Saturday, April 28, 2007

TV News Scoundrels

I have lots of time to kill so I watch more of my share of TV news: C-Span, PBS and 'The Big Three' for lack of getting the other cable offerings and even though I find them wanting at best, they're at least a notch better than the pap that passes for entertainment these days. Leno, of course gets a pass because he's always ready with a poignant monologue that pokes fun at the absurdity of mass culture and this usually morose Dave always cracks up, uncontrollably at times. Most network and cable news is neatly packaged and sanitized to smooth out the violent bumps for the stressed-out, snacking public so they don't lose their appetites and get up to change the channel. As for my tastes, I always go for a daily dose of ‘patriot’ internet talk shows that so often scare listeners into believing that the every day the world is at the brink of Armageddon. Alex Jones is a good example of 'over the top' commentary in that he seems to be often on the verge of a nervous breakdown at various points during the show, fretting over corporatist attempts to poison the food supply and ruin America’s health with genetically modified foods, aspartame, anti-depressants and fluoride in the water. I have no doubt about his passion and his sincerity, though. It’s just that a lot of people are wary of radio hosts that indulge in wild, way out theories and hyper-emotionalism and for good reason. After a few hours of listening many relegate them to the kook category. Still, you get a lot of good alternative information on Alex's show and on other netcasts that you definitely won't get anywhere on the radio or TV since those insipid mainline programs are hosted by highly-paid sycophantic scoundrels that seek to sell you on hating either the liberals' or neocons' well-entrenched ideological dogmas, both of which exist mainly to serve the interests of the moneyed elite. I just think it would be helpful if Alex would tamp down a little on his rants and concentrate more on issues that more disaffected listeners can relate to. Funny thing is, I really find some of those rants and information often quite entertaining, engaging and topically right on the money.

The other day I was watching Bill Moyers' excellent but maddening PBS show that dealt with media complicity in the lead-up to the Iraq War. It seems that back in '02 and early '03 all the major newspapers except those in the Knight-Ridder group, according to Moyers, felt it advantageous to parrot the disinformation the White House Iraq Group was plugging and were basically afraid to stand up and challenge them for fear of being labeled as ‘soft on terrorism,’ which their editors believed would result in a drop in ratings. There really wasn't much in the documentary most of us I think haven't heard already but it did do a good job in tying together examples where the TV media and the press continually caved in to the Bush administration due to the Prez's incredibly high approval ratings post 9/11. Sure, there was a lot of pressure to censor any stories that would go against the Rovian public relations juggernaut but it was clear that the major outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post defaulted in a big way as reputable bastions of veracity. The country was in desperate need of a big morale-boosting win after the horrible New York and D.C. attacks and in place of real reporting these papers just went along with the general mood which was to strike back at the evil Saddam Hussein since the military couldn’t for some reason find Osama Bin Laden. After watching Moyers' program, however, I was hit with the realization that there was nothing in the documentary about PBS’s own handling of the pre-war ‘intelligence,’ possibly because Moyers didn’t want to offend those globalist foundations that fund Public Broadcasting with anything remotely negative. Well, I guess we’re all supposed to pretend that PBS just hasn’t existed these past four years!

As far as TV coverage pre and post ‘Shock and Awe’ it was appalling and depressing to watch, especially the Sunday ‘talkies’ that have continually put out the red carpet for the worst examples of highly ranking public officials, so much so that I'm often unable to watch them anymore. The banter is so skewed and scripted toward the party line that it’s absolutely unbearable. No wonder so many people hate these shows with the constant parade of top administration officials, congressmen and women as well as neocon pundits like Bill Kristol from the Weekly Standard and David Brooks from Washington Post. Even the utterly disgraced Tom Delay gets to go on to spout his opinions on the state of the world – how’s that for media arrogance! All in all I’m really very content that I don't get Fox, CNN and MSNBC’s mind-numbing valium-laced drivel. I know I would be literally driven out of my mind and tearing my thinning hair out! CBS, ABC, PBS and NBC are quite enough, thank you. Network news does have uses though. You really get to see how the propagandists of the world spin their web to catch their prey. Probably couldn’t do much worse by watching ‘TV Land’ or the ‘Cartoon Channel’ to get your news fix. Well all kidding aside, you do get the basics and a starting point from which to venture out on your quest. As it says in the Good Book, “In the presence of many counselors there is wisdom” and the same holds true for news content so don’t get snookered into just watching those patronizing agenda-laden government sanctioned news programs. With that I say, on with the infowar and go Alex Jones!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Virginia Tech Tragedy

The campus of Virginia Tech has been shaken to it's foundations with the murder of at least 33 of our best and brightest from among the school's students and faculty and we are left aghast at why another student would snap the way he did and how someone could be filled with so much hate and anger. Most people lead fairly normal lives with their share of personal heartache and tragedy but we don't often enounter violence to this degree in our personal experience. We reel in the thought of what the V.T. community is going through, feeling a little of what they are feeling because we know that it happens every hour of every day to someone somewhere, not only here in America but also in Africa, Asia and in the Middle East on a much larger scale. Do we also need to be reminded as well about the way animals are treated in our meat processing plants and in the wild?

Decent people everywhere are impacted by those that hate. It's a darkness that settles like a shroud over all we do yet we go on with life doing our best to keep it from consciously impacting our lives. What we don't fully realize however, is that we are inundated and bombarded by images of murder whenever we turn on the television and thus have become mostly desensitized to it to the point of obsession. So why do we continue to feed on violence? After all, if people didn't tolerate these programs, they would get cancelled one after the other until there were but a few or none remaining. News coverage is another way we get an injection of numbing violence but instead of getting a two-hour tale we get it in small enough doses so that it becomes difficult to empathize with the victims or to question why governments are so quick to go to war. If we were able to spend two hours getting up and personal with war's impact on its victims, I believe we would respond in an altogether different manner and become truly sickened and revolted by the inhumanity of individuals, militant groups and armies toward innocents in the red zones of conflict. Unfortunately we only get the sanitized version in five minute increments and don't experience the horror of the many bombings and killings that occur while the horrifying shootings at Virginia Tech will be detailed and drawn out in the news for many months to come.

We are what we attend to and though our encounters with death are mostly felt vicariously, we continue to immerse our thoughts in negativity as entertainment and because of it are likely not to care too much about what happens to others in different regions of the world facing death on a routine basis. Seeking peace and the healing of the planet comes down to conscious individual choices we must make if we really want compassion and reconciliation to thrive. There are so many ways to make changes in how we spend our free time but we must first desire to understand just a little of what victims of violence have to endure and take part in some of the pain that they feel, that war is more than a passing headline or a TV drama. Thankfully we have the freedom to watch what we want, and are able to make choices in what we want to devote our leisure time to. I myself don't mind watching a war film or action movie once in awhile, but it's really hard to ignore how many really violent shows are on every day. Avoiding them may not be a cool thing to do in today's culture, but it is nevertheless necessary, I believe, if our kids are going to inherit a humane world. I think we're getting a loud and clear message from the Virginia campus shootings that things have gone very wrong and that tragedies such as this will continue to increase until we begin to internalize that 24/7 violence is not a culturally adaptive or acceptable form of diversion. I believe there's a need for an immediate awakening of the kind that turns us around 180 degrees and it needs to spread across the boundaries of nations and cultures like a great wave. It is possible for humanity to redirect its orientation from violence to peace because real satisfaction in life comes the pursuit of love and justice for others as well as in nurturing it in our own hearts which is the place where miracles are born and are multiplied.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Godliness and Guilt

Guilt is something we must live with in the human experience. Often it is justified and often it isn’t. We either carry it as a heavy burden in never-ending disconsolation or we can learn to deal with it in a logical, adaptive manner and go on with our lives. People who feel led to follow a spiritual path I think tend to be much harder on themselves with regard to guilt than those who do not emphasize it in their lives simply because they recognize the eternal significance of all they do, rather than just the earthly consequences of their actions. Different religious traditions emphasize different aspects of right and wrong in both thoughts and deeds. For example, In the Judeao-Christian system, individual and collective guilt is highlighted. In the Genesis account the first humans who were made conscious of personal responsibility were Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel but later in the chapter the concept of collective responsibility begins to take shape and thus the drama of Israel’s journey unfolds through time and space in the development of an ethical consciousness of duty to God. The rights and responsibilities of the nation to the individual and the individual to the collective are fleshed out as well and are contrasted with the beliefs and norms of other nations that were encountered on their journey into the Promised Land. In Eastern belief systems though, the emphasis is more toward the relationship of the individual to the spiritual world, that it is necessary to practice detachment from a deceptive, illusory world that causes those entranced by it to go astray in the acquisition of materiality, leading to misery and cynicism toward God and toward others.

So no matter what particular set of beliefs one adheres to there is always the injunction to change negative behaviors to positive ones in order to show that our faith in God is sincere but through the process of increasing one’s identification with God, our behaviors and attitudes can organically be changed as a result of that relationship. In that experience we don’t actually change ourselves. God changes us. Guilt assumes the role of a gauge to measure where we are on the path toward godliness and increases awareness of omissions and commissions that cause us to fall short of the standard set by the particular moral or ethical requirements of the belief system we follow. Guilt also highlights one’s internal motivations as well. When people of faith are aware of it they acknowledge a level of responsibility for their behavior and the amount of guilt experienced increases or decreases in proportion to the personal standards that they hold themselves to.

Too much guilt or too little can be a deal breaker between the seeker and God. When there is too much of it there is a feeling of always falling short of what is required. When there’s too little of it there is a tendency toward self-satisfaction, pride and arrogance. Now there are a lot of ‘suffering saints’ out there who can’t seem to stop beating themselves up for things they have done in the past or things they are still doing that they can’t seem to get a grip on and so every day becomes another opportunity for chest-pounding and regret for not being able to ‘cut it’ with God. In truth though, guilt should not be our primary motivator. Love should. Love is the hand of God in the world manifested by the Spirit through imperfect vessels. When folks dismiss themselves they dismiss the power of God as being inadequate to transform their lives. When going out for a walk or out in the car if you diverge from course and trail to the left or right of the lane or sidewalk you instinctively know to get back on the straight and narrow to avoid accidents. People don’t usually moan and grown about a slight turn that they made a mile back and don’t give themselves hell for it. They get back on track without even a thought and keep on going on toward their destination. Well then, why do people needlessly aggravate themselves when they sin and fall short? Not that people should never feel normal guilt since it’s an alarm system that’s hard-wired in to let us know when we’re veering off the path we want to be on, not in just moral choices, but in all the choices we make from moment to moment and from day to day. It seems wise then to chart a middle course with respect to self-judgement.
Often in the Old Testament (Tanach) God seems to alternate between doting devotion and thunderous rage against His people Israel but the silver thread within all of scripture is that the Hand of Mercy is eternally outstretched to all at all times. In Isaiah 40 the prophet speaks:

1.“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.”

In the New Testament (Covenant) we are presented with what I like to call the “ultimate metaphor of forgiveness.” It’s actually akin to a ‘come down from the sky’ visual aid so that the average, imperfect person is better able to understand God’s love in a way that’s easily recognizable. Jesus the crucified becomes the means by whom it is communicated to us that we are loved beyond measure so that we no longer have to worry about everything we think and do that might put us in divine disfavor. It is an object lesson that we should never ever give up on ourselves. If we are our own worst enemy then God is conversely our best friend, letting us know that it’s alright to be human and though we may fail many times each day, we are still open to blessing and forgiveness since we have been created sentient by divine volition with an assurance that we will always been viewed in the light of Love.

1 Peter 1:19-21

19. But with precious blood, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot, the blood of Christ;
20 Who was foreknown before the foundation of the world but has been manifested in the last of times for your sake
21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God.

So we have never really been under the lash of an oppressive God. Rather, we are seen through all time as being of unlimited value, protected by a benevolent Shepherd and not by a violent, brutal taskmaster. We have enough problems living happily in a material plane by virtue of the temporal nature of existence, so when we pile up emotional troubles through our own doing we only increase our sense of misery and guilt. So how do we tamp down guilt and move on? We do it by finding and following the “narrow way’ as the Sages taught and sticking to that path by fixedly focusing our thoughts and actions in the direction of the spiritual. If we do wrong to someone and we have the opportunity to make it right, then we should do so, for in making what was askew straight we can gain forgiveness from the person we have done wrong to and gain forgiveness for ourselves as well. If we can’t do anything to change what we have done, then its important to actively put it out of mind and get our thoughts back to where they should be, on the never ending abundance from that Well of forgiveness, so we can find our way back into Light of the Spirit. Think of the inexhaustible sufficiency that’s available to us in God and not of our human weaknesses and our lack of strength. Chanting, meditation and prayer can be invoked in almost any situation and even if short they can still bring us through the rough spots we encounter throughout the day. Whenever a guilty feeling or thought begins to intrude in on us it is very easy to call up a song or prayer to block them as they come and it only takes a little practice for it to become natural for us to do. In many ways we become what we think and say both consciously and unconsciously to ourselves. To stay close to the Spirit we need to think God’s thoughts and as we continue in them we discover that walking with God is not really all that hard to do. Images that have tripped us up in the past lose their power to entice us into negativity and guilt simply because we are thinking of them less often and thinking more about what does us good and it is toward the good that we are beckoned.

Have a joyful Easter and Passover, everybody!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Untouchables of Truth

Often people who stand for truth and justice are outcasts. They don’t fit into popular culture. They are the ones that pass out Jesus tracts, who serve up meals to the hungry, who protest against rulers and power brokers that make their fortunes on the backs of the needy. Even among them there are usually some who don’t quite fit in but don’t care anyway and inject themselves into a protest or other group with off-script grievances, because they have something inside that won’t let them keep still. It rumbles within and moves them out on the streets to stir people up. Truth is like a volcano, building up pressure until it explodes. First it begins to simmer deep within, then pressure and momentum builds, eventually giving way to an explosion.

9/11 Truthers, anti-new-world-order folks and Jesus people are outcasts. While most want to fit into the world system and don’t mind being cogs in a wheel as long as they can derive benefit from their cog-hood, there are others who don’t mind their own quirkiness because it gives meaning to their lives in what has become an insane, dysfunctional and often brutal world. Some will hold the front lines for religious groups that trend toward cultism and serve as pawns to fill the pockets of their conspicuously consuming leaders. A friend of mine, for example, complained to me about the Jehovah’s Witnesses the other day, how she disliked their manipulative tactics and I understood the revulsion she felt when even thinking about them. They are indeed a strange bunch, saying we’re all the minions of a devil system but don’t they have a right to say what they think? Surely they do. It’s still a free country. Religious fanatics tend to gain ground because there is usually an element of truth to what they are saying. It is therefore important that even fanatics retain their rights to free speech as long as they aren’t infringing upon other’s rights or crossing over into violence.

Movements develop because of dissatisfaction with what is and a longing for what isn’t and it has always been that way. These days we are confronted with new incarnations of injustice and inhumanity and the battle lines are slowly being drawn yet again. The brutality of Hitler, Stalin and the pre-Attaturk murderers of the Armenian holocausts have been more or less seared into our consciousness. Still clear in their minds, their fears aroused, revolutionaries and reformers seek to uncover and confront what is plainly evil out of moral conviction and to prevent what is perhaps unpreventable. Now to most of us, we live in a well-ordered, highly principled society, and see ourselves in a good light, doing great things in the pursuit of happiness but there also appears along side of the desire for material prosperity a gnawing perception that won’t cease in its desire to express itself. When the W.T.C. towers fell, everyone everywhere was reeling in shock at the immense horror of seeing three huge buildings collapse into their foundations but it wasn’t long before people grew weary of watching the repetitive coverage of it on the TV news. A few of them however, began to feel a sense that they weren’t being told the whole story as it was covered by big media since much of the account didn’t quite ring true for them. There was a palpable anti-climactic feel to the story as the months passed and wreckage was cleared from the sites and certain individuals, including some of the 9/11 families began speaking out about the holes in the official story, questioning the plausibility of the events as they were said to have happened. They began writing books, doing talk-radio shows, writing blogs and creating conspiracy websites and though six years have passed since September 11, 2001, it seems harder than ever for the powers that be to knock them down through intimidation. The ‘wacko fringe’ outwardly might look rather weak and shabby when compared to the appearance of those with power and money but I doubt whether society could find balance between oppression and justice without them since in many respects they are the ones in sackcloth standing before their rulers, prophesying against them, demanding that the peoples’ voice be heard. They’re the ones who don’t really care about going along to get along and don’t at all mind stirring up the soup.

After 2 years of college, I took a break, got a job and eventually moved in with one of the more colorful people in the town where I went to school. He called himself, Brother John, an old Russian man of limited means and a long beard who sold hand carved tasseled canes with ‘peace’ signs emblazoned on top. He would show up at anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in town and though his English was not the best, he was able to get his point across when talking and was genuinely fond of the kids and the kids felt likewise. John used to call them the “Children of God” in reference to the parable in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and although he wasn’t held in high regard by most people in his general age category (he did a few stretches at the Connecticut Valley Mental Hospital due to paranoid schizophrenia) he did manage however to gain quite a sizable following among the young people that used to hang around downtown. He also used to write many hundred page letters in Russian to Brezhnev and Nixon about how they were followers of the Devil and that the young people who were protesting the war were actually the ones on God’s side who would bring an era of peace to the earth and although he never received replies from his addressees, it never deterred him from writing long into the night. Once in awhile he would go on drinking binges which preceded his hospitalizations but when I think back on those days I realize that he had, even with his disability, somehow imprinted us kids with some glimmer of spiritual truth and although the vessel that brought the gift had a tarnished, rough, shepherd-like appearance, it was one that gave the town enough of a spiritual spark to help bring about an end to the War.
Today there is a new and growing anti-war, anti-globalist tide of discontent similar to what occurred in the late 60’s and it’s slowly gaining in strength and poise. Although the message is still ridiculed and marginalized in the major media and its speakers still ranked as untouchables, they are nevertheless having a perceptible and effective ‘push back’ effect against those who seek unlimited power. This new breed of radicals loves to get in the face of those ranking high in the system, pointing out their lies and hypocrisy and alerting people to what could actually happen as a result of reduced civil liberties and increased political repression that could lead to a possible American (and World) dictatorship. It is no longer a left wing or right wing fight either since many are starting to understand that the bipolar paradigm they’ve been spoon-fed is just a manufactured illusion to keep them off track. This movement is actually quite conservative in its desire to see the nation return to the constitutional principles of individual rights, limited government, with just enough liberalism mixed in to allow for a just society and stands a much greater chance of gaining a voice than did the communist-leaning big-government radicals of the former era.
Whatever one believes, there is a very deep despair and skepticism in the direction our politicians and corporations are taking us. Something deep within is waking folks up and putting those in the system on notice that they won’t have their bestial way with them the next time around. People are starting to examine media spin and are beginning to realize that they are being propagandized to look the other way and not question authority and that they are likely being herded into the slaughterhouse of a Third World War. This new awareness is leading many out of the delusional dream world and is starting to bring the elites to their knees, and with that said, there’s a very good chance, I think, that truth in all its manifestations will not only survive but will continue to thrive regardless of its external appearance.