacity in not going along with the Bush administration’s kneejerk lust to invade Iraq and demonize Muslims in the weeks and months that followed. When faced with this request I would calmly inform customers that no such fries existed on the premises but that I would be more than happy to bring them french fries. I could already see the damage that was going to be done in the name of American patriotism’s version of ‘freedom’ and was eager to display non-cooperation wherever I could, even in seemingly meaningless ways.

Almost ten years later, dreading the overhyping of the terrorist threat and the militaristic glorification of murderous, exploitative wars which we’re supposed to believe have kept us ‘safe’, I’m reading steadily more about the new World Trade Center being erected in downtown Manhattan, which some are calling the ‘Freedom’ Tower.

On a practical level, this edifice has nothing to do with freedom, unless we’re talking about the freedom to amass obscene amounts of wealth. If this building were being built to house non-profit organizations dedicated to ending poverty, creating a healthy ecosystem and stopping acts of violence around the world that are committed in the name of defending national ‘interests’, I might be amenable to calling it the Freedom Tower. But that’s a pipe dream: the official name of the building is the World Trade Center and, as all of us should know, ‘trade’ in modern, geopolitical terms means a very small percentage of the population figuring out ways to become ever richer, without much benefit to the remainder of the people living on this planet.

This exploitation of resources and people is one of the main motivators of terrorism, but it is by no means the only one. Another is the aggressive projection of Western culture, in the name of profit, onto large groups of people who never asked for it. One of the ways this occurs is through the propagation of the myth of American ‘greatness’, that we are the ‘greatest’ nation in the world and that our way of life must be somehow ‘better’ than everyone else’s.

One of the cliches trotted out by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the Trade Center attacks was that the terrorists ‘hate our freedom’. This lie, perfectly convenient in its willful denial of the many legitimate reasons for outrage and feelings of disenfranchisement among peoples of the Middle East which spawned the completely illegitimate and heinous crimes against US citizens and foreign nationals on that day, may make some of us feel better in the short term but ultimately guarantees that we will lack the necessary self-evaluation that is required in order to make the changes that will lessen the degree to which others do indeed hate us.

I will not expound on the manifold ways that the US has engendered hatred throughout the world through aggressive, violent and imperialist policies- there are untold numbers of books, documentaries and lectures that can illuminate in those areas. What I will say is that while we conflate those policies into a self-perceived attempt to spread or guarantee ‘freedom’ to our citizens and others around the world, we only guarantee the spread of greater resentment and rage which will inevitably be turned into fanaticism and acts of terrorism by a tiny fringe element, an element we then exaggerate in the name of outrageous military spending and more international interference.

A lack of freedom did not cause the World Trade Center attacks. Nor is the US ‘freer’ than the multitude of other nations with a greater wealth equality, better services for their citizens and a greater priority placed on the maintenance of important civil liberties. We are not the best-looking, most morally upright person in the room and it’s high time we started to be intellectually honest when it comes to the language that we use. Language has consequences, as those in power know all too well. Unless we begin using language of humility and allowance and, more importantly, treat others with that same care,  we can look forward to more of the same from those seeking to do us harm.

Picture : The new 1 World Trade Center, a building built in the name of wealth accumulation.

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?

August 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

An hour has passed since I left the cineplex, having used my free movie ticket given to me by a friend to view Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring a somnambulant James Franco and, while the film itself was almost worth the gas money spent, I’m perturbed by one question:

Why, um…. are there no female apes in the movie?

Let me qualify with a disclaimer: at no time during the film was ape genitalia sighted, of either gender; therefore, I cannot be certain that there were not she-apes present. Having said that, were the creators to tell me that the presence of female apes should have been assumed, it would only increase my agitation.

An agitation engendered by the fact that Hollywood, if it can be believed, has become even more feminine-averse that I’d previously thought possible.

Note the use of feminine, as opposed to female. Yes, there are roles for women (albeit not many leading ones) in Hollywood movies- the problem is that most of them have veered even more in the direction of male-created stereotypes.

It used to be that the two roles available for the vast majority of actresses were either Virgin or Whore. Ingenue or Vixon. However, in the last generation, the studios have added a new category: Warrior. Sigourney Weaver ushered that new Hollywood archetype into the mainstream with Alien and since then, we’ve witnessed a cornucopia of adaptations : Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil series, Radha Mitchell in Pitch Black and Angelina Jolie in Salt, to name a few.

Can we call this proliferation of roles embracing the female-warrior archetype progress? It may very well be a step back. When we consider in retrospect what might be called the “golden years” of Hollywood, a glance at the leading ladies of the time might well give us pause when considering the “progress” some people claim women have made in front of the camera in recent years. Actresses like Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and Joan Crawford epitomized a feminine archetype whose power didn’t come from a facility with automatic weapons and a third degree black belt, but from a different kind of weaponry: that of intelligence, wit, inner strength, courage and a seductiveness borne out of a seemingly indestructible sense of personal power.

Where are those women today? More accurately, where are the roles? Must women be either sex objects, helpless maidens, gun-toting killers or a combination of the three?

The public is ready for, and I would argue is in need of, vehicles for powerful, dynamic actresses that represent true feminine power, a power that can manifest itself through emotional fluidity, intuitive playfulness, shredding wit and, among a multitude of other facets, the loves, rages and desires that can storm from its pure life-giving and love-bearing essence.

While there are no shortages of roles in the American film industry for men to embody the masculine essence with its properties, the same cannot be said of that terrain in relation to women. That needs to change and not just for fairness’ sake. We need a new paradigm that allows for the feminine to rise, as opposed to a warped idea of femininity that is propagated daily by a male-dominated industry.

Vote with your wallet. Staying home can sometimes be a powerful gesture.

Picture  :  Where were the female apes?

MEET THE CHALLENGER

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s time to divert progressive resources away from Barack Obama and toward a genuine counterweight to and bulwark against the right-wing movement that is destroying this country:

Russ Feingold must challenge the President in the primary season of 2012.

Not because he can win, as wonderful a result as that would be.

No, Mr. Feingold must steal the gauntlet from Mr.Obama’s pocket, the gauntlet that the President has refused to throw down in his dealings with Republicans and use it to challenge Mr. Obama himself.

The voters need a demonstration of just how transformative a strong, unbridled progressive voice with clear, dynamic ideas can be- something that many voters thought they were getting (however erroneous that belief might have been) in Mr. Obama in 2008. The President needs to be annoyed, humiliated, shamed into doing something new in his Presidency (if he indeed gets another term): standing up for the common good and against the corporatocracy.

Here’s how some of the debate would go:

QUESTION : Where do the candidates stand on abortion?

OBAMA : Blah blah blah respect life blah blah blah reproductive rights are important blah blah blah I can see both sides blah.

FEINGOLD : A woman’s right to choose, to have an abortion, IS THE LAW OF THE LAND. I stand by that law one hundred percent. The recent violence against abortion providers and the laws passed restricting abortion by state legislatures is abhorrent and unacceptable. The criminals perpetuating the violence must be brought to justice and I will be making my case to the citizens of those states where such laws have been enacted to throw out their respective congressmen and elect leaders who will repeal those shameful laws.

QUESTION : In the current poor economic climate, do the candidates think it wise to raise taxes that could have an adverse effect on job creation?

OBAMA : Blah blah blah balanced approach, blah blah tax code can be improved blah blah blah the rich can pay a little more.

FEINGOLD : Lower taxes do not mean more jobs. That is bunk. Period. We tried that for eight years under Bush and the only thing that happened was that the rich got richer. Low taxes is the main reason for our states’ budget problems. As President I will place a tax on all stock transactions, a tax on polluters, raise the tax rate for the rich and corporations back to 45% and close every single tax loophole on corporations in addition to ending corporate welfare through subsidies to oil companies and the like. We don’t have a budget crisis in this country. We have a tax crisis and it will end when I am President.

QUESTION :  Mr.Obama, you’ve been criticized for a lack of leadership on environmental issues, from the climate change conference in Copenhagen to a lack of new legislation being proposed to support renewable energy and lower our carbon emissions. How do you respond to that?

OBAMA : Blah blah blah balanced approach, blah blah no way to get bills passed in Congress blah blah we’ve done a lot to promote renewables blah blah the future of our country is at stake.

FEINGOLD : This President has caved at every turn, refusing to single out Republicans and their party for taking bribes from oil companies to do their bidding. I am not taking a cent from the energy sector to fund my campaign, unlike Mr. Obama who has taken millions; please visit Russfeingold.com to see the numbers. As President I will place a tax on every gram of carbon spewed into the atmosphere in addition to phasing out gasoline-powered cars altogether. I will also be subsidizing a massive expansion of renewable energy production and grids to bring that energy to the public, providing millions of jobs to Americans. The carbon-based energy companies will have our support in changing the way they produce energy. Change they must. If not, they will perish.

 

These are just a few of the questions the candidates would be asked. Others would concern defense, gay marriage, our place in the world, terrorism, the importance of unions and so on. On every subject, Feingold would have the chance to make Mr. Obama look weak  and his proposals nebulous and ineffective. Would it weaken Mr.Obama for his fight against his Republican challenger in the general election? That would all depend on the President. If he doesn’t want to lead, it’s time to stand aside.

Picture : Russ Feingold, former Wisconsin Senator that rarest of political animalsa powerful Progressive voice.

 

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