Wednesday, September 14, 2005

September 13, 2005

After posting yesterday's column (see below) I got this email from a reader:

OK, Steve., we are all chumps, suckers, and enablers. So what do you suggest we do about it? Right now we have a flawed two party system, not a parliamentary system. Scum seems to be what bubbles to the top and sticks there like chewing gum. We're peons. We don't have Murdoch's wealth to put behind a candidate. But even all of George Soro's money didn't seem to help dislodge Bush's road to the White House. So what do we do now? Thanks. Jackie

Gawd I hate it when that happens! You want solutions? Well, I have bad news. I don't have any. But I have some hints to explain why I can't help. I am out numbered. So are you. Here, wrap your eyeballs around these poll results:

Poll: Nearly three-quarters of a century after science teacher John Scopes was found guilty of breaking Tennessee law for teaching evolution, most Americans have a strong opinion about what should be taught in America's science classes. (Full Story)

Poll: Fully 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God, 85 percent in heaven and 82 percent in miracles..... Though belief in God has remained at about the same level, belief in the devil has increased slightly over the last few years — from 63 percent in 1997 to 71 percent today. (Full Story)

Get the picture? When you have a super-majority of voters so mired in myth and superstition, what hope is there they will ever embrace enlightened, progressive secular governance? They are the people who put George W. Bush in office and, even after learning he lied like a rug to start a war, and looted our national treasury into insolvency, they reelected him.

This strange behavior relates directly to the above polls. People so willing to embrace supernatural nonsense are low-lying fruit for demagogic politicians. All candidates have to do is throw a few Jesus references around, pray in public and say nice things about "the Creator" and most of those tuti-fruities fall right into their hands.

And so it has come to pass.

The good news is that this week scientists (the real kind) announced they have discovered two brain genes that indicated our brains are still evolving. One of the genes in particular, they said indicates that the brain has actually sped up it's evolutionary processes in recent centuries.

The bad news only 30% have that gene.

So, Jackie asks, What to Do?
I belong to a generation that took down two -- count-em, 2 -- presidents. The first was Lyndon Johnson. We filled the streets with antiwar protestors, we blocked access to the Pentagon, we shut down college and university campuses, we even marshaled art and music to the cause. And Johnson withdrew as a candidate for reelection.

Unfortunately the guy who replaced him, Richard Nixon, was even worse. He thought he could get away with damn near anything, and we showed him that was not the case. We protested Nixon too, but it was two of our generation's journalists who finally nailed him. And Nixon was forced to resign.

So it can be done. But it takes a "pull out the stops" kind of effort, and I just don't think we make protesters or reporters like we used to.

First, we had more reason to be motivated, we had the draft back then and that made the war about as personal as it gets. Today it's easy for this generation to just ignore the war. Vietnam was "our war," in every sense of the term. Iraq is just Bush's war to this generation, an abstract political problem, but nothing that touches their life. So why spoil a perfectly good weekend marching against it? Why shut down the campus and risk delaying graduation and good job? The key motivator -- self interest -- is missing. These kids simply don't have any skin in that game.

As for reporters well, something very strange happened to my former profession. Somewhere between Watergate and now journalist stopped being a gritty trade practiced by curious social misfits, and became a "profession." We started having conferences, like Mary Kay and Amway distributors. We presented each other awards and praised one another adherence to good journalistic hygiene.

Somewhere along that path the scruffy, gritty, curious characters who lived to bite the powerful in the ass, disappeared. One by one they were replaced by an army of well-scrubbed J-school grads, newsroom cubical rats whose stories are so mindlessly balanced readers are left no the wiser for reading them. Good reporters used to get out there, learn the facts and then write a story that contained opinion – informed opinion. They were rude, pushy and obnoxious. I loved those old timers. They were colorful. They were sneaky. They drank too much. They smoked too much. They ate all the wrong foods, and plenty of it. They were the real deal. And, so were their stories.

But over the years informed opinion by informed reporters got confused with editorial opinion. Today there are editors whose only job in a newsroom is to sanitize coverage, to beat out of the copy any hint of opinion, no matter how informed it might be. By time a story makes it through this process it has been rendered utterly useless to readers desperately seeking answers.

That pendulum may be swinging back towards the center in the wake of Katrina. Reporters covering the post-storm response actually said "the government's response is all screwed up." I almost fell off my BarkoLounger. We can hope this begins a trend -- the re-scruffization of journalism. Because if we ever needed reporters who live for the day they can catch big shots in a lie, it's now.

As for protesters, well, I think things will have to a lot worse before we see anything like the 60's and 70's. And, if Bush economic policies are not reversed ,and soon, things will – get worse. A lot worse.

No comments: