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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Additive Outrage

In order to get a good sense of what is going on in the world, I read, watch, and listen to a number of news sources: National Public Radio (NPR), PBS, the BBC, the Ideas Network, and a variety of other types of media - magazines, newspapers, and a variety of websites (Salon, Smirking Chimp, etc.).

On weekdays I usually listen to Democracy Now on Madison's "leftist" radio station, WORT. The information is good, and I can filter the bias of the show to draw my own conclusions. It gets annoying sometimes, because the tone of the show is strident, self-righteous, and one of the underlying themes of the program is that as listeners we are members of "the movement," the underground of good, peace-loving, harmonious, equality-seeking, environmentally conscious opponents of government and corporate oppression.

Though I advocate the same things "leftists" do, I don't consider myself one of them. It's a cult identity, and it requires a belief in the ideology of "leftism." According to this ideology, there is a linear spectrum of both people and beliefs that ranges from one extreme of roughly collective sensibilities ("left") to the other extreme of individual and property advocacy ("right"). The spectrum doesn't actually exist, but it is the imaginary divide that has enabled a real divide. And the real divide enables the Bush criminal regime to play one "side" against the "other." Life imitates art.

Last Thursday's edition of Democracy Now was a perfect example of the show's method, and also of how "leftists" cohere. One of the segments described the security problems at "U.S" nuclear weapons sites. Program host Amy Goodman spoke in her usual condemning tone, noting that "At some bases, nuclear weapons were found to be guarded by private security guards and U.S. soldiers with just months of experience."

Just months of experience! The incompetence of it all! Actually, "just months of experience" should be more than enough to be good at doing guard duty. The months of experience come after months of training. A guard would never have any experience at all if there were not a first day of work. Any facility would of necessity have people from time-to-time on their first day of work. After a few months he or she would have months of experience. Or, in the Democracy Now parlance, just months of experience. I would feel more safe with someone who has just months of experience than someone with years of experience. After years of guard duty, laxity is more likely to creep in.

The security may be lax at nuclear weapons sites, but I don't think that "just months of experience" is the problem. Like almost all other problems in the military, it is likely that supervision, or lack of same, is the root of the problem.

Two other aspects of the Democracy Now segment caught my interest. One was the alarmist tone that accompanied the story. It's the same alarmist tone that accompanies all the Democracy Now stories. Alarmist and righteous, or really self-righteous. The intent is to create what I call additive outrage. Create a litany of grievances, where the audience can fall into conformity with the injunction "If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention!" Bad things are happening everywhere, and "we" are the last line of defense against total madness, and, of course, "fascism."

The other curious aspect of the story was the undifferentiated character of the report, as with every other report on Democracy Now. All things that go wrong in the world are treated with the same alarm, so Global Warming, the occupations of "Iraq" and "Afghanistan," Mugabe, the sinking economy, and guards at nuclear weapons sites with just months of experience are equally enraging. How can one help but scream "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"? There is no sense of priority, or really triage, when the implied response is outrage.

This is not a meaningless exercise in "leftist" bashing. The quality of our journalism is the quality of our dialogue, and the stated purpose of this blog is to raise the level of dialogue on this planet. A lofty goal, for sure, but if we don't raise the level of dialogue, we might as well give up and let our species destroy itself.

I used to buy into the "leftist" identity, so I am well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. It is an effective way of motivating people, and giving them a sense of belonging to a community, but it is necessarily a paranoid identity, and its inevitable polarization creates enemies. There has to be the "other."

Stop the presses!Thankfully, there are plenty of alternative journalism sources popping up all over the place. They are less ideological, and employ a lot of former "mainstream" journalists from the corporate news media. Here are a few:

Consortium News

ProPublica

Center for Investigative Reporting

Center for Independent Media

Center for Public Integrity

Global Integrity

Center for Media and Democracy

The Real News Network

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Common Dreams

Media Matters

Media Transparency

Reclaim the Media

Some of these organizations have been around for a while, and some are relatively new. They are all good sources of information, and you find find one or more that serve your interests. Better information yields better solutions, and also can keep you from going completely mad. Or, you just might want to choose the additive outrage of the "left" and "right." We still have freedom of choice.
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In trying to find a better version of "The American Political Landscape - An alternative view," I found a few other things. The image is from the Utne Reader, November, 1991. The authors of the article and diagram are Eric Selbin and Ron Steiner. They've gone on to greater things, and have expanded their analysis to include the "Radical middle." Here are a few links I discovered in looking for a color diagram:

Utne article on the Radical Middle

The Radical Middle Newsletter

No Political Labels

The Co-intelligence Institute

Democracy Campaign

The New America Foundation

The Public Conversations Project

Public Eye

The Constitution Project
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Postscript: I did ("pulled") guard duty once while I was in the Army, in Frankfurt, Germany in early February, 1969. I was at Gutleut Kaserne, a holding facility for new arrivals waiting to be assigned to a unit. It took five days to find a unit with my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), projector repair (41F), and there wasn't much to do. Basic training included guard duty training, so I roughly knew what to do, but had no experience. I volunteered, qualifying me to have a cot to sleep on when relieved. Otherwise, I would have to catch whatever sleep I could on the bleachers of the kaserne gym (not gymnasium, which in "German" means high school).

It was night when I pulled guard duty. I was given a helmet liner and an old rifle, unloaded. I felt like Barney Fife guarding the Mayberry jail. A lot of outsiders came in to drink and play the slot machines at the EM (enlisted men's) club, women of various sorts, German men of curious motives. I was given little in the way of instructions, just to stop cars entering the compund and check IDs. Or maybe nothing at all. I don't remember it very well. The two things I remember most are how boring it was, and how cold I got just standing there. Luckily, the "Russians" didn't pick that night to invade, and "America" was made safe for democracy.
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Here's some independent journalism, courtesy of the New Yorker.
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I wrote a comment in Salon a few days ago that expands a bit on the delusion of "left" and "right."
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Here's a tune about news that you've probably never heard before.

Here's another.

This one might be a bit more familiar.

A well-informed public won't get fooled again.

Here's some Barney Fife.

One Don Knotts routine isn't enough. Here's another.

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