Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fox News Guarding the Henhouse

The dissembling of so many conservatives, high- and low-profile, withers me. I’m constantly amazed by how often conservative perspectives on certain issues are founded on things that just aren’t true. The war in Iraq is a classic example. I distinctly remember George W. Bush saying that we needed to invade Iraq when we did and the way we did because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he was going to use against us at any moment — a very creative interpretation of the intelligence at the time. If the Bush administration thought that invading Iraq was such a good idea, couldn’t it have come up with a better reason for doing so, a reason supported by maybe ... I don’t know ... reality! And the conservative dissembling continued when no stockpiles of weapons were found in Iraq. I vividly remember Bush and his advisors before the invasion hyping fears about the certain devastation that Hussein was about to launch onto the world with his weapons. But rather than admit that they were wrong about Hussein’s weapons, conservative Bush apologists began saying that “weapons of mass destruction” wasn’t the primary reason we went to war. What kind of denial do you need to be in to say something so false with a straight face?

Looking at so many conservative beliefs based on things that aren’t true, I have to wonder, why do conservatives think that these beliefs are good ones to hold?

This thought came to me again today after reading a letter in the Los Angeles Times in response to an op-ed about the Obama White House regarding Fox News as an opponent rather than a trustworthy source for reporting news in an unbiased way — and, incidentally, I think that the Obama administration is correct to regard the mendacious Fox News as such. I haven’t heard anything about the Obama White House trying to shut down Fox News or to get the pseudo-news cable channel to change in any way; as far as I know the administration is just giving it the cold shoulder. And — wouldn’t you know it? — Fox News and its adherents trumpet the story as Obama’s neo-Nixonian “war” on the plucky little channel.

I didn’t read the op-ed that the letter was responding to, but the letter itself read:

How about a little something called the 1st Amendment as a compelling reason for the Obama administration to stop its Nixonian war on Fox News, not to mention the likes of Limbaugh and “right-wing” bloggers?

Yes, Barack Obama won an election. No, that did not mean the country agreed to repeal the Constitution or end political debate.

When an administration wages war on such a fundamental and well-established right as the 1st Amendment, that alone should raise a giant red flag to all Americans — regardless of the supposed characterization of the speech or how many people are supposedly listening to it.

What should really raise a fed flag to all Americans is an argument based on assertions that aren’t true. Notice how the letter writer changes the story from what it really is — the Obama administration denying Fox News recognition as a news outlet — to something that it isn’t — an effort by Obama to deny Fox News its First Amendment rights. I haven’t heard anything about the White House prohibiting Fox from doing its dubious business — I haven’t even heard anything about the White House denying Fox reporters access to press conferences — but the station and its apologists are twisting this story into the government nefariously clamping down on free speech itself. So, the letter writer’s characterization of the White House infringing on the First Amendment and repealing the Constitution is just plain wrong.

Now, there may very well be reasons why logical people would disagree with the White House’s stance towards Fox News and the administrations dealings (or lack thereof) with the station. I would probably disagree with such reasons, but I can imagine a rational person making this kind of an argument. However, when you need to misrepresent the story — to twist it into something that it isn’t — to make your point, is such a point worth making? When you need to distort what is real in order for your perspective to prevail, maybe you should start re-examining your perspective. What principles are you upholding when one of them isn’t the truth?

Friday, October 30, 2009

So-Called Political Correctness

“‘[P]olitical correctness’ isn’t a real thing. Rather, the term is a sort of catch-all charge that’s used against people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we're willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them. It’s a way to say that their concerns don't deserve to be voiced, much less addressed.”   —Amanda Taub,

I wanted to post something before the month was through, so I thought that I would reprint another letter of mine that was published in the Los Angeles City Beat, this one on June 2, 2007:

Thanks to Thomas M. Sipos for his informative letter on so-called “political correctness” [Re: Letters, May 26]. However, I don’t think that the letter dealt fully with the use of the phrase by the political right.

The right’s negative use of the term “political correctness” may have begun as an objection to ill-advised campus speech codes, as Mr. Sipos says, but it didn’t stay there. The term eventually came to be used against many kinds of liberal thought on the presumption that voicing conservative opposition to those thoughts was a daring thing to do. Before long, conservatives were using the phrase … well … liberally to characterize virtually all left-of-center opinions — however well-reasoned and well-argued — as inherently unthinking and doctrinaire.

Today, “political correctness” in the right’s imagination has taken on the dimensions of a pervasive, oppressive ideology that dwarfs conservatism. As a result, even though conservatives control both the White House and Congress (and the Supreme Court as well), and even though conservative organizations are much better financed than liberal ones, the right can still play the underdog courageously standing up to a monstrous behemoth. In other words, the idea of “political correctness” allows Goliath to masquerade as David.

The phrase “political correctness” wouldn’t be as problematic if it were popularly applied to conservative dogma in the way that it’s applied to more liberal ideas. But when George W. Bush refuses to consider further government funding of promising stem-cell research for ideological reasons, or when a conservative commentator instantly dismisses a substantive opposing argument as “liberal whining,” such right-wing inflexibility isn’t usually characterized as “political correctness.”

Update, August 7, 2015: I have added the quote from’s Amanda Taub at the top of the post.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

alias babyporridge

Some of you may have noticed that my July 1, 2008, post is hawking a CD that isn’t real. No, there isn’t to be any compact disk called Calamities & Codswallop, although I think that would make a good title for something (anything!), and I’m a little impressed with myself for thinking of that wacky moniker on the spot.

There is, however, such a person as Nikki Malvar. She is the very presentable person in the picture, and under the sobriquet “babyporridge,” she makes
YouTube videos as well as her own music on her MySpace page. At its best, her music reverberates with the kind of haunting notes and quirky lyrics reminiscent of The Roches or Suzanne Vega and is definitely worth a listen or two.

But where the mischievous Ms. Malvar made her most lasting impact on my neurons was with her YouTube videos, whose sublime silliness is about as far away from the reflectiveness of her songs as the Marx Brothers are from Jacques Brel. For quite some time, I wanted to put my bemused musings about her videos down on paper (or the electronic equivalent thereof), but I had no idea what to say: such anarchic absurdity can’t be contained by the strict structures of nouns, prepositions, and adverbs.

Then, on July 1, 2008, the date of my aforementioned blog post, I was visiting her own
blog, where she posted the picture of herself that you see below. I liked how most of the photograph was taken up by the empty space surrounding her, while her own image was scrunched into a corner. (Very “Zen,” don’t you think?) I immediately thought that the picture would make a good album cover and set about mocking up my own mock CD package. Not having any other way to show her the results, I posted the image here on my blog and let her know about it, fully expecting to delete the image once she had viewed it. However, after a couple of hours had hobbled away, I felt a fondness for the fake CD cover and asked Nikki if I could leave it up. She graciously consented, and I promised that I would write something about her on my world-famous blog.

Days went by. Then weeks. Then months. Summer turned to fall. America elected a new president. Fall turned to winter. Christmas came and went.
High-School Musical 3 came out, and people actually went to see it. Nearly a year had passed, but I still hadn’t written anything. Worse, I was feeling bad for not living up to a promise, so much so that I could barely bring myself to blog about anything at all. My blog, already sadly neglected, drifted into dereliction.

So, these comments are as much an effort to resuscitate my blog and assuage my guilt as they are an attempt to squeeze the square peg of my words into the round hole of the most indescribable videos on YouTube. When you watch a babyporridge video, don’t expect a coherent story. Don’t expect a comprehensible idea. Don’t expect anything to make sense. All that you can reasonably expect is the sight of a young lass in her late-teens/early-20s frolicking in front of her video camera, sometimes showing off her musical skills, delighting in her own nonsensical sense of humor, and exuding her infectious zest for life.

Here’s a video of hers called “I Was a Fetus Once,” in which she announces her nineteenth birthday. In this shot, she’s flipping a clear plastic ruler through her pitch-black locks. In the next shot, she’s lip-synching to “Delicious Demon” by The Sugarcubes, sometimes clad in a black dress, sometimes in male drag with a mustache scribbled on the finger resting just below her nose. Now, she’s concocting her famous booger soup (a recipe she obviously stole from Rachel Ray) and dancing around her kitchen. Did I miss anything? In her video “Paperbananas,” she holds a banana in front of the lens. Wait a second! That’s not a banana! That’s an avocado with a hand-drawn sign saying “banana” tacked to it. Could’ve fooled me! The video titled “What Disney Left Unsaid” features her as Cinderella opposite herself as her own Shakira-wigged fairy godmother, singing in high-speed overcrank. What’s it all about? Haven’t the foggiest. But why am I laughing so hard?

Hmmm ... I’ve written this much without mentioning that babyporridge currently lives in Australia after spending her childhood in the Philippines, Malaysia, and the United States. So, even though she presently resides in Sydney, she sounds like she comes from middle America — give or take a broadened A or clipped R. There’s no way of discretely inserting that info into this blog post. I’ll need to find another way.

If anything can be said, it’s this: babyporridge’s baffling videos demonstrate how viewing habits and expectations have changed since the advent of digital video and its transmission on demand via computer. Back in the days before home video (yes, I was around then), the idea of watching an audiovisual presentation without a readily identifiable point to it would widely be seen as a waste of time. But with the availability of webcams and streaming video, any “rules” about what makes for a worthwhile viewing experience fly out the window. Now with YouTube, a cat playing the piano carries as much viewer fascination as Lucy Ricardo stuffing her face with chocolates. If instant video weren’t just a mouse-click away, would there be room for the stupefying silliness of someone like babyporridge? And to what extent is the appeal of these videos connected to the concept of a virtual community? In other words, are some viewers drawn to videos like babyporridge’s because they feel that they are getting to know someone socially?

But at the end of the day, babyporridge videos are fun to watch, pointlessness and all. They are reminders that some of life’s magical moments don’t need any meaning. Lewis Carroll understood that. Unfortunately, babyporridge/Nikki has not been particularly prolific of late. After a year or so of regularly producing about a video a week, she has made (or not deleted) only four videos in the last eight months. A much-needed hiatus? If so, she’s earned it. Here’s hoping, though, that the video gods will instill babyporridge with inspiration once again. Every now and then, the world needs to stop making sense.

a babyporridge video