Robert DeNiro was recently caught in the crossfire of a maddening war. The vaccine problem is not just the over-zealous demonization of ‘anti-vax‘ crowd – even though few vaccine skeptics are against all vaccinations* – it is the conspicuous lack of debate. The pro-vaccine crowd does not want to have a reasonable conversation about risk reduction because it puts them on the slippery slope of acknowledging that vaccines are not 100% harmless.
We need to have the conversation about how to administer vaccines in such a way that the risk of injury is as low as possible. This may mean administering them spaced out over time or perhaps at later ages, depending on a patient’s vulnerabilities. Parents want to protect their kids from all kinds of harm – from both disease prevention tactics and the deadly diseases they fight – and parents will usually make good choices. However, INFORMED CONSENT demands honesty about legitimate risks, not stubborn refusal to have a reasonable discussion.
The bottom line is that vaccines need to be optional, no matter how highly recommended and preferable to doing nothing. Even if vaccine injury rates or severity are far lower than the harms inflicted by the diseases they prevent, they fail the basic test of “first do no harm.” Legislation that excludes the unvaccinated from public schools is a reasonable alternative to forcibly injecting medicine into someone’s body for the “greater good.” The fundamental right to bodily integrity cannot be violated in any society that calls itself “free.” The vaccine-booster crowd need to come to terms with this uncomfortable truth.
In the social media age, we have a wealth of information available, but separating truth from error remains a challenge. We need to evaluate each issue on its observable, measurable merits, not knee-jerk reactions or flame wars. Let’s talk about it, but let’s not pretend that thinking about vaccine safety is a bad thing.
When Bernie Sanders said if you’re white you “don’t know what its like to be poor” during the heat of a democratic debate, I knew exactly what he was getting at, even though he didn’t phrase it well. If you are white and poor, you are not poor BECAUSE you are white. If you are white and poor in America, you are NOT poor because a non-white person took your cookies. If you are poor and white, it is because the greed of billionaires is out of control.
The political system has been so corrupted by crony capitalism that the millions of poor Americans now include not just blacks, Latinos, seniors and students, but increasing numbers of hard-working whites whose jobs have been shipped overseas. It is now clear that the rising tide of economic recovery is not lifting boats punched full of holes by the corporations who hijacked the government and write the laws and tax code for their own benefit.
Things are bad, but there is a silver lining in this storm cloud. Now that the ranks of the poor have grown to include millions more Americans, they have a common cause against the multi-national corporations. America is now an Oligarchy and if the TransPacific Partnership is ratified, it will be impossible to restore democracy without violence and bloodshed. The neoliberal ideology of selfishness has been exposed as morally bankrupt, destructive and unsustainable. This is why America is feeling the Bern.
“He never let the truth get in the way of a good story” was a line of dialogue from TV show that probes the depths to which the human mind can sink. A good narrative is so compelling it can blind us to the truth. This quirk of human nature has been exploited by con men for centuries and Maria Konnikova’s “Born to be Conned” in the New York Times provides some interesting examples of smart people who fell prey to con men. The other key to a successful con game is that people want to believe in good; that the bad guy will get his comeuppance and that hard work will be rewarded. This is the narrative our culture trumpets via books, film and television, but we’ve been conned.
Consolidation of media ownership has enabled the cultural narrative to be controlled by a shrinking group of players. The occasional mea culpa, like Bill Moyers’ Buying the War, is supposed to satisfy the masses that the free press is still working, but the conclusions reached in the documentary contradict that view. Although the producers don’t pretend that the media’s failure to challenge the evidence leading up to the war in Iraq was unique, they fail to explore any potential solutions. This supports the spreading view that mainstream news is nothing more than corporate propaganda.
The mainstream media is no longer the free press that is necessary for a functioning democracy. The stories that don’t get told are often the ones that citizens in a functioning democracy most need to hear. Moyer’s documentary tells one such story about the unheard reporters who were correct that the Bush Administration was lying like a rug. Another important story that is getting short shrift is that the United States is no longer a democracy. It’s worth repeating: your Federal Presidential Constitutional Republic is no longer a democratic institution, but an Oligarchy. Government “of the people, by the people, for the people” as Lincoln put it, has largely perished in the United States.
The influence the average American voter has is so small it has a statistical significance “near zero.” This is from an academic study published in 2014 and was ignored in the mainstream media. In a functioning representative democracy, the knowledge that your democracy isn’t representative of the vast majority of people and therefore doesn’t function would be considered newsworthy. While MSNBC was almost the only mainstream outlet to run the story, they did so under a limp headline and let the story die of neglect. The flip side of the story is that if you’re a billionaire, you still have all the representation money can buy.
“Democracy” and “Freedom” are as American as apple pie, and represent core beliefs that citizens embrace as part of their identity. Presenting evidence that their core beliefs are untrue doesn’t go over well because of the psychological phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance.” This refers to the same mental discomfort a child feels when an older sibling first spills the beans about Santa Claus. Our natural human habit of avoiding pain means we tend to cling to false beliefs if the truth contradicts our long-held worldview or core values.
The pain of cognitive dissonance, the unwillingness to accept that the Bush Administration deliberately lied in order to start a war which killed thousands of Americans, contributed to the outcome that the perpetrators got away with it. That kind of massive injustice isn’t supposed to happen in America, but there are other examples. The Vietnam War, which killed over 58,000 Americans, was triggered by an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin that didn’t happen. During the Gulf War 30 years later, columnist Sydney Schanberg reminded journalists that they’d been “bamboozled” by President Johnson about Vietnam, but also lamented “the apparent amnesia of the wider American public.” Liars keep getting away with it because people prefer a soothing lie to a painful truth.
The media could do things differently, in theory, but how many reporters are willing to speak truth to power in the current climate of corporate consolidation and downsizing? What does that say about the news we see today about ISIL in Syria? The fact that the CIA largely created ISIL doesn’t get much play in the U.S., but the Guardian ran the story in the U.K. back in June. Today the drums are beating for Americans to risk their lives in a futile effort to solve a problem created by their own government. The Orwellian “War on Terror” not only cannot be won, but winning arguably isn’t even the endgame. The military-industrial complex that outgoing President Eisenhower warned of benefits enormously from ongoing conflict. Peace doesn’t pay, even for reporters.
President Obama recently gave a speech on terrorism and gun control, asking Congress to support the bombing of ISIL in Syria. He looked as grey and weary as any U.S. president approaching the end of his term. It could be that his administration, like the media and the public, are being swept along by forces beyond their control. It could also be true that the owners of major defense contractors are quite pleased with the direction things are going. The gun dealers enjoy increased sales in the wake of mass shootings as they warn America to arm themselves against the threat of home grown terror.
If the news media had fulfilled their traditional role, members of the Bush Administration would likely be in jail for war crimes by now and the 9/11 Commission might have reached very different conclusions. It used to be said that knowledge is power, but even though knowledge is more freely available than it has ever been, the game doesn’t seem to have changed much. In the 2016 elections, the U.S. may reach a significant tipping point where the population finally catches on and takes a course not charted by the establishment. President Bernie Sanders may be a game changer, as he seems to be the only candidate willing to acknowledge the truth about the serious flaws in the system, let alone fix them. Pay attention to the media bias against Sanders and towards the establishment’s choice, but don’t expect to see coverage of the Democracy Spring event or the represent.us anti-corruption campaign. If you want to live in a functioning democratic republic, use social media to share important knowledge while you still can.
Click the embedded links to find sources and/or interesting supporting material, some of which is rather offbeat.
Corporations can edit Wikipedia too, but SourceWatch is an awesome website to help you figure out the agenda behind a press release. Here are a few of their portals;
This Ted Talk about who rules the world.
Middle-aged white guys are killing themselves at alarming rates and the experts don’t know why. The suicide rate for men in their 50s increased 49% in the decade ending 2010. According to the CBC;
A recent study, co-authored by this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, Angus Deaton, found that a long-term decline in death rates changed direction in 1999 for middle-aged, non-Hispanic white Americans, especially for the segment of that population with only a high school degree or less.
I don’t think the trend is surprising nor the reasons mysterious and, despite what the “men’s rights” windbags contend, it is not the fault of women or feminism. These men who are failing to thrive were brought up in a kinder, gentler world, where income inequality was considerably less. When they were growing up, the middle class was booming and every generation seemed to be better off than the one before. That is clearly no longer the case. Working class Joe did what society expected him to do, but the rewards that were promised have not been not forthcoming.
The new reality of low economic mobility coupled with extreme income inequality grinds against the deeply entrenched, but now mostly false, belief that the “American Dream” is possible. Millions of Americans have been shoved out of the middle class into poverty, and the depth of that poverty is getting worse. In short, the working class white guy has finally figured out that he’s been lied to, and he feels duped and powerless. He didn’t see it coming, so he feels he’s failed to protect and provide for his family. That is a heavy burden to carry alone, and traditionally, men have been socialized to be stoic and not reach out for help, so they suffer in silence until it becomes too much for some of them to bear.
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. – Wikipedia
If we’ve been lied to all these years about the American Dream, what other core beliefs are just delusions? Here’s a hard one to swallow: America is no longer a democracy. Let that sink in. The ideal that Lincoln put forth in the Gettysburg Address of government of the people, by the people, for the people has indeed perished in the United States of America. The government is now more accurately described as a corporate-controlled Oligarchy. An academic study done by experts at Princeton and Northwestern concluded in September 2014 that policy decisions are driven by the economic elite and the average voter has a level of influence on public policy that is “near zero.” That’s right, the average voter has no power, no influence on the legislative process. Let. that. sink. in. This is a really tough truth to absorb. That uncomfortable feeling – a painful sense of betrayal – is called cognitive dissonance.
It not news that money is power and power is money. What many failed to notice is that there has been a massive transfer of wealth into the pockets of the 1% from the rest of us. The ultra-rich are hoarding vast amounts of capital and passing it down to their children, so the oligarchs at the top of the pyramid are using and abusing inherited wealth to buy influence and control politicians and policy. The game is rigged. The concentration of media ownership means that mainstream media does not distribute truth, but propaganda that shapes public opinion to keep people distracted from the fundamental shift of power into the hands of the economic elite. We could solve the energy crisis by hooking up a generator to George Orwell spinning in his grave.
Middle-aged, working class white guys are now on a level playing field for the first time with millions of others from marginalized groups who can’t help but think “karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?” The powers that be have always used our differences to divide us with the political weapons of fear and anger. Even the poorest white people considered themselves better off (or just ‘better’) than their black neighbours. There is certainly a tradition of dis-empowered men building up their own egos at their wives’ expense. If even the formerly privileged white guy finally realizes he’s just as screwed as everyone else, what is left to divide us with? Many men still cling to the idea that competition is better than cooperation. When a critical mass of people understand that compassion is more likely to lead to happiness, we may see a shift in consciousness that leads to greater social justice, reduced inequality, and greater prosperity for the 99%. However, that isn’t going to happen in an Oligarchy.
The way out of this mess isn’t rocket science. The same forces at play in the U.S. have been at work in Canada, where we finally kicked out a right-wing Prime Minister in favour of one who promises to reform the electoral system to make it more fair to voters. Electoral reform is the key to taking democracy back. In Canada it means getting rid of first-past-the-post so our votes aren’t wasted. In the U.S. the biggest issue is campaign finance. Now that Americans are learning that they don’t live in a democracy anymore, what are they going to do about it? I think the smart money is on Bernie Sanders in 2016.
Here are some links to some other interesting ideas;
If there was ever a cultural moment that made it perfectly clear that western civilization is well and truly swirling around the bowl, it must be this week’s FHRITP incident, which was well documented by all the major Canadian news outlets. Some dude old enough to know better lost his job for his horrid conduct and the police say they can and will arrest perpetrators. of this bizzare, moronic prank.
I can understand a bunch of 12-year-old boys engaging in a potty-mouthed prank, but when I was a kid anyone caught pulling a stunt like that on television would be subjected to consequences that might run the gamut from being grounded for a year with no electronics to the kind of corporal punishment that parents would get arrested for today. People stupid enough to pull this stunt would lick a metal pole in the schoolyard at 30 below. When are they going to learn it’s not going to end well? What makes it worse is that the origin of this disgusting meme was a hoax that cons guys into buying t-shirts and bumper stickers that say the equivalent of “I hate women.” If the guys who do this incredibly stupid prank are heterosexual and want to hook up with a female person one day, it makes no sense to commit the verbal equivalent of a tattoo on the forehead that says “women suck.” Why would anyone in his right mind do something so blatantly offensive to half the population of the freaking planet? Lighting farts would be a far more civilized (and attractive!) pastime.
Sometimes, to get through to someone who is as thick as a fencepost, you need to speak in a language they can understand. People learn about FHRITP online, so I decided to take the battle to those pages (like here, here, here, here, here, here and here). I created the “Kick that Guy Right in the Nuts” Facebook page and made some memes that respond to their garbage on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to copy/save/share any of the photo-memes from my Facebook page (see examples below) or make your own. I knew I hit a nerve when they banned KTGRITN and deleted all the memes I posted. Better still, why don’t we demand that Facebook and Twitter (and any other hosts) shut down pages that support these indefensible attacks on women? If more people bombard their pages with slapdowns, they might wake up and smell their own stupidity. Lets flush FHRITP where it belongs.
Their FHRITP memes; My KTGRITN memes;
Now that you get the idea, here’s a few more;
Lets make this one happen:
The only show on television I will record and regularly watch is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As a Canadian I love Rick Mercer’s Rants too, but I guess the farce that is U.S. politics is funnier because I don’t live there. Here’s a little photo meme of a recent episode on the US fighting with and against Iran, simultaneously.
I think Trevor Noah will be great, but I will miss Jon Stewart. It will be interesting to see where he goes next.
If you want to pull back the curtain a bit farther on how messed up ‘murica is, check out a recent interview with Noam Chomsky.
If you like seeing enlightening bits of info in your facebook news feed you might like my Connect ALL the DOTS page.
Many of us have seen wooden carvings of weeping men curled up in a ball carved from a single piece of wood. They can be any size but are often around the size of a fist. It is said to be a good practice piece for apprentice wood carvers because it allows them to learn how to carve the larger, easier features of limbs and musculature without having to create the more difficult features of the face. As for the meaning of the image, some say that there is so much pain and suffering in the world, Buddha weeps so we don’t have to. Others spin a tale about a warrior who fought a masked opponent and only discovered after defeating him that his opponent was his own long-lost son. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, this sculpted image can be used as a powerful tool.
The weeping yogi can help people who suffer from depression to externalize their crippling pain. Many who suffer from the pain of depressive mental illness have a great deal of difficulty in understanding that their pain is not an integral part of their personality. Developing an awareness that “you are not your feelings” and also that “you are not your thoughts” is crucial in gaining control of one’s unruly mind. In order to benefit from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or related treatments, it is important to learn how to take a mental step back and become an observer of one’s own thoughts and feelings.
By holding this little carving in their hands, conceptualizing the pain that it represents and observing that pain as being outside of themselves, sufferers may be able to take that necessary step back from their own pain. They may imagine that their little wooden buddy is feeling their own negative emotions and they may want to stroke his back in order to comfort him because they know how badly it hurts. This may put them in touch with their own compassion, not for a block of wood, but for themselves. It may even release a flood of cleansing tears that will wash some of that pain away. If used properly, a weeping Buddha isn’t a “magical” talisman but a functional mnemonic device that can help comfort people who are struggling to cope with psychological pain.
If you experiment with this technique, please share your experience or results in the comments.
When I learned that the micro-organisms that populate the human skin and gut outnumber human cells by about 10 to 1, something clicked. This microbiome is essential to maintain the health of the host organism. We need them and they need us.
If we don’t maintain the health of our gracious host we won’t have an environment that is capable of sustaining our lives. If humans perish from the earth, we would be only one of millions of species to have done so, but humans have produced enough nuclear weapons to turn this planet into a dead rock.
Without life, Earth would be a barren rock spinning uselessly through space. Even if you don’t buy the Gaia hypothesis that the planet has its own consciousness, if we can conceive of a corporation as a “person” we can surely comprehend that the planet, with all its complex networks of flora and fauna, is a living organism. Who has a stronger right to exist: you, or an e-coli bacterium in your colon?
If murder is considered a heinous crime, how much worse is ecocide? Why isn’t this forbidden by law yet, as a crime against humanity? Could it be that pernicious institutions like patriarchy and capitalism are getting in the way? We need a revolution in the way we think about this planet and the roles we are playing.
Once you wake up yourself, will you see how important it is to spread these ideas?
A top judge in the UK, who has been dealing with horrific crimes, blames the wide availability and ease of access to violent porn. This story in the Telegraph makes the link between two brutal murders and the perpetrators’ morbid fascination with violent pornography that they accessed online. The psychological mechanism through which this unfolds is called desensitization. When you watch someone do something, we now know that the same neural pathways fire in the brain of the viewer. This neural mirroring process facilitates human learning. This is why learning about sex by watching porn is a bad idea.
Over time, things that you used to find shocking on a TV show become ordinary, so producers create scenarios which are increasingly horrific, just to get your attention. The same escalation has been happening in pornography. We all have free will to choose our behaviour, so what evidence is there that exposure to violent images is harmful? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) testimony before Congress:
Since the 1950s more than 3500 research studies in the United States and around the world using many investigative methods have examined whether there is an association between exposure to media violence and subsequent violence behavior. All but 18 have shown a positive correlation between media exposure and violent behavior.
That’s 99.5 % of studies in support of the theory that what kids watch affects their behaviour. My own anecdotal evidence supports this hypothesis. My son is far more likely to act like a jerk after spending a few hours playing combat-based video games. How many parents haven’t seen their sweet boy turn into a little monster when they tell him to shut down the box?
It is incomprehensible to me how society can keep on pretending that violent images don’t cause harm. If showing people images didn’t have a significant impact on human behaviour, nobody would pay $4,000,000.00 for 30 seconds of airtime on Superbowl Sunday. Here’s a fact for the first amendment blowhards who say what they watch has no impact on what they do: A study out of Stanford University shows that Budweiser’s return on investment for a Superbowl ad is 172%.
It is highly unlikely that men will stop watching porn just because someone points out its harmful effects, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out those harmful effects. People are smoking less these days, despite the efforts of Big Tobacco. A wise man once told me he doesn’t watch films with violent or degrading images because “I don’t want that in my brain.” This why I have no interest in the 50 Shades franchise. Everyone can choose what they put in their brains. You have the right to watch torture porn if you want to, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The raging social media debate around 50 Shades of Grey stems from a fundamental misperception. Protesters are picketing screenings, charging the filmmakers with glamorizing domestic violence and women who read and enjoyed the books are feeling insulted and defensive. The two sides are butting heads because they are coming at this from two very different perspectives.
A woman reading about being tied up and whipped is in no danger of physical harm; on the contrary, she’s in complete control of the experience and of course Ana is a fictional character. Fans who feel judged by the critics are saying “no harm, no foul” but if the criticism stings, you might ask yourself why. Denunciations of the franchise are not aimed at women who have the freedom to read or watch what they want and enjoy their own fantasies. I think we all understand that you don’t read romance novels in order to enter into the feminist discourse. The personal experience needs to be separated from the social aspect of this phenomenon.
The valid criticism of the 50 shades franchise comes from thinking critically about the negative impact this franchise will likely have on our society as a whole. The sheer magnitude of the controversy speaks to how many people are thinking about this and connecting it to other important conversations our culture is having about women, sexism, freedom and consent. The problem is that there are lots of people who are too young or inexperienced in relationships to comprehend the significance of this cultural context or protect themselves in a real relationship that crosses the line and becomes abusive. Worse, they may view abusive behaviour is ‘normal’ or acceptable because it is portrayed that way in the media.
Is this just a tempest in a teapot, or has yet another battle been joined in an increasingly loud culture war? I think we’re at a tipping point in the understanding of, and respect for, women’s autonomy and agency. There was a time when white people used the N-word with impunity. An uncomfortable struggle preceded our recognition that people of other races, religions and sexual orientations should not be treated disrespectfully. The incredibly ignorant recent comments from the mouths of Republican lawmakers are a clear indicator that we haven’t yet turned the corner with respect to our cultural recognition of the equality and dignity of women. On the contrary, there is a tiny but loud “mens’ rights movement” hell-bent on resisting any progress towards actual social equality. Sometimes these guys cross the line and engage in threats and hate speech that should be prosecuted. The problem with 50 Shades isn’t that so many women enjoy it, it’s that some men* will use it as a textbook.
*yeah, we know, “not all men”
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