29 March 2010

How did it come to this?

How did our nation end up in the mess it's in?

We are the world's wealthiest nation. Our education system, for all the criticism it takes, is fairly extensive and in many cases exceptional. Our institutes of higher education are magnets for international students, demonstrating global esteem and at least the perception of quality. A great many of us have instant access to information through the internet, and since nearly every American household has cable/satellite, we are subject to a barrage of news and information...oh.

Wait a minute. Maybe we have too much information, as that old band The Police once sang. Not too much information as in let's stifle it and censor things and close avenues of communication, but too much information as in we're not processing it properly and if we don't have the tools to process it properly, we're simply awash in information with little way to get our bearings as to which is good information and which is bad information.

Just as the advent of the newspaper allowed information -- and let's not forget, gossip -- to spread at exponential rates (see Balzac's Lost Illusions for an excellent commentary on the at-that-time state of the art lightning fast communication), and television did the same thing in the 1960's (bringing among other things the Vietnam War direct to the American public), so too has the internet and the spread of cable infotainment channels like CNN and Fox revolutionized information access and transmission.

You Tube allows the semi-intelligent to become celebrities for a short time by doing stupid things to their bodies (and for the stuff You Tube won't show, there's 4chan) or by filming their children in states of dental-sanctioned inebriation. Andy Warhol's prediction becomes absolutely prophetic.

Unfortunately, our ability to process the information seems not to have kept pace with the access to it. It's become even worse since Fredric Jameson talked about "total flow" back in the early 1990's in Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

The success of poststructuralist attacks on the notion of objective presentations of truth were necessary interventions that dislodged the monolithic power of either myths of the state (see the Schoolhouse Rock videos of American history) or of media as a fundamentally objective pursuit. Unfortunately, the right-wing had by and large failed to understand these arguments and incorporated only the first part into their analysis both of poststructuralism and the media. Interestingly and paradoxically, the right wing is quite comfortable arguing that poststructuralism is morally bankrupt because it denies objective truth ("eternal, universal, and natural God-given truths"), while at the same time adopting poststructuralism's critique of that sort of truth as they condemn the "liberal media."

What's missing, of course, is the second part of the poststructuralist critique, one that Derrida for instance was at pains to return to again and again (see "Violence and Metaphysics," Of Grammatology, Spectres of Marx, or nearly any of his late works -- the quickest gloss may be "Violence and Metaphysics" contained in Writing and Difference -- see esp. pp. 128-29): that the absence of an unmediated access to universal truth does not mean that we can therefore throw out standards of judgement. It's quite simple, but easily forgotten in the easy soundbite of "moral relativism" that right wingers like to throw around.

I'll skip a bit here, but suffice to say that eventually we get around to the idea that it isn't so much knowledge that's power -- at least culturally -- but transmission of information, good or bad. Conspiracy theories, which used to be confined to small groups of isolated crackpots, are now given the power and reach afforded by globally linked communities. The speed of information and the format of information does not lend itself to extended critique or immersion in the object: instead we are immersed in an unending stream of information that doesn't separate the latest Disney-channel star's scandal from market news or political maneuvers -- other than the fact that the scandals are given higher billing and more air time.

So we have the advent of the Tea Party movement -- a gathering of malcontents (which isn't a bad thing in itself) whose numbers wouldn't qualify them for any sort of attention in the days when the supposedly evil mainstream media (and look, I have plenty of critiques of traditional media outlets, but I'm really tired of the idea that they can all be collapsed into some monolith -- the great media conspiracy theory) actually evaluated the newsworthiness of events and movements. However, in these latter days of news as entertainment, we have Fox in particular actively promoting the Teabaggers -- surely and odd position to be in if one is interested in notions of "objective journalism" (of course, I'm all for reportage, but there's a fundamental difference between activist-journalists filing reports for explicitly aligned outlets and a major news corporation pursuing a "news story" as though it's part of their new fall line-up).

Stupidity parades itself around on the basis that the "mainstream media" has silenced the "real story." Truth claims can't be evaluated because "liberals" (who are all at once progressives, communists, socialists, and fascists) won't let the truth be told. Conversely, mainstream television pundits, whose truth claims are eviscerated on a daily basis by, of all things, a comedian, are the heroes of the teabaggers, who apparently have no critical faculties for evaluating truth claims. Evidently having been served miserably in their varied educational histories, they are unable to distinguish between liberals, communists, and fascists. All are wrong, and all are one.

Stupidity is on tour, coming to a city near you, in the form of the Tea Bag Express.

28 March 2010

Anatomy of a fad.

I love the fact that Sarah Palin is hitching her wagon so tightly with the new Know Nothing Party. Nothing could ensure her irrelevance in 2012 more than saddling up with the political equivalent of EMF. In fact, being associated with tea party rallies is going to be about as attractive as being known for Italian hoagie and Mountain Dew fueled Dungeon and Dragons weekends.

Here's a sneak peek into the future: the health care law has been in effect for two years, the economy has rebounded, unemployment has fallen to 7% or thereabouts, and Glenn Beck has exhausted all doomsday scenarios.

Republicans who stayed aloof from teabagging will pound Palin into the ground with samples of the most bizarre and extreme of the teabaggers, essentially making her look as if she's the president of the Timothy McVeigh fan club, and the Republican Party establishment will know that a Palin primary victory will equal a general election defeat, because the Democrats will run ad after ad of teabagger tinfoil hat theory with shots of Ms. Palin egging them on, as she did this weekend in Searchlight, Nevada.

I have to admit I'm not up on the alternatives, though. I suppose Mitt Romney is in the hunt, and probably the bass player from the midwest...um, Huckabee. McCain's Presidential aspirations are over. I guess another Bush might try his hand, maybe Jeb, but I'm fairly certain the country is a little bored with that family.

With any luck, we won't be wasting lives and dollars in Iraq anymore...

23 March 2010

Alexander the not-so-Great

I was listening to NPR today when they interviewed Lamar Alexander -- or at least played a sound bite from him -- on the student loan bill currently before Congress. I can't remember his exact idiocy on the radio, but here's what he committed to print earlier this month:
Starting in July, all 19 million students who want government-backed loans will line up at offices designated by the U.S. Education Department. Gone will be the days when students and their colleges picked the lender that best fit their needs; instead, a federal bureaucrat will make that choice for every student in America based on still-unclear guidelines.
I guess I'm naive; I never picked my lender when I went to college -- I applied for a student loan and -- bam -- there was Sallie Mae. Apparently Alexander thinks that the government is going to install DMV-like offices to service loans:
Finally, the government should disclose that getting your student loan will become about as enjoyable as going to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Let's leave aside the fact that states run DMVs. I wonder if Alexander understands -- or maybe he just doesn't know -- that the government already provides student loans (and that's on the federal and state level) and they haven't required any DMV-like apparatus to do so.

So you're left with the question: Is Alexander stupid or disingenuous?

22 March 2010

Liar liar pants on fire.

Texas Representative Randy Neugebauer, who called fellow Congressman Bernie Stupak a baby killer while Stupak spoke on the floor of the House now claims he was referring to the Healthcare Bill, telling anyone who will listen that he actually said, "It's a baby killer."

Nice try.

I suppose he thought that particular lie was simpler and more believable than his first choice, which was rumored to be "Baby killer whales are cute."

The actual baby killer, of course, -- and parent killer and plain out person killer -- would be Neugebauer and his fellow self-centered hatemongers, all cut from the same cloth who have opposed any form of legislation geared toward the greater good of the nation. Is the health care bill perfect? Hell, no. It gives way too much to the very vampires who have been sucking this nation dry for decades. However, it's a start, and that's better than where we were.