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Friday, May 26, 2006
We are a lie-happy society. Our incessant need to write television comedy with nearly every episode based upon one or more character’s lies to another may have made us comfortable with dishonesty. In the cases of many of us the boob-tube has brainwashed us from a young age into believing that lying is a common function of life, practically a necessity. Count the lies in your life. Start your next day carefully monitoring the truthfulness of every single person you encounter. Don’t discount small lies for they are dishonesty no less! Don’t assume your best friends and lovers won’t lie to you also.
Jack Benny tells a lie to Rochester at the beginning of the weekly episode of the Jack Benny (radio) Show. Rochester buys it and complexity wrought with humor ensues for the entire half hour. At the end of the episode the truth is discovered and Jack Benny is embarrassed, Rochester is mad, and the audience enjoys a hearty laugh.
Ralph loses his job at the bus company but is ashamed to let Alice know and so he lies to her. The stage is set for the half hour television sit-com. He brings Norton in on the deception, but Norton spills the truth to Trixie, who can not contain the deception from Alice. Alice conducts another deception of not disclosing her knowledge to the humiliated Ralph. In the end Ralph threatens Norton and then Alice with a trip to the moon. But at the very end Alice loves Ralph and Ralph proclaims he is the luckiest man in the world. The audience is swooned with romantic sympathy and laughs and cries tears of endearment.
Television history had begun and its writers understood that when any other story line fails to move, a lie is a source of content unparalleled in its ability build interesting scenario, to take a storyline anywhere and to end the story with anything. Ricky conceals from Lucy that television cameras will be broadcasting his show at the Tropicana, because he wants her to stay away. He tells Fred Mertz because he can trust him. The lies and deceptions follow and hilarity fills the pilot episode of I Love Lucy. The sitcom was so dependent on dishonesty in its plots there was even one episode titled Lucy Tells the Truth, this willingness to propagate lying on a national scale in 1955. Days of virtue? Family values?
Our television entertainment has not changed in five decades. We still are exposed to a majority of episodic entertainment involving dishonesty, outright lying, obfuscation and avoidance of direct truth. We sit our children down on the floor in front of these seemingly harmless, family oriented, half hour vignettes of characters unable to speak truth. Interestingly, every single episode is showing a moral lesson to the viewer, that dishonesty always results in hurt feelings and complexities and trouble. But because the lesson is bathed in the murky water of laughs and giggles, the lesson is lost on every viewer.
But no sitcom can properly convey the feeling of being lied to by a friend or a lover and so Rochester’s emotional sinking pains from being lied to by his lifelong boss and companion is not conveyed at all. If a sitcom were attempting to imitate real life, the small screen conveyance of a feeling that Alice Cramden has when learning that her own husband won’t tell her the truth about a major event in their lives, would be incredibly difficult to portray and would surely cause every viewer to change the channel. No one season of episodes will convey how Ricky Ricardo feels to have realized that he has to live with a wife whose word is consistently untrustworthy. Portrayals of real human pain, of real consequence and the sharp stabbing of betrayal, are reserved for the directors of cinematic drama, who seek realism and not a quickie portrait of the world through happy-glasses.
Stop lying yourself. Don’t lie to yourself that you’re not lying – life long liars will be dishonest to themselves to the deep core of their own psyche – it’s a defense mechanism your brain has self trained to react with.
After a few weeks to a few months, the people around you will realize you are a wall of honesty. Their realization that they can’t get away with any bull-shit around you will cause the habitually dishonest ones to fall-out from your circle. The semi-honest friends and acquaintances will begin to change their demeanor and comfort level with you, for the better. At the beginning of your change to honesty you may feel like a dweeb, like young Jimmy Olson from the Superman comic books. Your honesty will lift stress from your shoulders, tightness from your neck and jaw. Confidence will show itself as speaking and planning and interacting no longer requires any forethought of deceit or thought of how and when to implement dishonesty.
Point out to your children each lie portrayed on each television show and ask them how that would be, in real life.
Monday, May 8, 2006
A Hero is Discovered in Harlem:" . . The headlights of the No. 1 train appeared. “I had to make a split decision,” Mr. Autrey said. So he made one, and leapt. Mr. Autrey lay on Mr. Hollopeter, his heart pounding, pressing him down in a space roughly a foot deep. The train’s brakes screeched, but it could not stop in time . . . . "
Read the entire story: 1/2/2007 New York Times
Quasi Heros and Real Heros
We are getting carried away from important ideals and their English vocabulary definitions, for the sake of feel-good emotional docu-drama. We are calling the wrong people heroes and we are afraid to acknowledge truths to squelch our own collective emotions regarding the September 11th massacres. Former mayor Gulliani of New York City is not a hero. The firefighters and police or New York City are not heroes. George W. Bush is certainly not a hero.
What is a hero? Is it someone who does his job, or someone who goes beyond his or job and into danger or humility when he doesn’t have to? I say it’s the later. Take for instance the firefighters at the scene of the world trade center massacre; are they heroes for attempting to save lives, forsaking their own lives and going into the scene, either into the buildings to get people out, or toward the catastrophe of rubble to evacuate pedestrians in the disorder of the collapse of the towers? Heroes are the pedestrians and otherwise civilian bystanders who risked their lives to do the same. They were not expected to, yet some did. If heroes are civil servants and rescue personnel who carry on their persons their own resignation papers, for quick turnover to their immediate supervisors in case a situation gets scary, then yes the NYC firefighters and police were heroes for not resigning upon viewing the tragic circumstances of the moment.
A hero is the boy out for a walk who notices a man bobbing up and down in a large ice hole in the middle of a frozen lake. The boy takes off his shoes and coat and jumps in to hoist the man to safety. A hero is the man driving his car on the highway, he sees a burning wreck on the side of the road, he stops, he runs to the vehicle, reaches into the scorching hot car and pulls another driver to safety, saving a life. The boy walking and the man driving are not rescue trained civil servants performing obligations for pay and to meet performance expectations of their peers and supervisors, these hypothetical people are real heroes.
Enter into the melodrama of television cable (“we’re more patriotic than that other network”) news squawk shows. The faces of military personnel killed in the illegal action of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, face us from the dead, in memoriam. The show-graphics announce them as American Heroes, and or “they died so we can be free.” Where is the logic is these statements? Nowhere. Emotion dilutes and clouds logic but it increases cable ratings! Your average Joe Military young man signed up with the understood knowledge that the great majority of his comrades will eventually come home alive, just like WWII or from any other war of our past, no matter how bloody history has recorded them to be. As a bonus, their recruiters promised shoeboxes of money for college, health care delivery. Besides it was better than hanging around a dead-end town and becoming losers like so many of the young men they had known. Joining-up made their parents proud and gave them and their family hope for their futures. We all know the cliché dogmatic philosophy born out of the “good war,” that we tell young men who don’t know what to do with their lives: “It will make a man of you. You’ll gain confidence. You’ll learn leadership. You’ll come back and anyone will be glad to hire you!” Does a hero require these perks? Is it love of country and angelic selflessness that drives these eighteen and nineteen year olds into the services? Lets get real. These young men are given protection, given numbers of brothers to surround them for increased safety. They bond with their units, they feel the “got your back,” pact of their unit. They are not the lone highway traveler who with all choice to do nothing, chooses to rescue a trapped motorist from a burning vehicle. They are not the boy who disrobes to dive into a freezing lake to rescue a drowning person from a break in the ice.
Its wonderful to show appreciation for a dead or wounded serviceman. To show our gratitude for a task that held the possibility of great danger is a needed commission and in the case of those vulture-like cable news shows, its really the least they can do.
Time magazine had chosen to make Rudy Gulliani “person of the year,” like the firefighters he has been called a hero for doing his job. The cliché phrase “man of the year” is generally an honor of positivism bestowed on someone, or something for being the best at something in a year’s time. Time magazine’s honor traditionally is neither positive nor negative, it is supposed to be for an individual who has affected world events the most in that preceding year, for instance Adolph Hitler was given this dubious honor.
Three weeks before the magazine announced it had placed terrorist Osama BinLaden on the “short list” for man of the year the criticism started rolling in. Americans couldn’t understand the acknowledgement. They said it gave him publicity he didn’t deserve. They suggested good people by our standards, they suggested Mayor of New York City Rudy Guliani, and they suggested the court selected president George W. Bush.
What did mayor Gulliani do that any other mayor of any other city would not have done? Nothing. Is there precedent for a mayor to run and cower when his city is besieged with calamity? No there is not. His and any mayor’s job in a time of crisis is to keep the city running, to provide for emergency assistance the best that the office of the mayor can do. He did his job. Do we shower him with praise for not running to a motel room to take cyanide tablets? Is he a hero for not freaking out and going on a three-week alcohol and drug binge?
What did president select George W. Bush do that was hero like? It couldn’t have been his drunken AWOL service to our country in the Air National Guard. Might it have been the heroic manner he jumped around from military base to military base in Air Force One on September the 11th? Must be all the brave teleprompter readings he gave and continues to give on network television? If his speeches had some substance I might grant him a small degree of hero worship in that department, but the hyperboloid rhetoric that is contained in every speech reminds me more of a salesmen’s convention than substantive information for the public.
Evidence of our national denial in a sea of emotional docu-drama is the ABC television v. Bill Maher incident: when one man dare to point out the inconsistencies of president select Bush’s child like speeches, he gets fired by his boss. Bill Maher’s well made point that the hijackers of the planes could not have been cowards, as the president select had told us a few nights before, was light hearted truth that was met with ignorant and emotional bitterness. He became blacklisted for his subversion to patriotic mushy mush.
Lets remember who heroes are before half the population is wearing a hero medal and suing for hero pay and television time. Lets honor substantial speech and continue to criticize talk that makes little logical sense.
James G. Mason
This editorial was first published
“The illegal immigration problem!” The Republicans effort to introduce an illegal immigration “reform,” bill (warning: when the republicans even speak the words “reform,” run for cover. It means they want to do something that they know the mainstream public would find reprehensible, if they found out the particulars!) became a rallying point for the sympathetic public that remains in existence in the United States. The bill seeks to criminalize, nay felony-ize, illegal immigrants.
Liberal democrats, like myself, saw this debate coming from years back. We knew the “cons,” would need another divisive issue to bring out the angry white men they rely on so heavily. Immigration was the festering blister ready to pop in our faces. It only needed labor related issues like a struggling economy, like outsourced jobs, like multinational corporations moving their operations to slave labor countries, and anguishing issues like the continued stagnant wage levels for nearly every category of the American work force. Stopping gay marriage just did not quite tip the scales enough in 2004, a three to five point margin is a scary one for the cons, even their placement of key states’ Secretaries of State in their pockets, along with voting machine contractors connected like mafia to political family members was not enough phony victory for them.
When the millions of immigrant supporters took to the streets and flooded their representatives with email and letters and phone calls, the message frightened the bajeezus out of the cons. Shock! There seemed to be a lot more of them than the angry white folks the cons thought they had in their pockets! Yikes, now the cons still had the angry white folks, many even angrier than before, but now the cons had millions of brown folks ready to tear them a new one.
Many cons still don’t get it. Its about not harming families for doing all they could to best survive in an economy in which real hunger looms on the other side of each sunset. Its about not criminalizing a families quest for sustenance, for hope, for a half descent future. Its a bureaucratic violation of documents to cross our borders unchecked without form 10Z1ABQ34-8 (example) but its not currently illegal. It is unethical, uncivil, some would say disrespectful of us born Americans to do so.
Fix the damn borders. Using every available technological doo-dad available to us. No harmful or wounding devices, no guns, no alligators or possessed dolls with evil intent. Work with the Mexican and Canadian authorities to accomplish the goal of complete containment. Address the border containment issue as a separate and first priority issue in congress. Ignoring all other noise until the border solution is settled.
I know it’s a tough request for a congress containing any number of conservatives, but the Oath of the great teacher Hippocrates, “First do no harm,” should be given to all members of the Congress (as if oaths are any more valuable than oats). It sounds so Liberal, so mushy mush, not at all like the veiled attempt at political correctness of the whimpering cry: “we’re compassionate conservatives!” Symbolic yes, but some people hold symbolism dearly, as if not honoring a symbol will cause God to strike them down with a bolt of lighting. Interesting note; the Capital Dome is indeed lightning proof!
Considering that solution one has been enacted for more than a couple of years, its now time to address the social and economic ramifications of Family Immigration. Allow any employer with available jobs to register with a central federal computer database. In doing so, that employer would be agreeing to “job adopting,” the eligible laborer, if that laborer were coming from across our borders, or across the oceans. The employer would also be agreeing to paying all employees, citizens or not, no less than %60 of federal Prevailing Wage in that region, this percentage would automatically increase as the years of the program proceed. On the other side of our border a jobless, or otherwise desperate person, willing to travel away from his or her family would access the same database. At his terminal he would be issued a ticket matching the employer and particular job in the States. At his emigration office he would receive legal papers and a work visa to exit his country and into the United States. His prospective employer stamps his visa on the day he begins work, this action certifies the workers’ visa card. This action makes him eligible to apply for a drivers’ license marked with a prominent “NC,” for non citizen, this prevents him from registering to vote, but this is his only restriction. He is allowed a checking or savings account without American established credit ratings. He may only use a checking debit/credit card at any retail establishment, discounting any need for him to have had credit ratings established. He will be sent a Medicare card as soon as his address is established. This employer would have immediately began paying into the Medicare program through the standard payroll tax known as F.I.C.A..
So imagine if you will, no immigrant crosses our border without already having a place to work. He may even have safe transportation. No job is taken from an American citizen as wages would be equivalent. This economic disincentive upon large employers, like the agribusinesses, will begin to reduce the inflow of immigrants, as those jobs are more in demand to citizens, and less available to immigrants. As the immigrant worker requires health care, its paid for, the cost is quantifiable, record able, reimbursable.
When more immigrant families are able to live in their home country, partly due to the open and legal crossing of their principle earner into the States, and partly due to the availability of housing paid for by their principle earner, then more children can stay in their home country, in their home with their mother, at attending their local school and speaking their own language. How much more pro family could an immigration policy get?
James G. Mason