Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Beck’

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right has Poisoned America’s Airwaves” by Bill Press.

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Review: “Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right has Poisoned America’s Airwaves” by Bill Press.  (Thomas Dunne Books, 2010).
Bill Press is host of the nationally syndicated Bill Press Show, also on Sirius XM, and writes a syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. He is the former co-host of MSNBC’s Buchanan and Press and CNN’s Crossfire and The Spin Room. Press lives in Washington, D.C.”

I wasn’t familiar with Bill Press, though I’m certain I’ve seen him as a “talking head” on television at some point.  I snagged this book from the “new arrivals” section at the library, and figured I was due for a primer on Conservative “talk radio”.

Despite the seemingly inescapable derisory tone of pundits (the author of this book being one of this pundits), the book is a good overview of the major personalities and events that have led to the astonishing dominance of the talk-radio landscape by Conservative blowhards large and small.  I found the book highly informative and useful, even while wishing the author weren’t such a talk personality himself.  On the up side, however, we are hearing from a man who’s been in the business and has worked with more than a few of the people he profiles.

The book gives us a history of the talk radio revolution, and then breaks out into mini-biographies of the players in Conservative talk, including second- and third-tier personalities.  (Fox News is not left out of the discussion, of course).

The tone of the book aside, Press cites reliable sources for some great debunking of the many whoppers told by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the others (a practice that would be much more fun to read were the lies not so disturbing).

“Toxic Talk” is a light read, and breezes by pretty fast.  Part of why I wanted to read it is that it’s been dawning on me that many of the people I engage in debate are carrying around crazy ideas that I have been slow to appreciate.  Understanding that these ideas are out there and knowing where they are coming from is just plain good information to have!

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “Holy Scriptures” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

The last few weeks have seen me stepping into the debate about the TEA Party:  Who they are, what they are, and what we should think about them.   Although this has been mostly a political issue to me (and therefore I’ve written about it only in the newspaper until now, posting those pieces as separate “Quickies” on the boblog), there are aspects of this movement that overlap with the subject area of the not-so-reverend bob.  Namely the issue of irrational belief.

Having spent time now debating with TEA Party friends and strangers over the last few months, I can’t help but observe that each and every one of them seems to be a constitutional scholar.  What’s this all about?  Or why now, and all of a sudden?  They are (almost to a person) convinced that the current administration (and particularly President Obama — whom they deeply believe is a Socialist) is “shredding” the Constitution.  This they will tell you with great emotion.  (So much so that I looked up the Constitution to see what parts were being “shredded”, and the only one I could find was that the framers original intent was they we not keep a standing professional army).

Legitimate debates about the Constitution aside, I am gradually beginning to understand both my sympathies and antipathies toward this popular movement.  On one hand, I could almost bring myself to join in with a popular movement that would force substantial change to what seems to be a lobbying-money-soaked Congress and House.  But on the other, there is an undercurrent in the TEA Party movement that troubles me, and that is their irrational beliefs that are, I think, of a kind with their religious inclinations (as evidenced by both the very long opening prayer at the recent Tax Day Rally I attended and the music being played throughout that event).

It occurred to me that they are applying the same sense of divine inerrancy usually reserved for the Bible to the founding documents of our nation, making the mistake (as Jill Lepore points out in her current New Yorker article) of conflating a continuum of 18th century argument, debate and decision that stretched out over years to a handful of holy documents that TEA Partiers now wave like Bibles at a tent revival.  They are Constitutional “originalists”, in that they believe that all the answers we need to govern this behemoth of a nation are contained in the original documents as written by our founders.

As LePore puts it “The debate about sovereignty and liberty that took place between 1764 and 1791 contains an ocean of ideas.  You can fish almost anything out of it.”  (Which could explain why one of my TEA Party friends has been posting nothing but quotations from the “founding fathers” in his Facebook status updates for months!)

Is this beginning to feel familiar?  Every Fundamentalist believes that their particular Book is the Holy, inspired word of God, and that all the answers to every problem or question are contained therein, waiting only to be revealed to the prepared reader.  Of course the wonderful convenience of this is that “Scripture” is able to be interpreted in countless ways (has been, continues to be) depending on what one brings to the reading.  Officially (to take the Christian version), it is the Holy Spirit that reveals all truth to any seeking Christian, but in practice even that mechanism exhibits quite a stunning variability and plasticity (just look at how many “Christian” denominations there are).

But this, of course, is what makes any Holy Book work.  Otherwise, it would remain useless in any practical sense to a modern reader.  (The psychologist might suggest that we will find what we are looking for in there, even if what we are looking for is a correction or a rebuke).

So, to get back to the TEA Party folks: this same belief that all of the answers are “in there” (be it Bible or Constitution) — and all that we need to do to “get back to” our fundamentals is strip away all of man’s recent additions and perversions (to the Bible/Constitution) — adds up to an enormous emotional investment in a myth.  Myth, not populist anger, is the true lifeblood of the movement: the myth of “The America I grew up in” that makes Glenn Beck cry as he recalls a lost paradise from his memory (as a clever commentary on The Daily Show pointed out, Beck is recalling what the world looked like to him AS A CHILD, which is nearly always a simpler and safer world than the complex mess we get to know as actual ADULTS).  In another telling corollary, the familiar social framework of the preacher leading the congregation is intact, with Beck standing as only one of the favored revealers of what the founding fathers (read: God) intended when they wrote the Constitution (read: Scripture), with the flock parroting what they’ve heard from the “pulpit”.  (The irony is not lost on me that only a few years ago, Evangelicals shunned our secular religion based on the founding documents as being inferior to the true religion of the Bible’s revealed truth).

It is this deep investment in mythology that gives the TEA Party both it’s emotional heft (they will tear up over this at the drop of a three-cornered hat).  It is also that quality that has troubled me even as its identity has eluded me: the unholy blending of an irrational militancy with a whining plea of “I want my country back!”.

Well, who took their country away?  Is it really gone?  Or (and more to the point) did IT never exist in the first place.  The answer to that question, of course, is no.  Nostalgia is always about feeling, never really about time and place.  As children we are able to exist (if we’re fortunate) in a world made relatively safe and warm by complicated adults acting according to their social, nurturing natures.  Our own blossoming awareness of the world is limited to our family, our home and our neighborhood and school.  In this nation a lot of us had pretty damn pleasant middle-class childhoods in the forties, fifties and sixties.  I, like Beck et. al, can also recall halcyon days of my dad chasing me around the bases as my brothers and I played whiffle ball in the back yard of our small-town Illinois home; catching fireflies at night at my grandparents house; getting a grape Nehi from a big filling-station cooler after a Sunday drive in the country after church.  I cherish those memories (unsullied as they remain by the complications and conflicts I was blithely unaware of in my nation, my town, my own family).  Would I choose being five again to have them back?  No frigging way!

Doesn’t the Bible say “When I was a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child.  But when I became a man (grownup) I put away all childish things”?

One thing I’ve learned from my hours with he TEA Party is that they’re not terrorists or even, really, an extreme fringe group.  The sentiments and views they express have been part of our national character from the beginning.  What I am seeing is that they’re not smart enough to realize what hogwash they are offering as solutions to complex problems.  They seem to ignore the sheer size of this nation and the fact that the whole of humankind has never been this populous or interconnected on this planet in our millions of years of history.  They think we can turn back a magical clock to a simplistic idea of a better time when neighbors watched out for each other, and we all knew when a stranger had come to town.  They really think we can resurrect the one-room schoolhouse.

These are not insincere people, and the valid points and criticisms they raise would be of much greater value were they not so easily lost in a willingness to embrace irrational belief.  This is another instance of where we each need to carry our own intellectual weight, for I am also regularly teased with tales of vast conspiracies of industry and government that I must weigh for their reasonableness no matter how neatly they are tailored to tickle my own political sensibilities.  (For a good antidote to this, check out Michael Shermer’s “Baloney Detection Kit”).

None of us should be the willing foot soldiers of demagogues.  We’ve spent billions of years evolving the brains we have.  It would be a shame not to use them now!

t.n.s.r. bob

COMMENTARY: “In Danger of a Totalitarianism of Ignorance”

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

(The following commentary was published in the Opinion section of the Las Cruces Sun News on 22 February, 2010)

Here’s a quick quiz – are the following assertions true or false:

1) The earth began to form some 4.5 billion years ago.
2) Odin is the one true God.
3) Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans that to Orangutans
4) President Obama is not a natural-born American citizen.
5) We live on a cooling planet where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are natural occurrences.
6) Evidence and facts are not important.

Now let’s check our answers:

1) TRUE.  The scientific evidence supports this view.
2) FALSE.  Although once believed by most Northern Europeans, there is no evidence to suggest that Odin ever existed.
3) TRUE.  DNA evidence supports this view.
4) FALSE.  There is no evidence to support this view.
5) TRUE.  Geology shows that we live on a relatively thin crust of rock that floats upon a vast molten core and is, therefore, unstable and subject to upheaval.
6) FALSE.  Denial of evidence and provable facts can be detrimental to our survival as individuals and as a species.

It sometimes seems that we live in a post-fact culture, where unsupportable opinion has achieved a status (in a perverse application of the virtue of “fairness”) where we think that any knucklehead with a wacky idea deserves to be heard with as much respect as the scientist who has actually spent years teasing verifiable truth from nature.  And so our current national orgy of proud idiocy is having the very real effect of bringing the progress of our democracy to a grinding halt as we are encouraged to distrust anyone who actually knows something about the issues at hand — they are the “elite” or the “intellectual” and therefore NOT TO BE TRUSTED.  We are cutting the head off the body of this nation, and as the cultural guillotine lops off the informed craniums of our experts, the crowds cheer with an excitement that is as intoxicating as it is dangerous.

We attack the very social structures that allow us a life of historically unprecedented luxury and safety — a society built on science, technology and centralized government services.  We are the tics on the dog denying the reality of the very animal we depend upon for our comfortable lives.

It is in our nature to be skeptical, even wary.  But it is the greater hallmark of our species that we will often alter our beliefs when evidence offers a more enlightened view of reality…but not always.  As Proverbs says: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.”  Right now we have a nation of really angry “mockers” riding a wave of irrationality that operates on the proven strategy that the one who shouts the longest and the loudest can dispense with evidence and facts and rile up the populace to their own self-serving and (let’s be frank here) commercial ends.  And we — as a nation — suffer for it.

This may well be the battle of our time: the struggle against the forces of irrationality — of an ignorance that is proud in its defiance of fact and reason, where the Fool is truly made King.  We are in danger of creating a totalitarianism of ignorance, where instead of our intelligentsia being arrested and thrown into prison they are ignored into silence by a virulent popular “denialism”. Our very survival as a nation and as a species may depend on reversing this trend.

How can we reverse it?  Stand up and speak out for reason and rationality.  Stop believing things that have no evidence. (Every bit of mental capacity we devote to unsupportable beliefs increases the distance between our perceptions and reality, leaving us ever more vulnerable to crackpot ideas).  Read an article or book by someone who actually researches something — not a pundit, but a scientist, a naturalist, a geneticist or an historian.  Turn off the radio, and realize that if Rush or Beck’s ratings started dropping like a rock tomorrow, these blowhards would suddenly be seen fighting for what they really believe in: their living — not truth, not reality, not evidence (and certainly not you).

There is no “better time” to return to, no “traditional” America waiting to be brought back to life.  That is a mirage.  Time moves us ever forward.  We live in a more complex and interconnected civilization than any human has ever known and we’re all trying to find our way as best we can.  To do that with any hope of success we need our scientists, our teachers and our educated “elites” whose work on our behalf deserves respect and attention far beyond that we give a ranting personality on the radio.  We’ve turned things upside down — where opinion matters as much as fact — and we need to turn things “right side up” again in order to go on as a nation, as a people and as a species. The time for “every man for himself” is past.  We need everyone we can get pulling in the same direction with as much knowledge as we can muster.  Each of us must do our part, and part of that duty is to carry our own intellectual weight as responsible citizens of this great nation.

Bob Diven (the not-so-reverend bob)

Bob Diven (the not-so-reverend bob)

Bob Diven is an award-winning artist and performer and longtime resident of Las Cruces.  He writes as the not-so-reverend bob on his blog at: http://thechurchofbob.com/boblog/

REVUES FROM THE REV: “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free” by Charles R. Pierce.

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

idiotamericaCharles Pierce is (among the credits listed on the book’s dust jacket) a staff writer for the Boston Globe Magazine, a contributing writer for Esquire, a frequent contributor to American Prospect and Slate and a regular on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”.

This book will enlighten you like a brilliant sun breaking through seemingly impenetrable clouds,  It will refresh you with the clear distillation of our American history and culture.  It will shame you to your soul.  For each and every one of us is a citizen of Idiot America, and few of us are free of the stench from the mountains of crap we’ve allowed to pile up around us.

Pierce begins this acid-tongued gallop through our current cultural and political shouting match by lovingly describing the classic American “crank”: the individual who (ignoring scientific fact) creates a fanciful theory behind which he throws all of his resources, fully expecting to be attacked or ignored by academia as he not-so-patiently awaits his eventual vindication.  Pierce sees these individuals as important to our cultural imagination, be they looking for the lost city of Atlantis or proposing miracle cures for disease.  Interwoven with meaty servings of founding father James Madison’s views on the forces that always threaten to tear a participatory democracy apart, Pierce contrasts the American crank of old with the current trend of mainstreaming fringe views and the very real dangers such an elevation of idiocy to respectability creates.  It is a nuanced dance that Pierce is choreographing here, but it he does it well and the result is a refreshingly useful understanding of just how we got to where we are.

The book begins with a tour of the recently opened “Creation Museum” in Hebron, Kentucky, where the sight of a saddle atop a dinosaur proves to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Pierce.  Symbolic of how the home-brewed theory of what would have been a classic American “crank” has now been “mainstreamed”, this fantastical artifact of fake science becomes the entry point to a series of set pieces from the culture wars of the last twenty years.  Pierce is foremost a reporter, and one of the startling wonders of this book is that he infuses each set piece of our cultural idiocy with interviews with the central characters in the cultural dramas he records.  We hear directly from the federal judge in the Dover, PA Intelligent Design case, and the director of the Hospice that cared for Terri Schiavo during her last years and the intelligence and terrorist experts who were ignored in the run up to the Iraq War (climate change and 9/11 are also covered well).  The presence of these original interviews lends a credibility to this book that — when compared to the ignorant drivel that is pumped into the marketplace by the likes of Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and others — could make me weep with gratitude.  But those tears are a testimony to a deeper wound, a wound that we all bear: we have allowed our nation to slip the mooring of reason and fact and drift along like a super tanker that’s thrown its screw, somehow hoping that some unseen hand will stay the inevitable collision with the rocks that will rip our hull to shreds.

Psychologist Paul Ginnety’s quote about “the potent narcotic of reassuring simplicity” is expanded upon as Pierce presents his conception of The Three Great Premises as they apply to media pundits:

“A host is not judged by his command of the issues, but purely whether what he says moves the ratings needle.  (First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it moves units).   If the needle moves enough, then the host is adjudged an expert (Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough) and, if the host seems to argue passionately enough, then what he is saying is judged to be true simply because of how many people are listening to him say it (The Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe.  Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it).  Gordon Liddy is no longer a gun-toting crackpot.  He has an audience.  He must know something.”

This is a small wonder of a book.  The writer is informed, humane and diligent in his original research and interview work (and impressive in his listing of credits, inspirations and sources in the back of the book).  Unlike those he turns his attention to, Pierce is neither repeating rumor nor making unsupportable assertions.  This is the passionate work of a serious journalist.

I was both thrilled (by the quality) and deeply dismayed (by the content of) this book.  It can seem as if we are so divorced from valuing truth over opinion that the path back to reason can seem impossible.  Yet the fact of this book is an expression of hope, of a belief that there is a chance to make a difference for the common good.  But none of us can afford to wait another moment.  We have to stand up and be heard until the crackpots and ideologues are afraid to poke their heads out of their musty holes and return to their imaginative roles as American “cranks”.  Otherwise, we are a great and powerful nation adrift, arguing in the wheelhouse about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin while the engine room awaits a command.

t.n.s.r. bob