“Better call on evolution” or, Our Cultural Koyaanisqatsi (Revisited)

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Don’t you remember, back in the ’70s (or early ’80s), learning about people banning or burning books and thinking, even as a grade schooler, that this represented an ancient, embarrassing point in our ostensible development as a nation?

I do.

And as we come to learn, as we grow and bear witness, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Did you happen to catch this?

I did.

And I’m equal parts embarrassed and appalled. (Quick recap: some backward opportunist named Scott Beason, already a Tea Party loving, immigrant hating imbecile, is now throwing his hat into the ring. As in ring of fire. As in: let’s ban books! Click on the link above to read more, if you can stomach it.)

I find myself asking, only somewhat rhetorically: Again?

We have to go through this again?

We have to actually entertain the idea that anyone, in the United States, circa 2014, can get mileage out of this type of ignorant fear-mongering?

The answer, of course, is: of course.

And, as always, I do hate the player, but I mostly hate the game. This being America, each and every huckster can sell their snake oil; if people aren’t willing to buy it, they won’t survive. But as we see, again and again, there are always people willing to buy it. Lots of people. Especially people in certain states. Like Alabama.

If there was anything approximating a mature or informed discourse amongst these folks, or if our MSM was capable (or willing) to advance something resembling reality, there might be the possibility, however remote, of pointing out to these misguided, willfully ignorant cretins that the types of things they advocate (like banning books and supporting a single religion) are not only un-American –literally– but more than slightly resemble the exact practices –literally– of the Taliban we are allegedly fighting against overseas.

But there’s no hope. And that will never happen.

Of course Upton Sinclair understood this over a century ago, when he nailed our appetite for self-destruction, for all time: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

5/25/2010:

ON THIS DAY:

On May 25, 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I always enjoy the chance to invoke the incomparable Bill Hicks.

And of course, I relish any opportunity to break out my favorite image ever:

But it’s not all that funny, really. I mean, we laugh because there is much to laugh at. You have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers and bigots don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarian’s savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

It’s times like this that I wish we actually had a Democrat in The White House.

Just kidding. Sort of.

I mean, if there wasn’t a better teaching moment than right now, when has there ever been? Between the ongoing Wall Street debacle (and the toothless “reform”) and the state our the-only-thing-better-than-less-regulation-is-no-regulation former administration left our country in, we are presented with the ultimate, ugly fruit of that mentality, the BP debacle. Or should I say, the still far-from-resolved BP debacle? Actual regulation on the disgustingly rapacious financial, housing and oil industries would have easily obviated all of the recent catastrophes. Catastrophes that we will spend generations paying for. Put another way: the only people who have gotten rich in any of these three arenas are the people who depend upon other peoples’ misfortune to make a profit. And, of course, there are large segments of our country fired up and ready to march defending these sociopath’s unfettered right to exploit and destroy.

See, the thing about teaching moments is that people need to be teachable; they need to be capable of being taught. And a distressing number of Americans right now have already determined that everything they need to know is contained within the (literal) words of the bible, or is best expressed by the (backwards and demonstrably untrue) proposition that there’s nothing the government can do that the free market can’t do better.

Yet, as depressing as it might be to consider how far we have to go, it’s helpful to think about the distance we’ve travelled. Take a look at the recent CNN poll, indicating that 8 of 10 Americans have no problems with gay people openly serving in the military. Could you have even fathomed this possibility back in November, 2004? (That, you may recall, was just after the G.O.P. successfully cock-rocked the vote, whipping up the Red and Blue state hysteria concerning all-things-homosexual. It seems safe to suggest that this disgusting –and disgustingly effective– strategy has finally reached its expiration date, and in our lifetimes we’ll look back in disbelief at how gullible, intolerant and imbecilic we were around the turn of the century. The way most of us today regard our legacy toward civil rights. Right Rand?

So there has been progress. And the good thing about evolution is that no matter how slow it might be, it is inevitable. Although, I wonder if the recent paradigm shift regarding gay rights has less to do with enlightened acculturation and more to do with the fact that in the last six years we’ve gradually discovered every priest and Republican politician is queer as Charles Haley. Just kidding. Sort of.

Therefore on a day that we remember the struggle to teach evolution even as we struggle to teach ourselves how to evolve, I’ll abjure originality and invoke a tune entitled…Evolution. Assessing this great song from the great Cat Power’s great album You Are Free (which I opined was the 4th best album of the past decade), I offered the following thoughts:

But in the end, “Evolution” is the ideal song to close out the set. More, it’s one of the best closing songs on any album, ever. More, it may just be the song of the decade: thematically it is elegiac but in its yearning, deeply human resolve, it is inevitably inspiring. Another duet with Eddie Vedder, I am unable to express the heights this tone poem attains. Just piano and two voices, one sounding like the other’s shadow, Vedder echoes, encourages and reinforces Marshall’s fragile invocation of witness and perseverance. The pair go through the lyrics one time, pause and recite them a second time, ending with a subdued but urgent call to arms, repeating the words “Better make your mind up quick”. They are talking to themselves and, one slowly realizes, addressing anyone else who might be listening.

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One Nation Under A Groove or, Burn, Baby! BURN!

Another great moment in American douchebaggery!

Despite the fact that we’re on somewhat of a losing streak in recent years (thanks, Wall Street!), one of the reasons America remains a place so many people want to live is that we do so many things so very well. That whole Constitution thing is pretty swell. The Bill of Rights turned out to be pretty righteous, wouldn’t you agree? And despite our occasional internecine struggles, it’s mostly been a family affair; we are all in this together. We’ve kept it real as one nation under a groove: the black, the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow, as that statesman and patriot Wonder Mike once put it.

We keep it real, which isn’t to say that we are not immune from being real wrong. Our mistakes are indelible stains on our history, no matter how hard some of us endeavor to deny or conceal them.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh?

In February, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was issued. That is, the infamous presidential/executive order that, validated by America’s state of war, gave a president (FDR) the power to consign various ethnic groups (see: the Japanese) to internment camps. Not too coincidentally, the individuals targeted happened to be Americans belonging to the ancestry the U.S. was concurrently fighting in WW II (the aforementioned Japanese, as well as Germans and Italians). Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were spirited away to these camps. Not unlike the concentration camps, one thinks about this period in history and thinks (hopes?) it was far back in our past. Considering the 20th Century was already half-over puts it in immediate, and painful, perspective. About sixty years ago, millions of Jews were being slaughtered in Germany and tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were being forcibly sent to internment camps. Less than two generations. On good days, we look at this and say “how could it have happened?”. On other days, we look at Guantanamo and it’s difficult to feel too proud of the progress we’ve supposedly made. 

 

This picture has haunted me ever since I first saw it, over a decade ago.

A Japanese family, en route to an internment camp. Neither defiant nor indignant (they could not afford to be), they are quite obviously eager to illustrate their solidarity. Acquiescence. Approbation. The miniature American flags, the victory signs, the smiles. The fear behind those forced gestures. (Not forced because they were fake, but because they were obligatory; imperative as the bare minimum to ensure that the worst was not automatically assumed.) Look closely at how the father sets the tone: he understands the score. Smile, this is your life. The kids are either too old to protest (the older daughter) or too young to fake it (the son). But it’s the young girl in the middle (middle of the picture, middle child in the family) that conveys the intolerable hypocrisy and inhumanity of the situation: she is the only one without a smile on her face or a flag in her hand. She is old enough to understand, but young enough to be understandably petulant about her circumstances. No matter her age, she knows this unwilling exodus is unnatural, unacceptable. And her face (more than a million subsequent words decrying the conditions that led to this embarrassing moment in U.S. history) is able to convey the very human cost of counterproductive policies begat by hysteria.

Never again, one thinks, looking at that picture. It was unfortunate, but that was half a century ago, we’ve evolved into e-mail and instant communication across the globe, certainly we shan’t act that rashly again. Surely we’ve seen enough of this appalling history to ensure that it’s never repeated. Obviously we have made amends and are stronger, as a nation, for what we commissioned in the name of national security. Clearly we could never dive into the deep end again, indulging the uglier side of our collective sensibility. Fortunately we’ve come a long way since the dark ages of our (parents’) infancy.

Haven’t we…

Which brings us to this Quran burning crusade.

Fortunately, it looks like even the most reprehensible ringleaders of anti-Muslim sentiment (see: Sarah Palin) have declared this activity an “unnecessary provocation.” Which begs the question: how far over the edge (and/or desperate for an audience –and cash) are you if you manage to make Sarah Palin sound like a sane voice of restraint? We’ll have plenty of politicians on both side of ideological fence taking an opportunity to talk tough (into cameras) and remind us about American values which, apparently, don’t extend to mosques (that aren’t really mosques) being constructed on Ground Zero (even though it’s not really at Ground Zero).

Personally, I’m grateful to this “pastor” and the cretins who will put fire to paper on 9/11 in order to prove a point. Because, unbeknownst to these imbeciles, the point they are making is that, as those commercials used to say, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. And while we can’t (or shouldn’t) waste too much time trying to convert the willfully ignorant to enlightenment, we can (and should) keep a wary eye on these very un-American activities. How ironic, by the way, is that? As ever, the people most vocal (and ostensibly concerned) about conduct contrary to America know the least about our history, including the intent of those immigrants (!) who wrote the documents they believe they are defending. If you want to strain the metaphor, it might not be unreasonable to suggest that when anyone burns another person’s bible, they are indeed setting ablaze our Constitution.

These folks, who, we know roam our nation in greater numbers than we might have imagined, (and are so easily whipped into a frenzy by their masters), are more than a little behind the evolutionary curve. While Fox News gets their Fascist on, and Rush gorges his fat ass on profitable cynicism, these has-beens and never-will-be’s (the bigots, the uneducated, the willfully ignorant, the impotent imbeciles, as well as the doctors, lawyers, teachers and parents) find the voice that never answers them in church, or at the office, or in their cars, or in the bedroom or –worst of all– in their own dark and empty heads when the lights go out.

One on hand, you have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers  don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarians’ savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

The part that is not funny, of course, is that this is still happening on our watch. As a nation we are deciding what we tolerate and what we will stomach. It’s useful to know how much work is left to be done, and bigots burning bibles is a reminder that we need to get busy. The last few months leave little question that it will be harder (now, later) to whitewash –pun intended– these regrettable instances. They have been scattered through American history like a resilient rash: those times we remained idle while darker hearts strangled our collective souls.

Well, what are you going to do about it, Whitey?

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“Better call on evolution” or, Our Cultural Koyaanisqatsi

ON THIS DAY:

On May 25, 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I always enjoy the chance to invoke the incomparable Bill Hicks.

And of course, I relish any opportunity to break out my favorite image ever:

But it’s not all that funny, really. I mean, we laugh because there is much to laugh at. You have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers and bigots don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarian’s savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

It’s times like this that I wish we actually had a Democrat in The White House.

Just kidding. Sort of.

I mean, if there wasn’t a better teaching moment than right now, when has there ever been? Between the ongoing Wall Street debacle (and the toothless “reform”) and the state our the-only-thing-better-than-less-regulation-is-no-regulation former administration left our country in, we are presented with the ultimate, ugly fruit of that mentality, the BP debacle. Or should I say, the still far-from-resolved BP debacle? Actual regulation on the disgustingly rapacious financial, housing and oil industries would have easily obviated all of the recent catastrophes. Catastrophes that we will spend generations paying for. Put another way: the only people who have gotten rich in any of these three arenas are the people who depend upon other peoples’ misfortune to make a profit. And, of course, there are large segments of our country fired up and ready to march defending these sociopath’s unfettered right to exploit and destroy.

See, the thing about teaching moments is that people need to be teachable; they need to be capable of being taught. And a distressing number of Americans right now have already determined that everything they need to know is contained within the (literal) words of the bible, or is best expressed by the (backwards and demonstrably untrue) proposition that there’s nothing the government can do that the free market can’t do better.

Yet, as depressing as it might be to consider how far we have to go, it’s helpful to think about the distance we’ve travelled. Take a look at the recent CNN poll, indicating that 8 of 10 Americans have no problems with gay people openly serving in the military. Could you have even fathomed this possibility back in November, 2004? (That, you may recall, was just after the G.O.P. successfully cock-rocked the vote, whipping up the Red and Blue state hysteria concerning all-things-homosexual. It seems safe to suggest that this disgusting –and disgustingly effective– strategy has finally reached its expiration date, and in our lifetimes we’ll look back in disbelief at how gullible, intolerant and imbecilic we were around the turn of the century. The way most of us today regard our legacy toward civil rights. Right Rand?

So there has been progress. And the good thing about evolution is that no matter how slow it might be, it is inevitable. Although, I wonder if the recent paradigm shift regarding gay rights has less to do with enlightened acculturation and more to do with the fact that in the last six years we’ve gradually discovered every priest and Republican politician is queer as Charles Haley. Just kidding. Sort of.

Therefore on a day that we remember the struggle to teach evolution even as we struggle to teach ourselves how to evolve, I’ll abjure originality and invoke a tune entitled…Evolution. Assessing this great song from the great Cat Power’s great album You Are Free (which I opined was the 4th best album of the past decade), I offered the following thoughts:

But in the end, “Evolution” is the ideal song to close out the set. More, it’s one of the best closing songs on any album, ever. More, it may just be the song of the decade: thematically it is elegiac but in its yearning, deeply human resolve, it is inevitably inspiring. Another duet with Eddie Vedder, I am unable to express the heights this tone poem attains. Just piano and two voices, one sounding like the other’s shadow, Vedder echoes, encourages and reinforces Marshall’s fragile invocation of witness and perseverance. The pair go through the lyrics one time, pause and recite them a second time, ending with a subdued but urgent call to arms, repeating the words “Better make your mind up quick”. They are talking to themselves and, one slowly realizes, addressing anyone else who might be listening.

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Careful with that Axe, Jindal

Note to GOP.

This guy:

Is going to inspire about as much confidence as these guys:

Actually, that’s not fair to any of the fine Americans listed above (why would I want to disgrace Mr. Rogers, Doug Henning or Barney Fife? They are all wonderful, if slightly squishy gentlemen). Indeed, those comparisons would only apply to Jindal’s presentation, where he distinguished himself last evening as a feckless lightweight. Those forced smiles and awkward “aw shucks” mannerisms only apply superficial and hurriedly applied make-up to cover the typically mean-spirited policies these obstreperous right-wingers are currently clinging to. Don’t believe me, listen to their own cheerleaders: David Brooks here, and a handful of others, here. To appreciate how rudderless these buffoons are (never forget this drown-government-in-a-bathtub asshole, who along with Dick “Deficits Don’t Matter” Cheney and Phil “Nation of whiners” Gramm, comprises the unholy trinity of ideological twits whose Ayn Rand meets Marie Antoinette political calculating more or less spawned the mess we’re in), consider the naked cynicism required to send Jindal out there in the first place. As David Letterman put it best during one of the initial Republican debates, in 2007, “I mean, they looked like guys waiting to tee off at a restricted country club!”

Now, suddenly Jindal is the go-to guy and Michael “Hip Hop” Steele is the new RNC Chair. What a coincidence! Someone needs to explain to this (good old) boys’ club that propping up two ostensibly diverse representatives in typically cartoonish, reactionary fashion is insulting on at least two levels. For one, it’s offensive in its blatant pandering (not to mention its lame approximation of Obama’s genuine appeal). Second, and much more importantly, you can’t, uh, put lipstick on a pig. You can present the most ethnically and culturally inclusive spokespersons any second-rate focus group could conjure up, but if they are echoing the same stale (and racist) platitudes, they are ultimately just mannequins mouthing what this guy and his ilk hold near and dear. It’s the same old song and dance: these hypocrites sat on their hands while the last administration threw common sense and fiscal restraint to the wind, and now, naturally, they are appalled at the debt we are crippling our grand kids with. No alarms were sounded when the size of government (enough pork to satiate a hundred Homer Simpsons) ballooned to the size of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters, but now, obviously, we’ve been hijacked by a Socialist state. As soon as government moves to actually help people, it becomes toxic. That is how cretinous the GOP has become. To which I say, Give me a break, and super-size it. Unfortunately for these assholes, the crisis they’ve created is a moment made for government, and they did nothing to stop it from happening. Their credibility is always at the opposite pole of their shamelessness. None of this is new, of course, but only now (sigh) when average Americans (even the ones in red states!) are feeling the pinch of reckless republican policy, are the scales dropping from their irate eyes. Many folks are finally figuring out that they bent over for the proverbial soap quite a while ago and that pain isn’t going away without a change of perspective.

"Let them eat pork!"

Fortunately, Obama continues to illustrate that he’s the right person at the right time: his speech last night was a masterful stroke on several levels. Politically, he is speaking intelligently, like an adult, to a nation of people who want to be spoken to as adults. Strategically, he’s garnering a groundswell of support to enact these (necessary) policies. The more the idiot wind blows from the deflating GOP tent, the less people they will be able to convince going forward. If they don’t care about those without jobs or health care now, how much more clear can it be that the only thing they really care about is this. And the less of it people who need it have, the happier they seem to be.  Don’t believe me, believe them. We are now officially on the see-saw, it would seem, and because of their own obstruction and obstinancy, the higher Obama goes, the lower they will sink. And they have no one, as usual, to blame but themselves.

I can’t believe it, and never thought I could ever imagine saying this, but it may have played better to have this person deliver the response last night:

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