“Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it. ” –Mark Twain
The surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor shook many American’s nerves to the core. Rumors the west coast had been bombed were widespread. Hysterical mobs roamed the night streets of San Francisco breaking car head lights and movie marquees afraid these lights would help guide Japanese bombers to another surprise attack– this time on the main land. Here is a passage from Studs Terkel’s The Good War (pgs. 25-26):
I was a senior at the University of San Francisco. I had room and board with a lady and her daughter. I flipped on the lights because it was pitch dark. Mrs. Kelleher screamed, “Dennis, turn the lights out! The Japs are comin’! The Japs are comin’!” She and her daughter were sitting on the couch, clutching one another in absolute abject terror. “The Golden Gate Bridge has been bombed!” I said, “Mrs. Kelleher, I just drove over there a few minutes ago. There’s nothing wrong with the bridge.” But they were so terror-stricken, I turned out the lights.
Their son Frank was in the ROTC at USF. He got a call: For God’s sake, get over here. We’re gonna make a stand at the university! They’d been listening to the radio all day and were convinced the Japanese were here. They had landed all over the coast and had taken the Presidio. They would repeat it on the radio, again and again. Total hysteria.
A different but equally damaging hysteria swept over the United States during the Red Scare. This time the enemy was living among us and the danger lurked in these traitor’s hearts and minds. The Commies had no distinguishing characteristics to help sort them from the real Americans. Everyone was suspect until proven otherwise. Senator Joseph McCarthy was at the forefront of the Red Scare. He held congressional hearings to weed out the Communist or Soviet sympathizers working in the Federal Government.
The practice became known as McCarthyism. The term became associated with emotionally charged public accusations of political disloyalty or subversion. These charges were usually backed with insufficient evidence and this flimsy evidence was often obtained using highly suspect investigatory methods. Many of these attacks were designed to suppress opposition and had little to do with an actual threat to the United States Government.
Edward R. Murrow had the courage to challenge McCarthy at the height of the scare. The movie Good Night, and Good Luck tells this gripping story. My favorite scene is right before Murrow goes on the air with his broadcast devoted to McCarthy. Murrow is visibly nervous. His forehead is beaded with sweat. His leg is shaking and he is smoking non-stop. Murrow knew what was at stake if he acted or if he chose not to.
Courage means taking risks after weighing the consequences and then choosing what is right. Taking risks without understanding or ignoring the consequences is at best reckless and in the worst of circumstances zealotry. What makes this country great is not fancy talk about democracy and the spread of freedom. Greatness occurs when we the people chose reason over fear and decide that everyone deserves a fair shake.
For the last three years, Keith Olbermann has been slowly making his way to the head of the class. Today, he has arrived. Olbermann is not your typical journalist. To illustrate this point, here is a humorous run down of the unspoken rules of the polite, Washington press corps, courtesy of Stephen Colbert during his much talked about monologue for the White House Correspondents Dinner:
But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!
In today’s political climate, honesty has become an acquired taste–and it’s not for everyone, but if you are tired of all that sugar give this a try. For starters, here is Mr. Olbermann’s special comments concerning the use of inflammatory rhetoric by President Bush to justify the ever expanding War on Terror
. This is his assessment of the government’s pitiful response to Katrina
Tonight, Mr.Olbermann summed up what has gone so wrong with his special comment on 9/11-five years later. Mr. Olberman chose the riskier path and told the truth instead of repeating the myth. The experience left me speechless and gave me hope that my country may have found a way out of the fog.
In the mid-1980’s The Residents began their American Composer Series with the ambitious goal of paying homage to twenty American artists. Conceived as a mash-up project in the days of the LP record, each side was dedicate to a different artist. For instance, in 1984 The Residents released the first album titled George and James which paired George Gershwin and James Brown. In 1986, The Residents honored Hank Williams and John Philip Sousa with Stars and Hank.
These records were a bold attempt to reinterpret and freshen up artists which had become stale. The work of these American composers was a revolutionary statement when first shared with the public but viewed as passe with the following generations. This phenomenon also occurs with history. When remarkable events happen people are stunned. History making shifts are seldom linear much less anticipated as a forgone conclusion. As time goes by and these same extraordinary events are commemorated in history books, the events are portrayed as inevitable and forced to fit a sequential model of history. This is a shame. Stripped away are the high risk behavior and the unanticipated actions of others which have a powerful role in shaping history.
Unfortunately, The Residents only completed two of the ten albums in the American Composer Series. Hopefully, Sufjan Stevens will have more success with his lofty goal to write one CD about each state in the Union. State history deserves a fresh look. So far, Sufjan has completed two albums. The first is Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State. The second release is the critically acclaimed Illinois. I got my copy of Illinois about a week ago and can’t stop listening to it. Sufjan writes haunting melodies and sweet, thoughtful lyrics which remind me of Elliot Smith. I hope Sufjan visits the Pacific Northwest soon. I’m anxious to hear his tender odes to Washington and Oregon, two states close to my heart.
If you prefer something more concrete check out the Discover America State By State Alphabet Series. Each of the 26 letters is used to illustrate an important plant, animal, person, geographic feature or event which makes a state unique. In E is for Evergreen the book about Washington State, H is for the Appaloosa horse, a breed established by the Nez Perce living on the grassy Palouse hills. H is also for Hanford, site of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation where plutonium was produced for America’s race to build an atomic bomb.
Not only does history tend to repeat in its endless iterative ebb and flow, but it has become fashionable and politically expedient to some to twist historical facts to suite their lust for power. History is a gift from the past to all members of civilization, not the chosen few. Learn about your legacy or someone will decide to do it for you.
Here is track nine for the playlist: History Repeating by Propellerheads
Keith Olbermann delivered an extraordinarily honest and brutal assessment of the state of our union. Click here to watch history being made. If you hunger for more, read Richard Greene’s comments in his blog on The Huffington Post.
UPDATE: Here is the mission statement for The Patriot Project..
Freedom of speech and the right to dissent are cornerstones of our democracy. The Patriot Project will defend any man or woman, regardless of party or affiliation, who is attacked or defamed and whose patriotism is questioned simply because they exercise their rights as Americans. This is our mission.
To get involved click here.
"We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special." -the real Stephen Hawking
The Congressional Office of Technology was established in 1972 to "provided Congressional members and committees with objective and authoritative analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues of the late 20th century." On September 29, 1995, The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment closed after a Republican controlled Congress withdrew funding. This was a pivotal victory in an effort to shift power away from reasoned facts and give manufactured information more credibility and equal footing with scientific findings. By dismantling the OTA, the Republicans eliminated a safeguard designed to provide members of Congress unbiased, scientifically solid information. Now Congressional decisions could be more easily influenced with information produced by self serving think tanks and industry backed scientific research.
Chris Mooney has documented The Republican Party’s systematic undermining of legitimate scientific inquiry. In a review of The Republican War on Science, Scientific American noted:
Mooney’s chronicle of what he calls "science abuse" begins in the 1970s with Richard Nixon and picks up steam with Ronald Reagan. But both pale in comparison to the current Bush administration, which in four years has:
* Rejected the scientific consensus on global warming and suppressed an EPA report supporting that consensus.
* Stacked numerous advisory committees with industry representatives and members of the religious Right.
* Begun deploying a missile defense system without evidence that it can work.
* Banned funding for embryonic stem cell research except on a claimed 60 cell lines already in existence, most of which turned out not to exist.
* Forced the National Cancer Institute to say that abortion may cause breast cancer, a claim refuted by good studies.
* Ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to remove information about condom use and efficacy from its Web site.
Mooney explores these and many other examples, including George W. Bush’s support for creationism. In almost every instance, Republican leaders have branded the scientific mainstream as purveyors of "junk science" and dubbed an extremist viewpoint–always at the end of the spectrum favoring big business or the religious Right–"sound science."
It’s enough to make one yearn for a superhero. One who fights for truth and justice-but most importantly for unadulterated, scientific truth! Have no fear, MC Hawking is in the house to unleash some wicked rhythms on those punk-ass Luddites. As MC Hawking put it so eloquently in his song What We Need More of Is Science
I’m a disciple of science
I know the universe is compliance with natural laws,
but many place reliance on the pseudo-science of quacks and
morons and fools because,
their educations deficient,
they put faith in omniscient,
make believe beings who control their fate,
but the Hawk ain’t with it, dig it,
their Holy writ aint the least bit legit,
its a bunch of bullshit.
They need to read a book that ain’t so damn old old,
let reason take hold,
though truth to be told,
they’re probably already too far gone,
withdrawn, the conclusion foregone.
But maybe there is still hope for the young,
if they reject the dung being slung from the tongues,
of the ignorant fools who call themselves preachers,
and listen instead to their science teachers.
To see the video to this song click here. (After the window loads click "Watch this Movie")
UPDATE: Here is a link to Chris Mooney’s thoughts on Katrina, Science, and Politics.
Another election cycle is approaching and already my frustration level is at an all time high. Could political advertising be more vacuous and insulting? Really, Mr. Candidate, how stupid do you think the electorate is? Well, according to the ads you are running on television I would guess your opinion is rather low. Here, stop reading the latest polling results and I will try to help you out. This is the best your very expensive media consultants have to offer…… Hi, my name is Your Dreams Come True and I’m for everything GOOD and oppose everything BAD. My opponent is FOR everything bad and AGAINST everything good. Cut to voice over, "This message was approved by Your Dreams Come True."
Seriously, do you think this kind of horse shit plays at all in the real world? It wouldn’t get you elected fifth grade homeroom president. Now, I’m not suggesting any voter should cast their ballot solely based on viewing television advertisements, a decision which would be foolish and just plain idiotic. What I am suggesting is an advertising strategy which engages the viewer and builds enough excitement about a candidate or issue to pull the voter out of their living room and get them actively involved in the campaign. Is this too much to ask?
Bill Hillsman thinks the answer is "no". Bill has been the creative force behind some of the most innovative political advertisement in the last 16 years. He developed genre busting spots for Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura and Ralph Nader. Probably his most talked about spot was his advertisement depicting Jesse Ventura as an action figure bent on fighting special interests.
Here is a link to an interview Bill Hillsman gave in 2004 for Mother Jones which is worth reading and provides clips of his best know ads. A more recent article concerning his work for Ned Lamont and Kinky Friedman can be found here in this 2006 article for The Christian Science Monitor. More ads can be found here at the North Woods Advertising Agency.
Here is track eight for the playlist: Why Theory? by Gang of Four
Update: I just finished reading Run the Other Way and want to share my favorite passage.
Political spinmeisters and the two big political parties benefit when independent-minded voters who are not captive to any party choose to stay home. Consultants and pollsters know the buttons to push to motivate party regulars-especially the extremists and one-issue voters-and they always show up. Political parties also have greater influence in low-turnout elections, because their get-out-the-vote efforts are aimed at the party faithful-again, people who are sure to show up-and at voters who are leaning their way. In short, when the undecided choose not to decide and stay home, it puts political parties, political consultants, and pollsters in control of the election. Independent-minded voters are the voters who frighten these professionals and who act as the safety valve for the system. When independents show up to vote, they become the great unknown. They are dangerous. They have no fealty to the two major political parties or to Election Industry, Inc.
Happy Fourth of July! Here are a few ways I plan to celebrate my independence during this extended holiday.
- fly the flag
- listen to The Who
- read Harry Potter to my kids
- play wiffleball
- eat strawberries
- watch the World Cup Semifinals
- have a second iced Americano
- dig in the dirt
- find Henry Rollin’s Love Letter to Ann Coulter on YouTube
- mix Mentos and Diet Coke
- eat a burger with lots of ketchup and extra pickles
- walk to the park
- finish the laundry
- avoid driving
- read the headlines on The Huffington Post
- make Rice Krispy treats
- finish Alvin Toffler’s Power Shift
- learn the words to Elton John’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
Have a safe and memorable Fourth. Here is track six for the playlist: Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who