Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the Duck Dynasty "Controversy"

Duck Dynasty: Here is a group of savvy entrepreneurs who can very conveniently and profitably appear to be a cozy, "salt of the earth" family of back country hicks.  Just plain folks all over the country have swallowed this act hook, line and sinker, and have put these reality stars on some kind of an "idolized everyman" pedestal.

The family patriarch made some statements on the record that reflect his personal morals.  Fine.  Who cares, really?  If his version of heaven is populated by people like him, I certainly wouldn't be caught dead there. 

But don't forget, this guy is an employee of the network, the network has sponsors, and sponsors react to this kind of thing.  I remember the days when the stars of TV shows actually DID the commercials for the sponsors.  They had to appear to use and love that sponsor's product, and they always had to comport themselves, on screen and off, in such a manner that the sponsors would be satisfied that the actors represented the image the sponsor wanted to convey.  That was part of the job.  The hard part, arguably;  perhaps even the part that made what they did WORTH the silly sums of money they got paid.  In return for keeping up the required appearances, stars got paid very handsomely and were the beneficiaries of a lifestyle few non-celebrities could enjoy.   TV personalities who did not toe that line were not TV personalities for very long.   

All you out there hollering about Mr. Duck Dynasty's "free speech" should think very hard about what kind of behavior a star--who is, in the end, merely an employee--should be required to display in exchange for the ridiculous amounts of money he rakes in purely for being "a star."  You say that an employer is not allowed to dictate what a person does outside of work?  How many teachers have been fired due to moral outrage over some behavior they have displayed either in their past (nude photos?) or private lives (gay teachers are routinely fired.)  For that matter, how many sports icons have lost lucrative sponsorship contracts due to the exposure of some kind of less-than-desirable off-the-field conduct?

The silliest part of this entire mish-mash is, Robertson hasn't been fired.  A & E can safely "suspend" the guy because they already have most of next season's episodes in the can.  Do you think the network would actually cease production on a (mystifyingly) wildly popular cultural phenomenon (!!?!?!) over this?  Not gonna happen.  Remember, for the networks, it's ALL about money.  A & E is simply trying to mollify sponsors while doing nothing to jeopardize their golden goose.

The real calamity in all this is not that A & E has violated Robertson's right to free speech.  It's the network's meaningless pretense of moral outrage over the situation.  The network is trying to pacify everyone, yet come out on the other side of the controversy with its money-maker still intact; and it looks ridiculous doing so.  Sigh!  A & E--once the network of "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Hornblower Saga,"  now an endless parade of outrageous "reality" shows designed to buy 100% into the dumbing down of the national dialogue.  How the mighty have fallen...   

Update:  Can I call them, or can I call them:  Phil Robertson Will Return to Duck Dynasty in January

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Never Forget: Newtown, December 14, 2012

The internet is a great place to "never forget" things.  Every September 11, the ether becomes clogged with misty photos of two tall straight buildings, overlaid with transparent images of a gently rippling star-spangled banner,  along with the stern words "Never Forget" in a bold and uncompromising font.

When December 7th rolls around, we are exhorted to never forget the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, even though that military atrocity took place almost seventy years ago, in a completely different world.  

There are folks in the southern US who have passed "never forgetting" the "War of Northern Aggression" down through generations like a cherished family heirloom.

We are sternly admonished to never forget any military attack upon our "innocent" selves by a political enemy.  We need to hold on to those feelings of shock, horror and hatred.  We need to cultivate them, tend them and cherish them, haul them out annually on the anniversary of the dastardly deed, and let the world know we Never Forget, so the world had better watch out.

I find it interesting--and appalling--that in a culture such as 21st-century America, where we seem to have the political attention span of a fruit fly, we nevertheless pour enormous amounts of energy into remembering decades-old acts of war, the better to nourish our personal hatreds, xenophobia and prejudices.

But when one of our own--a middle class white boy with a distorted life view and an assault rifle--shoots his way into a school building and assassinates twenty babies and six teachers who gave their own lives in an effort to protect the innocents, we forget.  

As soon as humanly possible, we forget.

Because to remember these babies, shot to pieces by a kid with a weapon that no private citizen should be able to get his hands on, would call upon us to act.  It would force you and me, Mr. and Mrs. Joe American Citizen, to make a stand.  Not just to be part of a grumbling mob of patriotic rabble-rousers that calls for an enemy's blood, and then huddles behind the young people who comprise our military and pushes THEM into harm's way. Remembering Newtown would call upon us to defy, every day, the forces in this country who have decided it is in their financial and/or ideological best interests to maintain a free flow of weapons of war into the general population. Remembering Newtown would cause us to live with the nearly unbearable knowledge that we ourselves could fall victim to a nut with an automatic weapon, anytime, anywhere.  And we aggressively do NOT want to know that.

No...  When it comes to events like Newtown or Columbine or Aurora, the best we can do is shout for a week or two about how these things would not happen if EVERYONE were allowed to carry loaded guns around. And then throw a blanket over that story, stomp on it to make sure it's dead, and hurry on to the Next Thing.   

If this is not a prime example of entirely misplaced priorities, I would like to know what is.  To hell with "never forgetting" wars and military attacks.  Get over it and move on.  But if there was ever a thing in the world to Never Forget, Newtown would be it.

Never Forget.

Let it sink into your bones and change your life.  Then do something.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On the Myth of the "Liberal Media"

Is there anyone out there who still entertains delusions of a "liberal media"?

Once upon a time, the media may well have been "liberal", in that it was not only free to but obligated to present a balanced representation of current events.  But that started to change after Reagan and the Republicans got their hands on things in the eighties.   At some point, some group of ultra-rich geniuses realized that media free of financial and ideological obligations to mega-corporate owners came off as way too liberal.  The media were free to report and develop stories not necessarily conducive to putting money in the pockets of those who already had more money than God, but nevertheless wanted to make sure that more--perhaps ALL--money was channeled in their direction.  Oh, it all seemed a very straightforward and "small government" philosophy.  They sold the action to the American public by declaring that "excessive" government regulation limited the rights and the freedoms of all Americans. 

In reality, government regulation often is put into place in order to control the rampant greed that is an unfortunate corollary of our capitalist system.  The GOP had no interest in protecting the freedoms of Average Joe Citizen.  What they had was an agenda to allow monied interests--almost always closely linked to the Republican Party--to purchase entire monopolies of media outlets, the better to disseminate their message to the American people.   So the concept of media deregulation was born.

And yet, the right still has the audacity to holler  "Liberal media bias!" at any story that might leak past the conservative blockade of corporate-controlled media.  And a shocking number of conservative sheep--I mean, average citizens--take up that cry and seem to really, truly believe it.  Sigh.  Don't think my theory has merit?  Let me just ask--why do you think conservatives are so publicly and adamantly anti government "subsidies" for public media outlets like NPR?  Because conservative big business interests can't control the message.  

Still believe in liberal media bias?  Here's the story that actually got me started on the subject this morning:  Dan Rather on the Difference Between Him and Lara Logan:  My Story Was True.    In case you've forgotten, Rather lost his job in 2004 in a flap created over a negative story about then president (and presidential candidate) George W. Bush's military service.  A story that was never proven untrue, never refuted by Bush Administration or campaign officials; a story that was shouted down so quickly and so thoroughly by the "liberal media" that Rather was forced to end an illustrious four-decade association with CBS news, skulking off with his tail between his legs.

Nine years later, Lara Logan screws the pooch on a story that would put an Obama Administration damning spin on the Benghazi "scandal,"--by using as her featured witness a "contractor" (read: mercenary) whose version of the story changes and enhances depending upon to whom he is requested to recount it.  In other words, she assembled a piece that was basically a pack of lies, in a bid to advance her own personal political agenda.  I have two questions: 1.)   Why, even though it has been almost a decade since the Rather debacle, would CBS allow one of their talking heads to go anywhere near a story with such flimsy basis in documentable fact?  and 2.)  Why would CBS air this story without properly vetting it?

Could it be that the primary consideration afforded the story was that it leaned in an anti-administration direction "approved" by someone with buckets full of money?  Did corporate owners actually believe they could sneak a Fox-esque collection of conjectures and untruths past a veteran audience that has been trained to hold a venerable news vehicle the like of "60 Minutes" to a much higher standard of truth and excellence in reporting?  CBS first endeavored to defuse the outrage over the story by having Logan appear on camera with an "apology."  When the controversy stubbornly refused to go away despite Logan's weak and disingenuous "my bad!" the network finally bowed to public pressure and asked Logan to "take a leave of absence."  I'm sure nobody was as surprised as CBS' corporate owners that a large enough portion of a less-than-conservative body of viewing public would make a loud enough stink about their cheesy, agenda-driven attempt at "fair and balanced coverage" that they would be forced to back-pedal as furiously as they have for the past month.

I take that back.  I can't say that nobody was as surprised as CBS over this flap.  I was surprised.  I was surprised that a blow was struck for truth and research and real investigative reporting, and against shoving ideological pablum disguised as "news" down the throats of the American people.  No kudos here for CBS.  High fives to the audience who stuck to their high standards, would not accept lame efforts at mollification, and held CBS and the reporter accountable.

It will be interesting to see where it all goes from here.    


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Understanding Dave Ramsey

I don’t know much about Dave Ramsey, the Christian financial guru to whom I referred in the previous post.  I’ve never listened to his radio show (probably because I gave up listening to the radio about fifteen years ago when it became overrun with right-wing talk shows.)  From what I can gather, he is a fifty-something southern guy who identifies as a “born-again Christian.”  He got rich in the 80’s, evidently by utilizing some questionable borrowing practices, and lost that fortune when a bank demanded repayment of over $1 million in short-term notes within 90 days, whereupon he declared bankruptcy. 

Here’s a man who got burned by the concept of “doing business with other people’s money” –a basic tenet of American business.  After that experience, it appears he got the “live debt-free” religion.  And like any convert, he is single-mindedly zealous about the concept.  Okay.  I get that. 

The problem is, he has combined his two passions—Christianity and “financial freedom”—into something that comes dangerously close to “prosperity gospel:”   that skewed theology that maintains that God wants Christians to be wealthy, and will generously bestow financial blessings upon believers who follow certain guidelines, like giving generously to Christian ministries.  Though Ramsey does not openly identify with the prosperity gospel movement, he does preach that God desires for believers to be happy (read “rich.”) Ramsey cherry-picks bible texts that bear out this theory, while studiously ignoring verses like Matthew 9:24:  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Or Matthew 5:3:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  In fact, when Ramsey’s detractors quote these verses to him, he accuses them of “biblical nitpicking” and goes on his merry way.

But, as I said, I knew nothing of Dave Ramsey until I followed a link posted by one of my Facebook friends.  The link is to a CNN piece  that deals with a post on Ramsey’s web page for which he has received a windfall of criticism.  The essay in question, not written by Ramsey himself but apparently endorsed by him, is a list of twenty practices theoretically embraced by the rich and shunned by the poor that constitute, in the author’s mind, the fundamental reasoning behind why some folks are rich and some are poor.  Rich folks do all these wise and practical things!  That’s why they’re rich!  Poor folks aren’t smart (disciplined, determined, desperate ) enough to do these things!  That’s why they’re poor!

The long list is an unprecedented pile of poor-bashing hogwash.  You can find it here:  20 ThingsThe Rich Do Every Day It is a trumped up piece of capitalistic propaganda that cites “facts” and “figures” that look suspiciously like they were pulled right out of someone’s wealth-promoting ass:

"80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.
"76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.
"63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people."   

What kind of “facts” are these?  Who did this research?  Who would care enough about any of these topics to DO the research?

The list is pure bullshit, and Ramsey did himself no favors posting it to his site.

As a result, a large enough hue and cry ensued that Ramsey was forced to respond.  Did he remove the post?  Did he acknowledge possible inaccuracies?  Did he challenge the author to cite his sources? 

No.  He responded with an ungrammatical and rambling diatribe of his own, (click on the link, scroll down past the original post; definitely worth reading) condemning his detractors as “politicized, immature and doctrinally illiterate.”  His response is, in itself, an amazing piece of self-promoting prattle that leaves one a bit shell-shocked and mystified at the logic of it all, but with no doubt as to the fact that Ramsey is shifting any perceived “blame” for the impropriety of the post from himself to his detractors.  In a nutshell, he is saying, “We haven’t done anything wrong, you just don’t GET us.  So we are just going to ignore you and keep doing what we are doing, because God is on OUR side.”  Ugh.

My favorite part of his convoluted logic is where he states: 

“My wife and I started our lives with almost nothing, eating off a card table and driving two cars that did not total $2,000 in value. We were broke…”

Broke, Dave.  Not POOR.  Broke.  There is a world of difference between the two.  “Broke” presupposes that you once had money, or you knew what it was like to have money.  “Eating off a card table and driving two cars…?”  That would be broke.  “Poor” would be having no food, no card table, possibly no room to put a card table IN, and almost certainly not in possession of ONE car, much less two.  Unless the car served as your living quarters.

Perhaps Dave Ramsey’s problem is with semantics.  He seems to function under the assumption that those who are not rich are poor.  Perhaps he fundamentally does not get that the definition of “poverty” is NOT “not rich.”  Perhaps if all of Ramsey’s teachings, and even this heinous “20 Things” list he shared, were based on “rich vs broke” rather than “rich vs poor,” it could all make a lot more sense.  And be much less morally objectionable.   

Because we all know there are NOT only two personal economic realities.  Rich and poor are the opposite ends of the spectrum.  There is a lot of territory in between.  But I think Ramsey takes deliberate advantage of the negative connotation of the word “poor.”  He has reinforced that negative definition by posting this list that indicates that the “poor ” are folks who are too lazy, stupid, unmotivated, criminal or sinful to follow the “Biblical” path he sets forth to attain wealth.  The poor are suffering the consequences of their own “poor” choices.  No one who drinks the Ramsey kool-aid wants to be one of THOSE people.  This is how Dave Ramsey stays in business.

Ramsey makes all kinds of claims about how he and his group teach “giving” and “extraordinary generosity.”  I guess that’s his way of suggesting that the “20 Things” list, and indeed, his entire ministry, is not about poor-bashing.  He insinuates that his critics don’t know anything about him or his teachings…that they have just decided to attack him based on this one post and not on his total body of work. 

You’re right, Dave.  I didn’t know anything about your body of work prior to this.  But this controversy, and your way of dealing with it, do not entice me to get better acquainted with you and your teachings.  In fact, it makes me want to avoid you like the plague, and tell everyone I know to do the same.