Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mean Sheeple

I'm flying back to Virginia on Hallowe'en - by scheduled aircraft and not by broomstick, but lately I've felt that the cybersphere was awash with covens of witches.

I should be looking forward to going home. Goodness (which has nothing to do with anything, in the words of Mae West) knows, I've certainly been homesick enough on this side of the Pond. I should be excited that, whilst there, I'm spending a weekend in New York, seeing Bill Maher's November 8th gig. Instead, it's all become an ordeal which I would toss aside in a moment, if my air ticket weren't non-refundable.

I'm overdosed on meanness.

I've spent almost three decades on this side of the Atlantic. I'm well familiar with cynicism, almost to the point that I'm worshiping at the altar of Voltaire. People, both in the UK and on the Continent, view the politicians they elect with a jaundiced eye. The attitude is that this or that politico is only out, in the long run, to feather his nest, and the hoi-polloi be damned. The politicos, from time to time, give award-winning performances of concern and connection; but once in office, the stark truth is that they really do not give the proverbial rat's ass. With attitudes like that, it's no wonder that the great unwashed give credence and kudos to z-list celebrities, enhancing their ubiquitous 15 minutes of fame; whilst their elected representatives seek benedictory approval from these selfsame self-promoters of sophomoric fame in an endeavour to heighten their own street cred.

In the words of Bill Clinton: Give. Me. A. Break.

I am sick of Bono, citizen of the world and tax exile from his own country (a country whose economy went from boom to bust in a matter of months when the Bank of Iceland capitulated), writing op-ed portents of doom in credible publications like the New York Times, all the while trawling the earth on a world tour with no less than 6 private jets and a veritable circus of fireworks, leaving a carbon footprint the size and depth of the Grand Canyon. I'm sick of so-called journalists labouring and slavering on his every word as if he were Christ incarnate, and then navel-gazing like adolescents caught masturbating when this jumped-up navvy pontificates that he's 'dismayed' at the direction in which the United States is going.

Who the fuck is this man?

I'll tell you who he is. He's someone who got lucky with talent. He's someone, who - had he not been in the right place at the right time - might have been mulling the problems of the world over a pint of Guinness and a Castella in downtown Dublin. Instead, his ass is the Blarney stone celebrity-worshippers line up to kiss. He's 'dismayed' at the direction in which the United States is going ... I ask you. This is the same man who took it upon his pompous self to lecture Brian Williams, on the even of the Inauguration, that whilst the U S 'invented' the concept of liberty, the rest of the world owned liberty.

I beg your pardon?

What was all the more galling, was Williams, a seasoned newsman, taking all that verbal diarrhea with the spineless demeanor of a whipped puppy.

It made me sick.

Maybe Bono's worried that the US economy is still tanking, which will mean people won't have the spare dosh to buy his latest over-rated CD; or maybe he's worried that the dodgy real estate ventures his songwriting partner is pushing in Malibu, won't be up to scratch in value, now that California is less than bankrupt. Or maybe, Bono just revels in the fact that he's famous and talks because he knows people are stupid enough to listen to his drivel and reckon him clever. He criticizes another country as not being to his standard, but he'd never dream of doing the same thing or even offering valid criticism of his own country, which could do with a bit of advice from a favorite son.

I'm sick of Arianna-Hump-Straddling-Huffington, picking through the political knitwork like Madame Desfarges sitting by the guillotine, ceaselessly looking for the next nit to pick about something Obama's done/said/thought incorrectly and what he should be doing, based on something Roosevelt or Lincoln or Edward III or Alexander the Great did.

Ms Huffington fancies herself an intellect, but there are those of us about who remember how she cravenly tried to push her way into the chattering class Islington media intelligentsia in the UK in the 70s and early 80s, until a little matter of plagiarism got thrown her way. She re-emerged in the US in the mid-90s, suddenly the wife of an up-and-coming Congressman. She, herself, was so deep in the pockets of Newt Gingrich that she may have needed kneepads; and she led the charge in favour of Clinton's impeachment. To say, Ms Huffington was a rightwing Republican would be too kind. She was the Sarah Palin of the 90s, with more than a soupcon of Martha Mitchell.

Suddenly, in the wake of the 2004 election, when it became fashionable to hate George W Bush, she pops up a dyed-in-the-wool Progressive.

Damascene conversion or self-promoting reinvention? All she needed to do was strap on a pointy Christian La Croix bra, and she would have rivalled Madonna as the Mistress of Reinvention.

I thought of this instantly, when I watched one of the March episodes of Real Time, when Keith Olbermann appeared as a guest. Bill and the panel had been discussing the phenomenon of Glenn Beck, when Bill, who realised Olbermann used to work at Fox some years back, asked him if he thought the Fox News people bought into the stuff they spewed.

Olbermann revealed that he'd just interviewed the author of Rupert Murdoch's biography, who had been given licence to interview various Fox employees. On condition of anonymity, one high flier had actually admitted that Rupert Murdoch was totally apolitical. In fact, he didn't like politics at all, but he was a businessman, who'd recognised a niche in the US news media for a conservative viewpoint. Beck, Olbermann reckoned, was the real deal; but the rest of the Fox names were salesmen; and if the world woke up the next day to a rightwing US news media takeover, Hannity and O'Reilly would become Progressives overnight.

It's no surprise that Rupert Murdoch and Arianna Huffington are best buds, is it? Just as it came as no surprise that the celebrated verbal tennis match feud between Keith Olbermann, himself, and Bill O'Reilly was all for show. A sham. Contrived. For the ratings and the rantings.

Christ on a bike. Please help me. Who said, "whoever controls the media controls the government," wasn't exactly right. Instead of controlling the government, whoever controls the media controls the gut reactions of the lowest common denominators of the Right and Left.

The Right goes mental listening to Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck ranting about reverse racism and the impingeing fascist dictatorship of Barack Obama, while the Left sucks in verbal garbage propagated by Huffington, urging Joe Biden to 'resign' and lead a protest party against Obama because of Afghanistan. The puffpo HuffPo dittoes are reduced to bobble-heading idiots in agreement with anything Huffington proposes or any piece of lazy 'undocumented source' of journalism her latent adolescent reporters shoot out as fact, second-guessing the President and criticizing his every move. Obama's for the public option. No, wait a minute, he's not. Yes, he is, but only for certain people. No, wait, he wants a trigger.

I used to really care passionately about universal healthcare being implemented in the United States. It is still my home, after all, and if I do eventually return, I'd like to know that I'd be covered. Now, I couldn't care less; in fact, I could care less if I ever return. I've successfully managed to adopt the quintessential attitude of the British working classes: I'm all right, Jack. Fuck you.

And that's down to the good old US opinionated infotainment industry.

There was a time when our news media was the rival of the world. Newsmen read news reports at six or seven o'clock each night, and you did your homework while your parents watched an tutted over the latest carnage in VietNam or the latest student protest on whatever college campus. Now the nightly news is lost in a welter of 'fair and balanced' reporting which gives relevance to the trivial and exalts the mundane. Bored with fact, the viewing public turns onto opinionators, verbal snake oil salesman, who spew out their own invective and present it as snarky sarky fact, and doing it with one thing and one thing, only, in mind: ratings. People listen to Olbermann and Beck as though they're listening to God. It must be true. Keith Olbermann said it. Rush reported it; it has to be so.

This comes at us in 24/7 cycles, with every Tom, Dick and Mary hungry for five minutes of limelight and a contract for a reality show. It drives people to hoist balloons with the fiction of a child inside. It makes otherwise sane individuals welcome cameras and networks into their home to watch their children grow (and that's paedophilia in some countries) and their marriages disintegrate. And we lap it up. And we want more.

And in the end, we become mean sheeple too. We latch onto an aura of celebrity plopped in front of us via the internet universe, and we run like pigs from a gun to climb that greased pole for one iota of recognition from the person we've made into a god to worship. We can share the fame for a moment and to do so, we chase fame with flame and jealousy. We speak from the posterior portion of our bodies of the inalienable right to freedom of speech, whilst all the time whispering invective into the ears of chosen disciples in an effort to stifle that selfsame freedom of speech by good old traditional bullying. After all, nothing hurts more than an actual bitchslap than one aimed at the psyche of another. The e-mail messaged word, the subtle innuendo, the nudge-nudge-wink-wink harassment, all in the name of cruel exclusion.

We revert to the high school mean girls' mentality - if, indeed, we ever left it at all - desperate for attention and recognition. Pardon me, but this isn't a virtual classroom; and the star of the show is anything but a teacher. The motivating force here seems to be jealousy. Considering that, it makes one wonder how much jealousy plays a part in the daily debatings/discussions which occur on the floor of the Senate or the House. There's a lot of vanity there, to be sure, and a plethora of ego; but if there's jealousy, it's either cleverly concealed or its debilitating energy is channeled into arguments or actions more conducive to the cause at hand - healthcare or climate change or something of that ilk.

The chosen leader of the internet sheeple cerebrally muscles or manipulates his way to the top of the greasy pole, where he becomes paranoid of his position. Woe betide anyone who, even unthinkingly, becomes a perceived threat. There's nothing more frightening for the being being stifled than a larger than life smirking dynamic of a faux sweet Death's Head, reminding one subtly of one's place.

Someone once divulged to me that whenever this person was angry, there was a need to write. Well, I'm angry too, and so I'm writing a thank-you diatribe to all those who contrived to make my much-anticipated trip home an abject misery and to make an event which I've eagerly awaited seem like an ordeal to me.

With Americans like that, I'm better off in Britain, where the sheeple are, at least, selfish but indifferent.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

View From a Broad - Part II: Just Call Me Cassandra

On Saturday, the New York Times Weekend Opinionator column posed the question "Does the Nobel Hate America?"

Of course, the column was all about the du jour topic of the President receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. To say this was a surprise announcement is an understatement. I got the new via an e-mail alert from the selfsame Times whilst I was at work, arguing on the phone with a Frenchman in Modane and enjoying a late morning espresso. Suffice it to say that once I'd read the alert, most of the espresso ended up spewed on the computer screen.

I was that surprised. I admit my first thought was a simple ... WTF? Then, I was pleased; because even before I read the rationale behind giving the President this award, I understood why the Nobel Committee had done so.

Living in the UK, it was a refreshing change to see Obama make his first trip abroad last spring. When he spoke, it was a tangible relief not to have to clinch the cheeks of my ass in shame as I did with every halting, rambling gaggle of faux folksiness and mispronunciation that constituted George W Bush's addresses.

The height of my eternal embarrassment came three years ago at a G8 Summit in Europe, when Bush released his inner cowboy with that deprecatingly awful 'Yo Blair!' moment. I felt like Charlie Brown banging his head on his desk in frustration as I watched Bush's posturing, chest-bumping stance last year, whilst awarding degrees at the Naval Academy. What an embarrassment of a President!

I had George Bush pegged from Day One of the 2000 Presidential Campaign. He was every cocky docksider-shod frat boy who strutted his stuff on campus. He was arrogant and feckless. He didn't give a rat's ass about anything because he knew once he'd finished his degree, Daddy would be on hand to tide him over with something until he really decided what he wanted to do, and then Daddy would set him up in that venture as well. His character was all of the worst parts of my ex-boyfriend's character that I hated.

I could easily imagine George Bush spitting on Sherman's statue in full view of a DC policeman during a day out in Georgetown. I could imagine George Bush illegaly parking my car on a double yellow line on the same day and blithely telling me not to worry, only to return to find it ticketed. I could imagine George Bush throwing the Queen Mother of all hissyfits in the fast lane of Interstate 64 en route from Charlottesville to a wedding of a sorority sister of mine in Richmond, upon finding out that he was attending the wedding of a black woman to a white man. I could imagine George Bush taking up with a bottled-assed overweight co-ed during the summer I was studying for a Master's in Spain, only - upon being discovered in his transgression - to offer the lame excuse that she was merely a "cushion for the pushin' while you were kicking it up with the Spics."

Yeah, I knew George Bush.

What is important to remember, from my standpoint at least, is, living abroad, that Europeans, in general, tend to judge Americans by the President they choose. George Bush, and everything about him, to the Europeans, was an unmitigated disaster. He had never travelled outside the confines of the continental United States. He didn't give a monkey's about what the rest of world thought of him or his country, he would do what he thought best for America and be damned. A pretty arrogant attitude, to say the least; but in reality, not so very different from the ethos behind France and the French. But arrogance wears so much better with an ancien regime.

Anyway, I've had to defend the fallacious assumption, on Europe's part, of 'American stupidity' for almost three decades now - for a longer time than I'd actually lived in the United States - and most of that defense has come within the past 8 years. It hasn't always been easy.

Well, it seems the myth of 'American stupidity' has come home to roost heavily in the United States, so much so, that it's been embraced, acknowledged and broadcast about by the Left, in particular.

Two things I wish to point out:-
1. I've noticed the same political disparities which rule the Right and the Left in the United Kingdom, to be identical to the ones I now see emerging in the United States. In the UK, the Right - especially throughout the past decade - have managed to keep the public on edge through fear tactics: specifically, fear of unfettered immigration and increased islamification of the country. The Left, governing through the auspices of the Labour Party, has managed to deflect, deflate and denigrate any sense ofEnglish identity; in fact, they've gone as far as identifying any symbol of English (as opposed to British) cultural identity as racist, xenophobic and wrong. They are constantly apologising for the sin of Empire. They rule through guilt.

Fear and guilt are big factors identifiable, also, in the American Right and Left. The Right fears the unknown - the perceived terrorist threat, the increase in immigration, both legal and illegal, the downswing in the economy and the tanking of the American dream, the changing racial and cultural demographic of the United States. All this fear is neatly tied up, packaged, and released to rail against the current serving President of the United States: a man they feel far more illegitimate in that title than George W Bush, who stole the 2000 Election, ever was.

The Left, newly placed in power, on the other hand, is going about doing penance for the Bush regime, but in a curious way. Not only are they justifiably apologetic for the neocons' rude behaviour of the past two Administrations, they're cravenly apologising, embracing and advancing, almost with glee, the appeasement of 'American stupidity.' What's more, they're doing this, whilst simultaneously and slavishly agreeing to the fact that every other country in the known world, developed or not, is totally superior in every way to the United States.

2. The second factor is that there's a distinct difference between 'stupidity' and 'ignorance.' One can just as easily be ignorant, but possess an immense amount of common sense, as one can be educated to a high degree, but possess ideas and opinions which can only be described as 'stupid.'

A lot of the thought processes I see emanating from the Left, traditionally more cerebral, more intellectual and always better educated than the base of the Right, are the embodiment of stupidity.

Let me assure you, that I'm a Leftie of the first degree. I was weaned on socialism of the old order, raised to rail against Republicans. But I'm ashamed to be associated with some of the sentiment, some of the stupidity and a lot of the sheer ignorance spewing forth from the so-called Progressive wing of the Democratic party these days.

A few months ago, in an interview with Howard Kurz, Bill Maher revealed, worryingly, that most of the demands for a restriction of rights under the First Amendment - freedom of speech, specifically - was coming from young people who identified themselves as Democrats. I would agree with that. Earlier in the year, immediately after Barak Obama's Inauguration and in the wake of Rush Limbaugh's earliest pronouncements about wanting the President to fail, an American columnist, writing in the British daily, The Guardian, openly called for Rush Limbaugh to be silenced, pointedly saying that Obama couldn't hope to proceed with his agenda until Rush Limbaugh had been prohibited from speaking.

The British commentators on that site quickly shouted down her assumption in a welter of cries proclaiming Limbaugh's First Amendment rights. The British well appreciate freedom of speech these days, particularly as it's being regularly denied them by their center-left Labour government.

I see this clamour for people from the Right to be silenced everyday on the blog comments of The Huffington Post, a leftwing aggregate, whose existence dates from its founder's sudden epiphany from Gingrich Republican to fully paid-up Progressive. Believe me, only St Paul's conversion was more sudden and dramatic.

The ostensibly better-educated commentators on this site have discernably weak spelling skills and even worse understanding of the machinations of the government they swear is trying to shaft them in the worst way.

Their worst weakness is their fickleness. Always ready to second-guess the President and his motives, they slavishly echo the views of every well-known, but not necessarily well-read celebrity blogger who posts a missive. As a result, the Progressive Left has increasingly come across as a massively spoiled child, ready to stomp off in an enormous sulk, because the President seems to be ignoring their immediate and incessant demands. Things aren't going their way in the government, so they don't want to play anymore.

Back in February, when the latest season of Real Time started, Bill Maher opened his monologue, remarking on Obama's Inaugural Address, which asked for the help, support and sacrifice of all American citizens in the massive job he had before him in righting the enormous wrongs left by the Bush Administration. Bill wondered if the current generation of Americans had the fortitude to do this, reminding them of the way their parents and grandparents had, first, endured a Depression and then edured a World War, without complaint. But the current generation, he continued, seemed only to be willing to sit back and let the President shoulder the burden. They wanted Obama to do everything for them, from telling them to wash their hands to sorting out immediate health reform.
And, indeed, it seems these people thought Obama would stride purposefully into the Oval Office, whip out a magic wand and right the wrongs left by Bushco with a mere 'Abbracadabbra.'

The fact that it ain't going to happen that way or that fast seems unfathomable to these people.

Now ... maybe they're very young, or maybe they're very stupid; but to me, listening to these eminent sages speculate throwing the President under a political bus and mounting a primary challenge in 2012 with no less than Dennis Kucinich, more than slightly veers to the latter assumption.

They're stupid.

Even more stupid is the classic refrain: 'If we don't get single-payer/a public option, I just won't vote in 2010.' Never mind a 'no vote' might result in the Republicans picking up additional seats or even control of the House or Senate, damn it, the President isn't doing what they elected him to do, so they simply don't want to play anymore. So there!

The pathetic thing about this behaviour, especially with regard to healthcare reform, is that half the assholes bleating about single-payer healthcare actually think it's FREE. Honestly, it's free healthcare - more to the point, it's free healthcare on the GOVERNMENT'S ticket.

What ... the ... fuck?

Try to explain to these obdurates, as one who's lived a great part of my life under the fabled single-payer system, that it really isn't the paradise they assume - that there is an element of health rationing, that there are interminable waiting lists, that the quality of your healthcare is dependent upon the fiscal responsibility of your local health authority, and I'm shouted down as wrong. Not just wrong, but horribly wrong, and in many cases, it seems I don't know what I'm talking about.

Equally incomprehensible is their inability to identify their own faults as reflected in the actions/behaviour of their rightwing counterparts. They have their own demagogues as well, and this is part of the problem, I think, in the United States today.

There is simply too much information about. The media is everywhere, 24/7, and every humble news reporter has to have an op-ed schtick. In short, everyone has to have a viable opinion that he just has to get across to the masses: incontrovertible and undeniable. Well, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, and there are certainly a surplus of assholes swanning about in the cable news media.

The Right has rush, but the Left has Keith Olbermann.

This past week, MSNBC rather grandiosly announced that the pundit-cum-infotainer allocated the 8pm slot, Keith Olbermann, was going to dedicate an entire program to declaim upon healthcare reform.

This was announced in the manner of a major policy pronouncement by a major political figure.

It was, succinctly, an exercise in ego.

Several so-called fashionably Progressive dittoes went orgasmic at the thought of Olbermann devoting an entire hour to lecture his listening public on the righteousness of universal healthcare. They looked forward to the event with the same sort of fervour, I would imagine, that devoted hausfrauen looked forward to an important national address by Hitler, himself.

In short, the only thing the wasted hour accomplished was informing us that Olbermann had an incredibly articulate vocabulary, especially with regard to using archaic phraseology - who uses 'mountebank' or 'inchoate' in everyday speech? - as well as giving us a detailed and embarrassingly personal account of Olbermann's father's recent illness. I didn't care to know that Mr Olbermann Sr kept a portable urinal by his bed, that he had to sit on the side of his bed and 'position' himself in a particular way in order to pee; that wasn't necessary. It was gratuitous and self-satisfying, only to Olbermann. I never did get the ethos of Olbermann's diatribe, amidst angst that his mother died from breast cancer, that he had a married sister with children and staff from a prominent New York health establishment stood smoking outside the premises.

I turned off this sanctimonious tour-de-force before the end.

A lot of other people did as well, I gather, because the two ra-ra girls, who expostulated the previous day about Herr Olbermann's discourse, couldn't be seen or heard for dust. I would imagine one got bored and turned the thing off and the other did the same, through misapprehension. But the point is that Olbermann could have called for healthcare reform to consist of headless chickens being served raw on silver platters surrounded by the corpses of aborted foetuses, and the dittoes would slavishly agreed.

Amongst this tranche of people, it's almost fashionable to criticize both the President and the country. Now I'm all for politicians, particularly leaders, being held accountable to the people who elected them; and I'm not above criticizing the country as well. After all, it's our country, and if, like our elected leaders, we see it going in a direction we don't like, we, as citizens, have a duty to correct it or to at least act in a way as to correct it - not sit around on our asses playing armchair quarterback and tut-tutting, or even wailing about 'giving up' on the country as a whole, even to the point of wanting to leave it.

Giving up? These people, and we're almost all descendents of immigrants, should take a look at their own backgrounds and discover exactly what their ancestors had to 'give up' and then endure in resettling here. America, I'm hearing most of these misguided souls say, is so bad (mostly because it doesn't have free healthcare) that they're leaving. They're going to Canada, to Australia, to the UK (always to English-speaking countries, you see, these people are too lazy to comprehend that other countries might just speak another language).

You really want to leave? Well, let me help you with your exit strategy:-

- As you're emigrating mainly for healthcare purposes, make sure you don't have what's commonly known as a 'pre-existing condition' - you know, like epilepsy, diabetes type I, cancer or any sort of heart condition - anything, in short, that might entail immediate healthcare in your new country of residence. More than health tourists, you see, these countries hate health immigrants. They want to minister to those souls whose taxes have paid into the maintenance of a healthcare program. You haven't.

- Make sure you've got a marketable skill, which your new country needs. Some countries need teachers, or nurses or doctors. Most would kill for scientists. If you're a pizza chef at the local Pizza Hut or a counter girl at the local CVS, forget it. They hire citizens first. Foreign countries are like that - unless you're willing to work for less than their minimum wage.

- Learn a foreign language. Most of the world doesn't speak English. By the way, forget about France. The most sensible country in Europe is very protectionist. In fact, if you're not European and brilliant, forget Europe, altogether.

- If you do get a foot in the door, please try not to big up the 'American stupidity' myth by slavishly agreeing with whoever in that country mentions what they perceive to be a fact. They expect you to argue against their assumption. Listen to the talking heads in their media. None of them even comes close to saying outright that the people in their countries are stupid. For you to do so is just ... stupid.

- If you can't accommodate any or all of the above, marry someone from the country to which you want to emigrate ... and stay there. But remember ... as a naturalised citizen, should you ever become disappointed in the country of your choice, you have an option ... you can always come home. Maybe by then, we'll have a universal healthcare plan, and one that's free at source, but funded by the taxpayer.


These people are either so arrogant or so stupid or both that they cannot see the harm their spoiled and puerile capriciousness is doing to this Presidency. I have never seen a serving United States President, newly elected, so pilloried, not only by the opposition, but also by elements of his own party. Look, the Republicans have put their wagons in a circle and sent up smoke signals distinctively saying NO; they've sent their drones, suitably brainwashed, their one braincell filled to the limit with Glennbeckian antifreeze, out onto the battlefield to spread the birther/socialist/communist doctrine. That's one front.

If the President has to do battle with the people who elected him, as well, he's doomed. And if all y'all don't grow up and grow a pair and realise that this is bigtime government and it ain't pretty, then don't bother voting again; and you'll always get the government you deserve. And while you're contemplating the next thing about which to nit-pick the President, as he's about to rescind DADT and DOMA, why not start by doing some reading ... I recommend the Constitution for starters.

You see, I know it's hard to believe, but we've honestly got a truly intelligent, articulate and intellectual individual at the helm now, and he's on our side. Hold him accountable for his actions, when something goes tangibly wrong. He's said as much that he expects that from the electorate; but cut him some slack on the trivial stuff. Really.

It's stupid.