You know what? It’s the weekend. I’m gonna spend the next coupla weeks being a kid. You folks try it.
The Beatles made their final live appearance on the roof of Apple Records, a concert made famous in the film Let It Be. Here now is a clip from that concert…
OK, that’s not “Get Back.” Here’s the real clip, after the jump.
Today is April Fools Day, the day we make a sport of punking each other. I generally haven’t indulged in it, but it’s still been a lot of fun. What is my earliest April Fools memory?
Believe it or not, I really don’t have a memorable April Fools experience until about 1983 or 84, when MTV played Yes’ “Leave It.” Over and over and over…
The most memorable came a couple years after high school. I still lived at home and worked nights, often not getting home until 2 or 3 in the morning most nights. My brother, who sometimes posts here as Ziggins, thought this was the best time for an April Fool’s prank. He didn’t just play one, he played three.
At the time, I was obsessive about my vast album and tape collection. I had everything organized alphabetically by band, each band’s albums organized chronologically. Yes, I was a heavy metal and prog rock nerd. So I come home in the wee hours of April 2, ready to wind down from long day at work, and wanting to listen to some Deep Purple. Bleary eyed, I pulled Stormbringer, popped it in, and got…
Emerson, Lake, & Palmer.
Yeah, I wanted a young, strung-out David Coverdale before he became a hair metal joke and got Greg Lake singing atheist hymns. Not cool. I looked in my cassette box (Remember cassettes?) and found they’d all been switched around. Angry, I woke Ziggins up and make him put them all back. Ziggins thought this was hysterical.
Until he went to bed and a piece of plaster fell out of the ceiling. My turn to laugh.
A couple hours later, I climbed into bed. Only my bed had been short-sheeted. Before I could yell at him, I heard this crack, followed by Ziggins swearing. I poked my head into his room. “You did the bed, too. Right?”
“Fuck you, Jim.”
An hour later, I’m awoken by another crack and more swearing. Ziggins barges into my room, plaster in his hair, and goes straight to the storage room on the other side of my room. Moments later, he emerges with my Walkman and puts it on my desk. “I hid this, too.”
I couldn’t stop laughing for about twenty minutes after that.
Nice to know that old farmhouse had my back.
People, I know the government is frustrating and infuriating and inefficient. I get that. I’m trying to think back to a time I didn’t think that. Let me think.
I was 8.
Do you know what happened when I was 8?
I’ve studied history. Not in college (Well, I did take the entire American History sequence in technical college.) Not guided by some pinhead with a microphone. Nope. I study history to study history, not shore up my political beliefs. Why? Well, here’s where I’m ahead of most of you on the subject. I do not serve my political beliefs. They serve me.
Seriously. When you do it the other way, you are treating your vote, your decisions, and view of how things should be done on a mentality that is fundamentally identical to how we pick what football team to root for. That’s right. There are Brits whose mental process of becoming a Liberal, a Tory, or something else entirely has more in common with whether they support Manchester United than any careful consideration of facts or questioning of the same tired assumptions we like to slap on our bumper stickers. It’s particularly onerous here in America because we have our elections on a schedule. Every two years, we are treated to campaign ads which contain slightly fewer facts than the average Greek myth. I say slightly fewer because most of those myths took place in and around Greece, which still exists.
We don’t have intelligent conversations about issues anymore. I know it’s been like this off and on throughout history, but lately, it’s pretty bad. Really, since when is listening to Glen Beck a “careful reading of the healthcare bill”? Answer: Never. Just because a moron with a radio show says he does his research doesn’t mean he isn’t lying about it. And it never means that you actually did research.
“So, Jim, if you’re so smart, what’s the answer?”
Simple. I am a political atheist. I don’t believe in your ideological gods or the false idols you watch on TV or listen to on the radio. I don’t read history or the news to confirm my beliefs. If I make an assertion about something, I know damn well that reality might contradict it. That’s why I spend more time listening to classic rock on the radio than some racist drug addict or a burned-out ex-sportscaster, either one with rage control issues.
You should do the same.
You hear them all the time. Obama is really a plant by some secret socialist Islamofascist cabal. The oil companies are trying to squash the electric car. The Twin Towers were detonated, not hit by planes. What do all these have in common?
They all require setting aside 50 IQ points to actually believe. Let’s leave Obama and the oil companies aside and look at the Twin Towers for a moment. We keep hearing all sorts of explanations of how jet fuel could not possibly have collapsed the towers or questions as to why WTC #7 went down hours later. (Um… Because the foundation was severely damaged by two big ass towers collapsing about 100 yards away?) What people who keep insisting that this is an issue never mention is that the demolition theory of the Twin Towers fall drives real demolition experts up a tree. Not a single demolition expert I’ve heard (and even talked to) believes that you could lace a building with that much explosive at all the proper stress points without anyone noticing. Not. A. Single. One. They would have had to gut the buildings first. New Yorkers tend to notice such things when they loom over their skyline.
So why does this persist?
Because we, my fellow Americans, are a nation of control freaks. As a people, we are pathologically incapable of understanding one of the most fundamental and inescapable laws of the universe: Shit happens. It’s even in the Bible. Go look it up. Luke 13:1-5.
Part of the problem is our greatest strength as a species, the very thing that has kept the robot apocalypse from happening: Pattern recognition. Pattern recognition has driven technology, religion, science, philosophy, and economics since the days when the first humans learned to communicate in something more than a few well-placed grunts, possibly even earlier. After all, language is a pattern, so we had to have the talent to recognize them before we could apply it verbally. Pattern recognition led to understanding that the Earth orbits the sun. It told us when the seasons would come and go. It let us circumnavigate the globe. Unfortunately, we’re so good at this that we see patterns that aren’t there.
Or if they are there, our inner control freak wants to read more into it than is really there. Take, for instance, that old bugaboo about America being little more than a Freemason conspiracy. In the 1700′s, the Freemasons were the great fraternal organization of the day. If you wanted to get anything done in life, you joined. If Star Trek had existed in 1774, and the Founding Fathers were all fans of it, the government buildings all over the country would be plastered with the Starfleet logo and IDIC symbols while the Prime Directive would be written into the Constitution. Since they were Freemasons (and clearly not living in their mothers’ basements), we get the Freemason symbol and the Eye of God on our buildings. What I want to know is what the conspiracy is. Does anyone really put together an organization with the sole intent of “making sure bad shit happens all through history.” (Usually followed by a Dr. Evil laugh.) Terrorist organizations do this, but terrorists generally all have the same mission statement: We’re pissed off, and we’re going to make everyone else miserable for it. Last I checked, the Freemasons were not a terrorist organization. In fact, King George III was a Freemason. What? They had a meeting and told him, “Sorry, George, but we’re going to take away your American colonies and hold the world hostage for… One hundred billion pounds!”? (Again, cue evil laugh.)
Let’s apply Occam’s razor to this. What’s more likely? The King of England agreed with a Super Secret Society™ that’s been scripting history since it plotted the extermination of the Neanderthals? (Had to wipe them out. They smelled and made lousy margaritas.) Or that the citizens of the British Empire on America’s Eastern Seaboard get so infuriated with Parliament ignoring them while sticking its collective hand in their pockets that they spit in the face of the most powerful nation on Earth to go their own way? Let’s see. Today, we have the Tea Party up in arms over taxes and Occupy wanting to bring down capitalism’s worst offenders. Yeah, that’s got Freemason conspiracy written all over. Never mind that most Tea Partiers and Occupiers aren’t big on Freemasonry.
The problem with the conspiracy theory mentality is two-fold. It only fosters paranoia. And it shirks personal responsibility. Paranoia is not good. The old saying goes “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there’s even a “they.” Ever notice that “They” is always in the shadows? “They” is more often than not unnamed or underground, hidden. The hallmark of any really good conspiracy theory is a villain whose existence cannot be proven. If you’re an atheist into conspiracy theories, this really makes you look stupid, since you’re already a proponent of not believing in something that can’t be proven.
As for personal responsibility, this is the part where you need to look really hard into the mirror. Are all your problems the fault of Barack Obama or Exxon or Super Secret Society™? Nope. Here’s the bad news. Most of your problems are your fault. Go yell at the guy in the mirror. And those things you can’t control, that aren’t you fault? Life is random. Bad things happen. Sometimes, spectacularly bad things happen. Everything people do affects everyone else. You’d go insane trying to fathom it all. You can only face it head on if it impacts you negatively.
Besides, as Dennis Miller once said, if there is an All-Powerful They, what makes you think they give a damn about you?
OK, we’re nine days into 2013. Time to roll up our sleeves and put the nation back on the rack for some long overdue maintenance. For starters, we need to take a look at the media and how we get our news.
It’s no secret that America’s political dialog is more polarized today than at any time since the Red Scare of the 1950′s. Much of it has to do with the 24-hour news cycle. In the olden days, when are cars were powered by Hi-Test and hydramatic transmissions, and we all gathered at Ye Olde Drug Store for a grape Nehi, news came from one of three networks, four if you counted radio’s Mutual network. ABC, NBC, and CBS ran a half hour of national news every night. So Frank Reynolds and Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor had only thirty minutes, eight of which went to commercials, to get it right. And they had to wait until your local affiliate ran the local news. If you wanted something more in-depth, you had 20/20, 60 Minutes, and a host of Sunday morning talk shows that generally made sure all sides got a fair hearing.
Underpinning all this was something called the Fairness Doctrine. The airwaves don’t belong to the networks. They belong to the public, and the networks pay license fees to use them. It’s your electromagnetic spectrum. If someone needs exclusive use to a narrow band of it, why shouldn’t they have to pay? Anyway, it said if you were going to take a political stance on the air, you had to give equal hearing to the other side. It wasn’t perfect. Witness George Takei’s run for office when his opponent declared that every rerun of Star Trek featuring the man who would become the Coolest Gay Person in America one day was free advertising and wanted an hour of free air time for every episode aired. I know it’s bullshit, and you know it’s bullshit. George definitely called bullshit, and his opponent did not care if it was bullshit. Legal parsing – which could be a blog post in and of itself – always leads to abuse of even the best-crafted laws.
The Fairness Doctrine went away in the 1980′s, and I’m not so sure that was a wise idea. For it gave rise to that bane of AM talk radio, the political talk show. In the beginning was Rush Limbaugh. And I will admit, I thought he was pretty funny in the beginning. After all, the New Deal coalition, which passed its sell-by date shortly after Watergate, needed deflating. Rush was just the guy. If you looked at him as a humorist in those days, he actually served a purpose.
Then Rush started taking himself seriously as a pundit. And clones started popping up. G. Gordon Liddy, a man so crazy he scared Nixon’s inner staff, and he was one of them, had a show. Soon you had a spate of burned-out ex-disk jockeys like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck declaring themselves the moral guardians of American political thought. The liberals, not to be outdone, attempted to balance this with Air America, featuring mostly comedians who had stopped being funny long before the network went live, a wine critic (Tom Likas), and a washed-up ex-sportscaster (Keith Olbermann). You know what?
Substitute left-wing rhetoric for right-wing rhetoric, and it still sounds exactly the same. These people don’t take a stand. They stir up fear. They point to boogey men who do not exist. Or when a real one pops up, they still point to boogey men who do not exist.
Worse, we, the people, keep giving these pinheads power. We don’t listen to opposing viewpoints, take them seriously, and rethink our positions. No, we want someone to echo our beliefs and tell us we got it all figured out and demonize others who haven’t come to the same conclusion. Then we call it “sticking to our principles.” Bullshit. These jackals sell us on that idea when really all they’re selling is fear. Wait for the next crisis to come. I’m writing this on December 29, as the Fiscal Cliff (There’s a myth if there ever was one) approaches. I’m pretty sure in the intervening ten days, something blew up, went bankrupt, or got shot up, and your favorite pundit is fairly frothing at the mouth blaming illegal immigrants or the one percent or whatever new boogey man one of them invents.
It doesn’t help that the 24-hour news channels all stake a position. Look, if your job is news, you’re not entitled to a position. Your job is to report the facts, even when they contradict your worldview. If you got that backwards, you failed.
The basic problem with media in America is that they sell us on this idea that we serve our beliefs. In reality, our beliefs should serve us.
But that requires a little thought. Which would make the commercials they run a lot less effective, wouldn’t it?