“The Most Honest Three Minutes In Television History”

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

This is a Zeitgeist Watch piece, or what Yves calls a “mother-in-law story” (“My mother-in-law says…”). In other words, an anecdote. But maybe a little bit more than that? Anyhow, I’m in the local coffee shop …

… and the proprietor (who runs the local wire service as a sideline) gets to talking with me about politics beyond the borders of the great state of Maine — already a micro-disturbance in the force — mentioning David Miranda getting picked up at Heathrow (context: The New York Times Sunday Magazine piece on Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald), The Handmaid’s Tale (I hadn’t known that the cassette tapes telling Offred’s story were found in Bangor), and concluding with the datapoint that one of her student customers had put a YouTube of “The Most Honest Three Minutes In Television History” on her Facebook page.

“What was honest about it?”

“It said America was no longer the greatest country in the world. Jeff Bridges was in it.”

“I think I remember that. I’ll have to go look.” So when I got home I Googled around, and found this YouTube (“The Most Honest Three Minutes In Television History”), which has racked up an impressive 6,833,804 hits (76,647 thumbs up, 1,876 down). Here’s a slightly longer (4:48) version, with only 944,833 hits, that gives more of the set-up:

Now, I did indeed dimly remember this clip making the rounds last year; it turns out to be from HBO’s The Newsroom, starring Jeff Daniels, the “We Just Decided To” episode. (I don’t have a TV* so I didn’t know any of this before I checked.) Anyhow, here’s the transcript, and here’s the set up.** The scene is one of those “town halls,” with a moderator and some talking heads (Daniels plays Will McAvoy, a network anchor), held in an auditorium at Northwestern University. During the question period, a student steps up to the mic:

[Jenny] Hi, my name is Jenny, I’m a sophomore and this for all three of you. Can you say in one sentence or less – what – (laughing in background) you know what I mean: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”

Hard to go wrong with a setup like that, eh? And here, I think, is part of McAvoy’s answer that really resonates with a lot of us:

[McAvoy] [T]here’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy. Twenty-seventh in math. Twenty-second in science. Forty-ninth in life expectancy. A hundred and seventy-eighth in infant mortality. Third in median household income. Number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.***

Well, hell yeah. (All delivered with the prehensile sincerity of the network anchor McAvoy is.)

Now, there are plenty of reasons to go, “Oh, noes!”, chief among them McAvoy’s pivot to a wildly uneven, and mostly sloppy and sentimental version of American exceptionalism:

… We stood up for what was right. [Sometimes, I grant.] We fought for moral reasons. [Greatest Generation nonsense ignores Vietnam and the Phillipines, among others.] We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reasons. [The Civil Rights Act, certainly in part. The Alien and Sedition Acts, certainly not.] We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. [Briefly with LBJ who also brought us Medicare and Vietnam.] We sacrificed. [More Greatest Generation.] We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. [“Were” is interesting….] And we never beat our chest. [“USA! USA!”]

We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe [planetary system], cured diseases [except for AIDS], and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy [and a rawther large empire with lots of lovely petroleum]. (pause) We reached for the stars. Acted like men. [Or like Walter Cronkite.]

We aspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it — it didn’t make us feel inferior.

We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election [yes, we did], and we didn’t, oh, we didn’t scare so easy. Ha. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men. [(!!) Like Walter Cronkite.] Men who were revered. [Like Walter Cronkite.] First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. [AA] America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.

In all of that backward-looking yet doubtless well-meaning (i.e., not bullshit, unless I’ve been sucked by a sociopath, though possibly wrong or ill-thought-out) mish mash, the sentence that leaps out at me is “We didn’t scare so easy.” The Global War on Terror is not the Battle of the Somme, where there were 20,000 British dead on the first day, and the Marathon Bombings are not The Blitz, or Dresden, or Hiroshima. Assume Jenny was born in 1993; she would have been living, since the age of 8, under a 9/11 Shock Doctrine-driven, hermetically sealed compliance regimen previously unknown in this country. No wonder she thinks American is (still) the greatest country in the world! I used to ride my bike to school. Alone. And I used to go play at my friends’ without checking in. As did we all. So that’s my nostalgia.

Another piece of nostalgia: I remember explaining to a Chinese friend of mine back in the mid-90s the beauty and the advantages of the Constitutional system of checks and balances in limiting executive power, quoting Madison: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” What a laugh, huh? Constitutional government was disintegrating even back then. And I didn’t even have the excuse of being young.

* * *

My point, however, and I do have one, is that I don’t think “Jenny,” unless she had a radical change of heart, would have done what my friend’s student customer did: Remember the clip a year later and share it. One wonders how many of the 6,000,000+ viewers did the same. Because if this clip has, as I think it has, gone viral, that would look to me very much like the slow crumbling of support for an isolated regime. And to me, the two takeaways are:

1. “America is no longer the greatest country in the world,” and

2. “We didn’t scare so easy.”

No wonder Occupy, eh? So, oddly, hope.

NOTE * TV is a public health hazard.

NOTE ** The show’s “Creator,” Aaron Sorkin, analyzes the consruction of this segment here.

NOTE *** Neal Stephenson expresses similar views in Snow Crash (1992):

When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we’ve brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they’re making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y’know what? There’s only four things we do better than anyone else:
microcode (software)
high-speed pizza delivery


Since I seem to be collecting mini-narratives of decline, here is (network anchor) Howard Beale tampering with the primal forces of nature:

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

The contrast between this great rant and McAvoy’s rant that interests me is that McAvoy’s takes place in an explicitly political, public setting; he is, in fact, inspired by a member of the audience who holds up a notebook with her answer to Jenny’s question written on it: “IT’S NOT.” Beale’s rant, by constrast, is IIRC the result of a breakdown. The same audience member follows by holding up: “BUT IT COULD BE.” McAvoy, however, does not address this. TINA…

UPDATE Alert reader JW writes in:

One thing though – I don’t watch the show, but I did recognize the actress holding up the pad as Emily Mortimer, who plays a colleague of Daniel’s in the show (at least it seems that way from the commercials). So rather than being inspired by some random member of the audience, it could instead have been the case that the character was being fed an attention-getting response and ran with it.

Not sure, just saying that there could be a slimy undercoat to the smarm.

Oh, man. All to make “good television”? Ouch.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. skippy

    Cheap theatrics to portray America in a way it never was… dead body don’t lie and the count is increasing…

    1. pat b

      There was an awesome scene where they did a GOP Candidates primary debate
      with McAvoy grilling them. The candidates would pop off a soundbite and
      then he’d grill them. “Obama is a socialist?” “Name 4 actions of his that are socialism”. “We’re spending too much?” “Name 5 government programs that
      you would cut spending on”.

    2. Ché Pasa

      “I adore cheap theatrics!” — Unattributed show business personality.

      And no, America never was like it used to be.

      The body count was never low, the good that might have happened was always a subset of everything else — much of which was doGawful — and the propaganda was relentless, no less than it is today.

      There never was a Golden Age, though we seem intent on repeating the Gilded one with a ferocity and vengeance the old guard would find astonishing.

      Ah, but Aaron Sorkin could write a dynamite scene. None better.

      1. myshkin

        “Ah, but Aaron Sorkin could write a dynamite scene. None better.”
        If you’re willing to suspend disbelief, I find it ever more difficult to do so. Never tried the West Wing suspecting it to be a fairy tale transposing a too grim parallel reality.

      2. skippy


        I reminded of studies done wrt children growing up in houses of horrors ie incest, murder, gross physical and psychological abuse. Only to grow up and realize via the other outside world or the final outing socially of the depravity they were subjected too.

        It is said… their – greatest fear – for the – rest of their lives – is the dark knowledge that they could eventually succumb to the same.

        What many do not realize – is – that a large percentage of kids that have sexuality (or other horrors) foisted upon them at an early age…. LIKED IT… at some juncture. And even after the depravity of these acts is illuminated… somewhere down the road… they still remember when they LIKED IT.

        For those that never intrinsically accepted these acts or found any pleasure… there is still the memory of powerlessness… only the ignorant path of adaptability through experimentation… to gardener an other day of life… to limit the suffering… if such was possible.

        Skippy… it is my concerted opinion… that such is the case in the house of the ***Free Market*** it is a den of abject horror… perpetrated in the name of its owners… mental delights… a gift bequeath unto them from their forebears… the gift that keeps on giving imo…

        1. skippy

          Addendum… It is said… their – greatest fear – for the – rest of their lives – is the dark knowledge that they could eventually succumb to the same *** impulses ***

      3. nonclassical

        …but not so “great” a scene as those who “produced” manifest destiny…

        ..a “dynamite scene” if one gives away enough smallpox infested blankets..

  2. Skeptic

    Can any good come out of something as evil as television? TV was invented to solve the economic problems revealed by the Great Depression. Read the books, it is all there. WWII and the development of radar was the launching pad, paid for with public dollars, just like its successor and even more evil offspring, the INTERNET. TV was designed to make the US and World into a consumption society. What is amazing is that they did not have to give the devices away free, people actually paid hard $$$$ to get them and be programmed!

    So, the question then is can anything good come out of Evil? In the current example, I think not. When we rely on TV and its celebrities, stars to inform us as to the State of the Nation, we are in deep trouble. Of course, that trouble really started, not yesterday, but sixty-five years ago. A paltry three minutes, in a Vast Wasteland of zillions of hours of mindless, brainwashing broadcasting is a lousy return on watching investment.

    Before the Internet started stealing market share, I believe the figure was that only 1% of Americans did not own a TV. Those are the real Elite.

    1. Richard Kline

      Well, I’ve always been a 1%er in _that_ particular regard: I’ve never owned a TV. Haven’t lived anywhere where there was one in 20 years. TV is a menace to ones mental health. TV is a menace to a free society. TV is an active degrader on ones perceptual acuity (the scan lines are trance inducing, like a mild drug, and both mildly addictive and cognitively disorienting). You’re more passive and confused after you turn the TV off than you were before you turned it on. Treat it like a drug when you indulge and you’ll have the costs pegged about right.

      Now, some of the actual _programming_ might be both entertaining and even illuminating. Not that I’ve missed it: there’s an entire world of interaction everyday, and millennia of human experience recorded physically within a few miles of wherever you are. One capacitator which I have had in my possession during those 20 years is a graduate library borrowing card (you can get one with an annual fee if you do a little looking and some cheerful talking). I don’t miss having miss Seinfeld; or the City Girls; or the Sopranos. Because I watched a lot of film that was a damned sight better. And really, I’d rather use Sappho or Saint-Simon or Gramsci or Gandhi or, say, Michael Hudson for cultural references than a down-class pastiche pitched at an IQ of 91. Think about it folks. TV makes you stupid in significant part because it makes you aware of just and exactly what everyone else is aware of, and excludes what everyone else is NOT aware of. Which is just about everything. Small, little, black godbox; crawl in and pull the self-nailing lid down on top of you.

      —And that’s even before the commercial behavioral programming flashed on the back of ones retina. I haven’t the stomach to opine on that, except NO, just no. Kill your TV to save your mind. I’ve learned more from one good sunset and a glass of superior wine than I learned in the entirety of my TV watching experience.

      And regarding, tangentially, N. Stephenson’s list of Things America Does Best, he got at least two of _them_ wrong also. America does NOT make the best music in the world; that’s just stupid. It’s not even close. Bhangara is much better. Mbalax griot is vastly better. Soukous is better. The best music I’ve ever heard was Addis melismatica of the lat 60s; so much cooler than rock it’s an insult to compare the two. Ska was better than rock, and still is. The US hasn’t made a really world class sound since jazz went avant garde. I’d have to say Brasil makes the best music, in part because of the great diversity of styles. And Brasilian Portugese just sounds do damned beautful to begin with. And Samba will never, ever go out of style; you could play it in any era of human history and it would still fit in perfectly.

      And the US does NOT make the best movies in the world. Some good ones are made here, but both as an aboslute number and certainly as a percentage of production there is so much sludge that the best doesn’t pull the number up. And as far as the best of the best, the US has never pulled it’s weight either. As a proportion of quality to production, I’d have to go with the French, though currently they’ve lost their confidence and are in rather a slump. England would hold a close second, because if they have only a few of the very best, they have quite a few of the very good. English film aims high, and keeps production values solid; not pouring budgets into CG fluff, marketing, and rake-offs to the studios.

      The US does many things well. And true, most societies overrate themselves. That said, Americans are so genuinely ignorant of other societies that our own self-assessments simply can’t be taken at anything close to ninety-nine cents on the dollar. I doubt that Icelanders judge themselves as world’s best in anything except gleaning eggs from cliff-lodged bird’s nests, but I’d easily place their society _well ahead_ of anything the US has done.

      1. Richard Kline

        And Heaven’s, I neglected to mention Nuevo Flamenco. A better sound than any music in the US in the last 40 years.

        Sure, some American music is quite good. It’s just not the _best_.

      2. susan the other

        +100 Richard. I’d just like to add that this Jeff Daniels clip is good but it is just a variation on a theme of the once and future greatest nation. I was always annoyed by Brokaw’s greatest generation campaign because, although we had a vilified enemy in Hitler, the generation that fought with courage and conviction to help win the war was as duped as any generation. The conscientious objectors were as vilified as Hitler. The real enemy was uncontrolled capitalism and all the vicious, cut-throat competing interests – and we still have not addressed this trend, except to gut our own economy and send all our jobs overseas to prime the global pump. It didn’t work. All we have achieved is an environmental disaster. I’m sorry, no music makes me euphoric.

      3. Bruno Marr

        Although I’ve not kept a complete quarantine, I, too, have never owned a TeeVee. And, while I agree with you on your music assessments. It’s important to recognize the music (polyphony) that we enjoy today is a fairly recent invention (
        Renaissance) The deeper you go into human history the closer music is aligned with spiritual endeavor (see: India, about 2K YA)

        That aside, “popular music” (pop tunes) has no where near the musical sophistication of Mozart, Jazz, or Jobim.

    2. myshkin

      I don’t own a tv and haven’t for decades though I got a good dose of it in my formative years which probably explains a lot. I agree with much of what you said, when I encounter a tv these days I realize there are now hundreds of channels available and most of it is brain destroying crap. I think I remember when the internet was a quite useful technology it is now as disturbing as tv.

      It is however useful to recall Melvin Kranzberg’s six laws of technology.

      1 Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
      2 Invention is the mother of necessity.
      3 Technology comes in packages, big and small.
      4 Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
      5 All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
      6 Technology is a very human activity – and so is the history of technology.

      Not sure five is right but one certainly is.

      1. proximity1

        “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”

        Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/the-most-honest-three-minutes-in-television-history.html#eVmAGfjcjyWq37xj.99

        “Niether good nor bad” is utterly beside the point. “Technology” is “neither good nor bad”? So what? So it’s inevitably both “good” and “bad”.

        The question is, rather, “What aspects of it are useful or not harmful and which aspects are harmful, and how and why are they harmful?

        Thus, its being “not neutral” is the vital aspect. Our atttention ought to be on all that is “not neutral” about “technology”– i.e. practically everything about it.

        In U.S. culture, which embraces technology unconditionally, those questions are taboo. In U.S. culture two of the most terrible things one may be accused of are 1) being accused of being an “anti-semite” and being accused of being a “Luddite.” From those, there is no social redemption without a full sincere admission of sin and recanting.

        1. myshkin

          ” ‘Niether good nor bad’ is utterly beside the point.” Actually directly to the point of the sub-thread question posited by skeptic,”Can any good come out of something as evil as television?”

          “The question is, rather, ‘What aspects of it are useful or not harmful and which aspects are harmful, and how and why are they harmful?'”
          Are you talking about content or technology? It is actually important to establish that technology is inherentlty neither good, bad nor neutral. It establishes parameters for the question raised by skeptic.

          McLuhan of course had a lot to say on this. TV as a technology is not inherently evil, neither is it neutral. But here, on this thread, I think we’re talking about content not technology.

          1. proximity1

            By technology I mean any technology–whether that is material or immaterial technology. Television is both of these–it is the physical receivers in the home, it is the transmission networks and their hardware and software, and, not least, it is the data transmitted, the programmed “content”–that, too, is part of the technology taken in a broad sense.

            To make a fine distinction between television technology’s physical aspects and its non-material “content” is both needless and mistaken conceptually.

            Postman expressly takes language (in this instance, he refers to human language) as one of the most important of technologies. Whether that is correct or not, my comments include both the physical and non-physical aspects.

          2. proximity1

            P.S. For me, television technology is inherently harmful: destructive, socially and individually.

            I know, of course, that there are those who claim, in so many words, “Oh, I use television, yes; but I use it with discrimination and care. I don’t allow myself to be abused by it as a medium.”

            Such people are among technology’s (and television’s) biggest dupes and victims. They are self-deluded and think they have insight into themselves precisely where they are pitifully lacking in it.

            1. myshkin

              “To make a fine distinction between television technology’s physical aspects and its non-material “content” is both needless and mistaken conceptually.”

              I disagree, it is significantly different. Language broadly is of course technology. Presumably the advent of written language, another technology, did not change Homer’s story of the Trojan War (well of course it did) but the critical effect of the end of the oral tradition on culture and civilization was immense. If I remember correctly, according to McLuhan, a cultural and civilization altering event, as was radio, televison and now the internet, etc.

              TV makes viewers passive consumers; reading and even radio, more an oral medium, require a contribution of the consumer’s imagination in visualization. TV technology leads to a docility in the consumer. From that effect then move on to TV content which, is not technology.

              As it reveals and forms our culture, content can only charitably be described as ‘a vast cultural wasteland.’ A propaganda tool for corporate consumer culture.

              If television content was regulated (issues of censorship immenseley complicate such a project) and as a hypothesis, programming was limited to four stations, c-span coverage of congress, poetry readings, an all Beckett all the time station and educational programming on economic theory, I doubt I would be very much concerned about the passivity induced by the technology.

              What has turned the medium into something that might be called ‘evil’ is not the technology, it is an economic system that has more or less rampaged through every other worthy human project.

              Which reminds me of an addition to the limited list of things the US does better than anyone else, propaganda.

    3. TimR

      “So, the question then is can anything good come out of Evil? In the current example, I think not. When we rely on TV and its celebrities, stars to inform us as to the State of the Nation, we are in deep trouble.”

      What strikes me is that the “regular joes” “waking up” to this realization (long known to people who read) need a slick TV show to make them believe it… They are still at the teat of the Authority Figure, the Officially Sanctioned Reality. This “meme” is not some alternative voice on youtube. Those types, like NC, require being able to reason for oneself and not rely on Official Word from the big corporate media as to what to believe. The alternative types still can’t get acceptance from the broader public because they don’t have the proper corporate and government symbols behind them to “prove” their credibility. The sheeple wander blindly and need these cues before they sign on with some critical viewpoint.

      Beyond that, the clip itself is still loaded with all this sappy TV land sentimentalism and elisions, which Lambert and others have picked apart.

      Somebody on here mentioned that a later episode seems to foreshadow NSA surveillance revelations? That and scenes like this clip, seem to suggest the backers/creators are playing with “predictive programming” or social conditioning of some sort… I’m not an expert on it but as I understand Hollywood works with govt propaganda types to shape consensus reality, prep the public, “foam the runway” for policy etc.

      1. Quoz

        Youtube? How is showing your fealty to one coporate megalith rather than another a gesture of personal independence?

        1. TimR

          Okay, but lots of independent journalists and critics post their stuff on Youtube; I’m saying it’s interesting people aren’t talking about those voices, but rather a highly produced TV show.

          Likewise there are good independent bloggers that use Google’s Blogspot service, these are practical matters of necessity.

      1. nonclassical

        ..no tv in our home, since Murdoch media discontinued channel “International News Network” at behest of bush-cheney during Iraq invasion…I was one who “called in” to speak with J Paul Bremer, as a result of call in on I.N.N.

        Needless to say, he obfuscated…

        soon after Direct TV dropped I.N.N., and we dropped DTV…

      2. Waking Up

        I don’t put a lot of credence into the “I don’t own a T.V.” in regards to whether someone is exposed to propaganda or even the main stream media. Why? Because they can stream television shows on the internet or listen to the radio, check their phone, etc. So, for those who say they don’t watch television, I would think a follow-up would be to ask whether they avoid the home page of internet sites such as Yahoo, Huffington Post, etc., with “entertainment, sports, “news”, and politics and generally anything which conveys a form of propaganda.

      3. jrs

        Maybe this basic principle applies to TV: if you aren’t paying for it maybe you’re the product. Now one’s data isn’t necessarily sold as when that criticique is made of say FB, but one is still a product – for marketing.

        So the answer is … I dont’ know find out a way to pay for it in full, no other profits allowed, no product placement for instance etc.. The very consolidation of ownership makes it push a corporate view even if that was the case though. Is t.v. a natural monopoly? And if so, can that type of natural monopolies every truely be decentralized, made to serve the people not the elite (I mean even if it just serves them silly sitcoms – I just want them without ruling class bias).

    4. Terry David

      I have a TV. The family bought it new about the time I was born in 1962. It was American made, and In Color! Its round, vivid screen provided me with an alternate view of the world.

      On that TV my family watched Jack Paar. We watched Walter Cronkite deliver the news: news of JFK; civil rights marches; people getting angry and rioting, protesting the Viet Nam war and protests at the Democratic National convention. We watched it as news of RFK’s and MLK’s assassinations hit the airwaves. And we watched as environmental activists protested to preserve and reclaim our nation’s natural beauty.

      On that TV we watched John Glenn’s ascent into space and into orbit. We watched as humankind landed on the moon. Also on that TV I watched Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne sing. We watched All In The Family on that TV. And Mary Tyler Moore. We watched PBS for National Geographic specials, Jacob Bronowski’s “Ascent of Man,” and Masterpiece Theatre’s “I Claudius.”

      On that TV I saw movies on TV like “The Day The Earth Stood Still” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Forbidden Planet.” We watched Johnny Carson. We watched Nixon’s resignation speech. We saw the election of that underdog, Jimmy Carter. We watched “60 Minutes” for our fill of TV Journalism.

      But then, on that TV, we watched an Iranian hostage crisis unfold. By then, that TV’s tubes were weakening, its aging round CRT growing dim and less vivid. In its last days we watched as Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority hectored us on what was moral. And upon the shooting of Reagan, that TV bore witness to Al Haig bounding up to the podium to exclaim “I’m in charge here!”

      That last scene seemed too much for our beloved Danish Modern Living Color friend. Soon thereafter, it’s picture flickered and faded to dark.

      I still have that TV. The beautiful and tasteful cabinet gives witness to its animated former vitality. I’ve collected all the parts to restore it, but I fear what it reveals will be too much contrast for it -and me.

      1. shinola

        Thank you Terry.
        I rarely post but the “I don’t own a TV…” thing just sets me off.
        I came back to this to go into a screed about the snobby, elitest attitude displayed by some here.
        I am glad that someone else does not see only the warts.
        No more need for the screed.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          You’re arguing that the 35% of those aged 18 to 36 who say they could live without a TV are elitist? Don’t elites typically form a smaller percentage of the population?

        2. Terry David

          Not to put too fine a point on it, but my programming references are all touchstones that reflected large and relevant cultural change in a truly dynamic society (an era, if you recall, that Lewis Powell feared would lead to the loss of corporate control over the nation http://billmoyers.com/content/the-powell-memo-a-call-to-arms-for-corporations/ ). Remember that the TV was the only screen available in the home. There were 3 sources of fresh programming. And there were the New Deal FCC enforced “Fairness Doctrine” and Pubic Service requirement for every broadcaster, And just enough of the broadcasters took their responsibility seriously enough to bring perspective-changing programming to the people (and have the critical mass of $ to do it).

          In that light, of people I knew without TVs, maybe one was elitist, the other two were religious separatists.

          From a Young Person’s [YP] perspective (I asked one of those YPs) TV ownership has become a trivial question. In a sea of choices, the “boob tube” has become merely irrelevant. To many, the Propaganda Networks are quite obviously that. The separatists don’t “tune out” any more, they go to the WWW fringe. And no, the U.S.A. isn’t automatically #1 to YPs I’ve spoken with. Many share the idealist-turned-cynic point of view many of us remember from the 1970’s (you know– the one Reagan “saved” us from). Clips from the movie “Network” show how early (1976) the U.S.A. was in decline. After of a decade or two of delusions of grandeur made possible by a combination of nearly free energy from Alaska/ North Sea and the collapse of a truly ossified experiment of merged economics & governance (hint-hint! Dangerous things to come!), The decline since picked up where it left off. Ned Beatty/Arthur Jensen’s international corporate cabal is now our over-arching system of governance, each nation’s governors merely in charge of how they frame their individual national exceptionalism.

          Perhaps to the YPs, it is not cynical at all. It’s just realistic. It’s cynical only when one has internalized cultural ideals of morality, altruism and greatness through national myth and actual witness– only to find that you were snookered throughout your young life and your nation’s truly exceptional events are now long past. Ask me how I know. . .

  3. dearieme

    “we cultivated the world’s greatest artists”: what on earth does he mean?

    “There’s only four things we do better than anyone else:
    music …”: but they’re dead, your Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Rogers, Joplin, Ellington, Waller; your Armstrong, Bechet, Morton, Beiderbecke, Teagarden, Goodman … Soon they’ll seem as remote as Schubert. And as unknown to most Americans.

    1. Stan Musical

      I’ll second that. Greatest music? Maaaybe if you mean pop music; I’m no expert. I am however pretty well versed in music of the traditional variety (classical and folks musics) of numerous countries, and while the US ranks with any country in the quality of our orchestras, we don’t equal Europe or Russia in the depth of excellent (and below) classical musicians. As far as “ethnic” classical music, to take just three examples I’m pretty familiar with–India, China, and Japan–there’s really no comparison, there can’t be when the countries have one to three THOUSAND years of music history as well as a rigorousness of training that equals or exceeds that of our classical musicians.

      And as to appreciation of music, while the numerous countries I’m familiar with in Europe and Asia are “catching up,” American tastes are generally middlebrow at best.

      As to film aka movies, I guess if bigger (and often dumber) is better, than Hollywood takes the cake. USA, USA!

      While here, I’ll second also that this segment leads with criticism but ends with praise (even if, as you point out, the praise is often referring to the past). That really dampens the effect of the criticism; and that is reinforced by the jingoistic reactions of the others. The subtext IMO is that America is still the bestest place on Earth.

      1. Stan Musical

        Lest I seem too “down on America,” gods forbid, one can’t mention American music without reference to Jazz. A true musical gift to the world (except when it’s bad, in which case it’s really bad). And IME American musicians, regardless of the genre, can *really* swing, even when it’s not called for–another plus, anyway. This, to me at least, is the best part of the rap I’ve heard, along with the linguistic inventiveness; too bad the content often ranges from lowbrow to offensive.

        But (here I go again), as with any type of music that requires active listening, and maybe some thinking to boot, other cultures do better, or at least try harder, than we do. Don’t forget a number of Jazzers had/have had to leave the US to get an audience.

    2. lambert strether

      Probably the New York School, when Manhattan really was the capital [both senses] of the world. Pop, including Andy Warhol, was no slouch either. A pardonable exagerration on McAvoy’s part.

    3. JCC

      Strictly as an aside and just a little off-topic, I think some of you are being a little unfair to American music. As far as classical music is concerned, let’s not forget that Mozart and Beethoven were the Beatles and Pink Floyd(s) of their day and were considered “middle-brow” by many of the “high-brows” of those days… particularly the various leaders of the various Churches.

      Although people like Porter, Rogers, Ellington, Armstrong, Bechet, Beiderbecke, Teagarden, Goodman and others may be gone, they probably will not be forgotten. And there are many others today that are following in their footsteps and building on the genre of American folk, rock, jazz, and the fusion of these.

      You may want to spend a few weekends listening to Nick Spitzer and American Routes, among others, and catch up a little.

  4. NotSoSure

    Gangnam Style says that even music will be tumbling down soon :) “oopa gangnam style ……”

    I would add a fifth thing to the list: ability to wage war. If all else fails, the US can still bomb the rest of the world to the Flintstone age again.

    1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

      I just checked-up on GANGNAM-style: 1,745,948,549 views and over 6 millions comments. I like somewhat at least one Lady Gaga song, “Bad Romance”, just checked: 527,954,844 views at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I . The suggestive song to me suggests to let go of my inhibitions and fantasize (not that act on that but anyway). In France, sexuality is “very up to you” , at least according to reports of topless beaches (normal) on Cote d’Azur , then a nude beach + exhibitionist and sub-part “Baie des cochons” aka “Bay of Pigs” (France) that ummhh.. The video-part is pervert/”over the top” a bit for me, and the rhythm/beat/music is pretty good 4 me. Gaga can say well “Je veux ton amour” . Also, tastes change with the generations and new-hat “supplants” or is more “a la mode” than old-hat.

    2. just me

      If all else fails, the US can still bomb the rest of the world to the Flintstone age again.

      American exceptionalism — thinking we can bomb the rest of the world without killing ourselves.

      Daniel Ellsberg: Edward Teller used to say, “Only a quarter of humanity would be destroyed” if his weapons – he was known as the father of the H-bomb – were used. But even that was totally mistaken, because that calculation was made before the effects of smoke from these burning cities was taken into account. It was not 600 million that was at stake, it was all of humanity. And they didn’t know that.

      From here: http://correntewire.com/daniel_ellsberg_others_arrested_at_hiroshima_day_protest_at_lawrence_livermore_interview_transcript

      But when three pacifists, including an 82-year-old nun, protested at a Tennessee nuclear bomb plant, they were arrested and convicted as terrorists and now face 30 years in prison. By a security fail, they got in farther than was good for the optics, so, you know, roll heads and that’ll fix it.

      Ralph Hitchison: You can’t make the bomb plant in Oak Ridge secure any more than our nuclear weapons make us secure as a people, because the more nuclear weapons we have, the more other countries want them or feel they need them, and theirs are pointed at us.

      From http://correntewire.com/in_which_an_83_year_old_nun_is_convicted_of_terrorism_her_weapon_is_white_roses_and_the_jury_is_not

  5. S Haust

    Yesterday there was a link to a New York Times article on the relationship
    (or lack thereof) between the Obama administration and clemency. Maybe that
    is not exactly the right hook for my little comment and story but it’s close
    enough. One of the things that constantly strikes me about NC is the
    pervasive feeling of being “down on America”. Of course, I know that this is
    not so and that what Yves and others are “down on” are the destroyers and the
    process of destroying the America that we all knew such a short few years ago.
    Hence my little story of decency and then I will lapse into more negativity.

    First of all, I live a mere 15 miles outside of a “major” northeastern,
    sometimes considered midwestern city. I moved to this spot when it was still
    very rural and that was a long time ago. Since then it has been built up in
    suburbs and strip development. Quite a few of the housing plans are inhabited
    by financial and business elites and not-quite-elites. Houses in some of them
    range $600 to $700 thousand and up (and sometimes up more) That’s a lot for
    here. For instance, a few years ago a local farm of 100 acres or so went under
    the hammer and is now a development called “The Summit”. You can just guess
    what that is like. My “neighbor” to the rear is North American CFO of a
    well-known multinational corporation.

    On the other hand, the spot where I am, because of its history and terrain has
    retained something of a semi-rural character. Lots are large, houses are modest
    and families who get in rarely leave. It is common for houses and land
    to pass from one generation to the next and there is a lot of open and forested
    space. The inhabitants range from small-time professionals and business people
    (chemist, network tech, landscaper) to laborers, clerical, service, etc. In
    other words, solidly working and middle class. Many are retired. I was, myself,
    a sea-going radio-electronics officer (Morse code, “over” and all that).

    Now for the little story. The other day, I backed my garden tractor into a ditch.
    No harm done but it must have looked really bad from the road about 70 yards
    away. Now, I’m “pretty old” and I’ve had a bad cold, so I just didn’t feel like
    pulling it out right away, though I could have done so fairly easily. No matter,
    during the course of yesterday, four different people showed up with offers of
    help to pull the tractor out. I really know only one of them, my next door
    neighbor. As for the others, I don’t know them personally but I know bits
    and pieces about them. I know people whom they know. One lives a couple of miles
    away at the top of Mink Farm Road. Another is the son of a lady who directed
    the arts program at the local high school. Another is a local plumber who said,
    before leaving, that his “heart felt better” once he knew I hadn’t been hurt.
    All are young and strong; nobody wanted to be paid. These are the kind of people
    you would know from the writings of Henry David Thoreau, except that now their
    world is far different than that. What I’m getting at is that these people are
    the real strength of America, its muscle and blood and brains. Which now leads
    me back to the mention of clemency and mercy and back to awareness of our elites.

    One thing common to all these people is that none seems sure of what is
    happening to them, economically and otherwise. None seems to be a reader of NC,
    though that was not mentioned. All are people who just want to get on with their
    lives, do their jobs and be of help to others. I can say that about almost any
    of my neighbors. But they will know eventually what is happening to them at the
    hands of people like Barack Obama, Larry Summers, Hillary Clinton, Michael Hayden,
    Jamie Dimon, etc, etc.. It really makes me wonder what they will do when they
    realize the truth. Will they expect or show clemency and mercy? Among themselves,
    probably yes. From some of the elites as mentioned above? Towards the elites,
    if fallen? I don’t know and I don’t know anyone who does know. But compare my
    neighbors, nearby and farther away (and yours) with the list of prominent
    individuals named above. You can make your own list and if you rank it in
    descending order of vileness, I will not dispute your choices. Larry Summers,
    for instance, is nothing but a huge sack of pus and Hillary is simply unspeakable.
    I should leave this topic now so I don’t get too carried away but my point is
    that if you look away from the people who are most mentioned in American public
    life, even in NC, you can get a view of the people who are the real strength of
    America. Then you have to wonder what will happen to them and what they will do
    in light of the despicable behavior of those in elite positions of power and

    1. from Mexico

      Your comment reminded me of something from Machiavelli’s The Prince:

      Besides, it is impossible to satisy the nobles fairly without injuring others, whereas it is indeed possible to do so with respect to the people, for their wishes have more right, since they seek to avoid oppression while the nobles seek to oppress. It should also be noted that a prince can never be secure against a hostile population because it is numerous, whereas he can be secure against the nobles because they are few.

    2. hunkerdown

      “Will they expect or show clemency and mercy? […] Towards the elites, if fallen? I don’t know and I don’t know anyone who does know.”

      If they do, it will be a terrible strategic mistake. Had there been proper and thorough house-cleaning in popular revolutions, the art and science of maintaining a ruling class might have been lost or weakened by now, instead of having developed resistance to the antibiotic of popular will.

    3. lee

      The negativity herein is indeed a call to institutionalized moral improvement. Criticism generally implies a positive alternative. Our elites and some portions of our populace appear to have gone quite mad and if we appear at present to be capable of nothing else then we can at least bear witness and comment.

      Your tale of neighborly concern and kindness offered by strangers reminds me of a short story that I highly recommend, Lie Thee Down, Oddity by T.F Powys which you may read at the link below:


  6. craazyman

    the top 10 reasons why America is the greatest country in the world

    Reason #10

    Reason #9
    Where else can you play beach volleyball drinking Budweiser!

    Reason #8
    What other white Christian nation would elect an African-born Muslim as president? C’mon guys, don’t be so skeptical

    Reason #7
    Once you get rich, the govermint helps you stay rich. No matter how dumb your investments were!

    Reason #6
    We landed men on the moon and returned them to earth and then we forgot why we did it!

    Reason #5
    Who invented surfing? Hawaiians that’s who. And Hawaiii is in America!

    Reason #4
    You can get through American college and business school and still be a moron. Why is that great? It sounds impossible to do, but we do it every year.

    Reason #3
    If you look at a globe, America is usually pointed toward you and China is all the way on the other side pointing away from you. That should tell you something.

    Reason #2
    Why else would millions of illegal immigrants want to come here?

    and Reason #1 why America is the greatest country in the world . . . drum roll please . . .

    ON Sunday you can go to church, the gun shop, the tattoo parlor then pick up a case of beer and still catch the 4 pm football game!!

    1. Richard Kline

      If there is one regard in which I, personally, would vote for America as No. 1, it’s in our sense of humor. Yes, yes, humor doesn’t cross cultural bariers easily, so comparisons are difficult. There are few cultures so willing to make fun of themselves, and of absolutely every aspect of their society as American culture. And in a good spirit, too. American’s can be sarcastic, but American humor never stays nasty for long if it goes there at all. ‘Just funnin” is the prime chord. Nobody in America is so high and mighty they can tell you not to crack a joke, perhaps that’s part of it. No institution, class, individual, or tradition which can’t be mocked and hasn’t been.

      I will ever love America’s ‘Big Grin’ sense of humor. . . . The Irish are pretty damned good at it too: maybe we cadged it from them. Nobody does black humor like the Russians, not close: nobody has as much reason to. Few do ‘zany’ like the Chinese when they let their guard down. Wit in Classical Hellas was justly famous; the French keep the tradition alive, or at least pretend to.

      1. susan the other

        Interesting point about the differences in humor. I’ve been watching MHz late nite serials. Usually crimi serials from Scandinavia and Italy; some way good stuff from France. I was really taken by the stuff from Korea, no emotional translation required; and from Japan (they are a little too oppressed for anything funny); but Taiwan was downright Dada. Loved it. I’d like to see some Chinese humor – because all I have seen are their extremely beautiful big productions of the triumph of mythological good, etc. Beautiful cinematics. Not sure where they are going with it. And it just struck me that by comparison our cinema is more humorless than the rest of the world. Even tho’ we are very funny and ridiculous people.

        1. skippy

          It is woven into almost every act, every utterance, an act of self diminishment, taking the piss out of oneself, I am no better than anyone else… although there are a few try hard’s.

          We recently had a few US marines rock up to port and were nice enough… cough… ordered to engage in making friendly with the natives thingy. Anywho they come down to my sons Rugby club for a Friday night friendly match and as we were there for kids footy practice, I took the opportunity to engage a few in English conversation.

          Long story short… after sorting through the ears pinned back mob (grunts), I was able to converse with a few “O” types and techies… man were they jittery… terrorist around every corner or the political officer might dislike their tenor stuff.

          The priceless moment was when we were talking about our resent flood and it effects on the football grounds, which broadened into the over all community, the outpouring of spontaneous goodwill in the community, across all social classes to those affected… to whit… it was said “that would not happen in America”.

          skippy… It was a somber moment… I still feel the twang of lost hopes pain… in its recanting… their young eyes desperately seeking… validation of whom they were… and if they were upon the right path… been there done that… stuff.

      2. Whistling in the Dark

        You know, it seems rather hard to say exactly what humor is. (Say, from an evolutionary perspective?) But maybe it has something to do with the fact that humans are always (if you will allow the premise) spinning fantastic lies among one another — socializin and all that. Perhaps humor is when in a social setting, the thick buttery lies get cut through to reveal a the crisp toastiness of reality beneath! And, as a hypothesis, it has something to suggest itself in your notion that America is funny: Well, we are also pretty fkkking great at PR — we spread the BS on thick! You know, in this discussion about what America is “number one” in, I haven’t seen “sales” yet: as in, we’ve got to be tops in salesmen, right? An untruthful society, I mean, ought to be the best at kidding. And more than that: we need some guffaws to break the desperate tension of “making the sale” every now and then. Cuz, in sales, while, you know, everyone wants to be the most cut-throat, smash-mouth and hungry of the bunch — gor for the win!! — well, it pays to want to be liked, too. You got to build that trust. Humor — and I’m not just saying shttty attempts at it! — is pretty crucial there. Again, the hypothesis: Humor says, amid the bullshtt, “hey, let’s cut the bullshtt.” Even if, you know (and I know), well start layin it on again in a minute.

    2. craazyboy

      Agree with your top ten of course, craazyman.

      But really, there are more than 10 reasons why we are the greatest.

      11) We invented the cure for Erectile Disfunction.

      12) America is the only country where you can be a right wing fascist AND a follower of Jesus Christ.

      13) If you lose your cellphone, you can visit or write the NSA and get it’s GPS coordinates.

      14) If you can’t find a job, the Army will hire you – even if you are a girl. (or have plans to be one someday)

      Probably lots more reasons we just take for granted.

      BTW: The reason all the illegal immigrants move here is because it’s the only place where the government cares about getting their vote!

        1. craazyman

          He ran away from home at 17 to Las Vegas to work in a strip club and drink Budweiser while dating the staff.

          It was a great burden of worry for me as well as source of some degree of envy.

          I’m just relieved to hear from him!

          1. craazyboy

            Miss Mobius and her twin sister Esha Print say hi, and peek-a-boo, craazyman.

            BTW: Dumped Bud for some local brew pub stuff – “Hineykin”. Knocks you on your ass!

            Had my list of ways to waste time trimmed a bit lately. About 8 weeks ago started a new workout program at the gym. It’s the one commonly used by superhero crime fighter types. 8 weeks later I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt like an upside down turtle, but instead of having a shell, I had a mass of convulsing muscle in my lower back region. Today, seven days later, is the first day I could put my shoes on. Underwear was a challenge too, but at least there’s no shoestrings to tie with those.

            Hope everything is well in Gotham, er, I mean NYC.

            Keep trying to get rich. It’s the trying that’s the satisfying part, they say. (at least all my old bosses said that)

            1. skippy

              Curses you… convulsions… not unlike history’s bed partner.. one debilitated individual of double groin injury and myself as motorcycle tragical victim internal bleeding stuff… yet… whence nurse came to bath… we would commence to allegory’s deeds…. done behind curtain…

              skippy… we suffered together and it as grand!!!

      1. craazyboy

        15) The Renaissance Fair – Once a year, the proles get to dress up as kings, queens, dukes, earls,duchesses and barons. No one is beheaded, drawn&quartered or half-hung. Bud or Miller Lite is served for $5 in a plastic cup. Limit two per Nobel person.

      2. ex-PFC Chuck

        “11) We invented the cure for Erectile Disfunction.”

        However, we have not yet invented a cure for Electile Dysfunction.

        1. craazyboy

          wondered why my spellchecker was complaining about that one. it did pass me on the “it’s” vs “its” boo-boo, tho.

          but ok. therapy, therapy and more therapy…..

  7. Cassiodorus

    We live in an era of decline. America has nothing to be proud of right now. It’s a country of idiot savants who can provide the proxy force for the transnational capitalist class but who can’t mitigate global warming and whose solution to its own “health insurance” crisis is to mandate the purchase of Bronze Plans.

  8. from Mexico

    Every country has its national mythology.

    When a nation becomes extremely powerful the national mythology tends towards the extreme, or even ridiculous. “We find it almost as difficult as the communitst to believe that anyone could think ill of us,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr in 1952, “since we are as persuaded as they that our society is so essentially virtuous that only malice could prompt criticism of any of our actions.”

    Not everyone who lives within a great and powerful nation, however, buys into the national mythology. As James Baldwin wrote in 1962:

    The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world’s most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that… The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.

    –JAMES BALDWIN, The Fire Next Time

    I think this was the great tragedy that befell Martin Luther King, and what separates a person like King from a person like President Obama. “The American racial revolution has been a revolution to ‘get in’ rather than to overthrow,” King once wrote. And indeed he spent his lifetime in the struggle of black folks to “get in.” But towards the end of his life, I think he began to quesiton: “Get into what?” The culmination of this line of soul-searching was his fateful sermon “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.” To me it is one of the greatest speeches ever given in American history, and can be heard live here:


    “But the day has passed for superficial patriotism,” King exorted. “This reveals that millions have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth partiotism, to the high grounds of firm dissent, based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.” “The truth must be told,” King continues, “and I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war in Vietnam is a fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.”

    This sermon, even though it solidified King’s place in history as a moral giant, nevertheless banished him from America’s power structure. “He knowingly and willingly burnt his bridges to the source of power in the United States,” observes Richard Lischer. “And he did so because, as he said, ‘I am a minister of the gospel, and I must tell that truth.’ ” http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/transcripts/hour-five.html

    1. MikeNY

      King’s speech is indeed a magnificent piece of oratory, morally searing and profound. It gave me chills.

      From Mexico, politics is the art of the possible, and there is no question that the political structure in this country is very morally compromised, to put it kindly. To seek and win political office in this country means, eo ipso, to compromise morally. Obama knows this; I read a while back about lengthy and serious conversations he’s had with Michelle over the years on the issue, about whether it was worth the inevitable dirt and compromise to attempt to make incremental change *from within* the system.

      I am not saying that Obama has done enough, or even tried hard enough. I *am* saying that I firmly believe he is aware of, and consciously chose, the unavoidable moral dirtiness of politics. It is not the choice King made, and so we respect King as a great moral leader: a prophet and a martyr. But no MLK would be elected to the Presidency in this country, not in 1964, and certainly not today.

      This unhappy choice — between sullied politician, or moral purity and perhaps martyrdom — is I believe, is an element of the unavoidable imperfection of human history.

      What do you think?

      1. from Mexico

        I believe what we get out of Obama is a lot of hypocisy.

        There are two competing traditions of the origins of political power. One tradition is that political power, as Mao Zedong so famously put it, “grows from the barrel of a gun.” The other tradition, which is no less old and time-honored, is that political power comes from the consent of the governed: the people are supposed to rule those who govern them.

        Obama claims to hail from the latter school. But actions also speak, and they say something quite different from what comes out of Obama’s mouth. All evidence and observation can only lead to one conclusion: Obama is quite content in demanding the unquestioning obedience, at least when it comes to his dealings with the little people, which only an act of violence can exact.

        As to my own beliefs regarding the two competing traditions, I believe that both are partially true, and that a great leader finds a balance between coercive power and persuasive power. Unfortunately, I think what we get out of Obama comes a lot closer to Mao Zedong than King.

        Jonathan Schell notes that John Stewart Mill believed

        the most powerful people seemed to be those who, whether in government or out, had the capacity to create or do something that inspired the respect, admiration, loyalty, faith — of others. Power, according to this conception, which dovetails closely with Arendt’s, begins with the capacity to create or discover something (including, for example, a republic) that other people cannot help but love — a definition about as far as one can get from A.J.P Taylor’s “organizations of war” or Jouvenel’s “to command and be obeyed.” …

        [T]o call such a person powerful is admitedly to flirt with paradox. Why insist on this word to describe the phenomenon? Wouldn’t it be better to reserve the word, as is so often done, for those who occupy high positions in government or command tank divisions, and leave it at that?

        The events of our time, however, rule out this reversion. For in our day the dual aspect of power lies not only in the uses of the word but in the new phenomena it must describe. The power that flows upward from the consent, support, and nonviolent activity of the people is not the same as the power that flows downward from the state by virtue of its command over the instruments of force, and yet the two kinds of power contend in the same world for the upper hand, and the seemingly weaker one can, it turns out, defeat the seemingly stronger, as the dissolution of the British Raj and the Soviet Union showed. Therefore, although it may lead to paradox and linguistic tangles to speak of martyrs as being more “powerful” than the authorities who put them to death, the exercise is inescapable. For it is indeed a frequent mistake of the powers that be to imagine that they can accomplish or prevent by force what a Luther, Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, or a Havel can inspire by example. The prosperous and mighty of our day still live at a dizzying height above the wretched of the earth, yet the latter have made their will felt in ways that have already changed history, and can change it more.

        –JONATHAN SHELL, The Unconquerable World

        1. MikeNY

          Wrt Shell (I agree on his view of what constitutes power), I thought of this from SK’s Journals: “The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.”

          I confess I find Obama’s response to the NSA fiasco very disturbing.

          But I had been thinking more of civil rights and economic justice. And there, while I have been disappointed with the lack of progress, especially on economic justice, I do not know, and I continually question, how much progress is possible while working *within* a system that seems not only corrupt, but corrupting. I would submit that Gandhi, Luther, and MLK (and Havel, initially) operated outside their systems. And there, perhaps, I have my answer.

          Thank you for your response.

          1. from Mexico

            If you haven’t already read it, you might want to take a look at King’s “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence.”


            I think one can glean from it that the two major influences on King were Gandhi and Reinhold Niebuhr, even though, as King notes, he and Niebuhr parted ways on the use of violence. Nevertheless, as James Melvin Washington has pointed out:

            Throughout the course of their history, black congregations suffered greatly under the persecution of white terrorists who murdered their members, leaders, and neighbors. These racists destroyed black properties while espousing platitudes about justice and freedom for all. In fact, while this tragic drama was in process, most white moderates — with the exception of those such as Reinhold Niebuhr, who early encouraged blacks to embrace nonviolent resistence — had the audacity to insist that black Christians should be paragons of the faith.

            –JAMES MELVIN WASHINGTON, A Testament of Hope

            Niebuhr’s influence on King becomes manifest in the “Why I Am Opposed to the Vietnam War” sermon. This, for instance, is pure Niebuhr:

            A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

            In the video Jenny asks: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?” An audience member holds up a sign that reads “IT’S NOT.” And she follows this with another sign that says “BUT IT COULD BE.”

            But here’s the rub: In America there’s not a great deal of agreement on what “the greatest country in the world” SHOULD BE. King deftly dodges this question, however, not by driving home what true justice and and a great America SHOULD BE, but what it CANNOT POSSIBLY BE.

            This comes right straight out of Niebuhr’s playbook. As David Novak explains:

            The second way to be opposed to idolatry is to be repulsed by it because it substitutes falsehood for truth. But doesn’t that mean one has to be able to affirm the truth beforehand? Let me here use the analogy of the relation of justice to injustice, which is quite appropriate here considering Niebuhr’s connection of injustice and idolatry.

            Plato argued in the Republic that injustice can only be known as a privation of true justice. Thus one can infer from his or her knowledge of justice what is in-justice, but one cannot infer from one’s experience of injustice what true justice is. But without knowledge of what true justice is, one might very well conclude that the social violence we usually call “injustice” is not, in fact, the obverse of a higher state of affairs called “justice.” Instead, it is the fundamentally irrational human condition we try to muddle through somehow or other, but without any hope of actual resolution. We usually call this attitude “moral cynicism.”

            But what if one’s revulsion at the violence and irrationality of injustice leads one to at least hope that, as the Talmud puts it, “from the negative you can hear the positive” (B. Nedarim 11a)? Here one’s revulsion is not cynical – it is hopeful (see Psalms 27:13-14). One hopes that there is true justice, even though one does not yet know it, not having experienced it yet. At this stage, one is no longer a cynic, one is a questioner who can now say, “I don’t know whether there is true justice or not, but if there is true justice, this violent state of affairs could not be it.”

            Unlike a cynic, who usually denies the possibility of anything to relieve his or her cynicism, a questioner is open to the possibility of something better. In other words, even a hypothetical affirmation of justice – and hope is always hypothetical – can give one a reason to revolt against what is real injustice. Hope is always hypothetical. It is faith that is certain (see B. Berakhot 4a). And one can have hope even as one questions whether what one hopes for actually exists. But, without that hopeful hypothesis, one’s moral revulsion against injustice is but impotent rage against what one thinks can never be changed.


          2. Whistling in the Dark


            Kierkegaard? Or did I miss something? I suppose he ended up a bit of a martyr, didn’t he?

            1. Whistling in the Dark

              …unless you meant “Stephen King.” You know, he could have said that too. Spooky.

            2. MikeNY

              Yes, Kierkegaard. And I agree, he did end up something of a martyr. And he also worked outside “the system”, in more than one sense.

        2. lambert strether

          Only two? Surely not. For millenia, the divine right of kings worked quite well. Of course, if you don’t believe in supernatural beings, this might resolve to one of the other two. For myself, the two tendencies you name are as related as they are opposed; this might be said to be the theme of the Federalist papers, for example.

          1. from Mexico

            lambert strether says:

            For millenia, the divine right of kings worked quite well.

            Oh really? Not so according to Jouvenel:

            To suppose that majority rule functions only in democracy is a fantastic illusion. The king, who is but one solitary individual, stands far more in need of the general support of Society than any other form of government.

            1. from Mexico

              And I think you might also be underestimating the amount of violence that kings used in order to keep the peasants and wayward nobles in line.

            2. from Mexico

              Divine right can also be seen as falling under the heading of persuasion. It was, after all, an argument used to convince the governed to consent to the rule of the king.

            3. Lambert Strether Post author

              No. To a believer, the divine right of kings might well be theory sufficient unto itself (not, as you aver, an epiphenomenon). Therefore, there are three “competing theories.”

              To unpack, this is a reductio ad absurdum of your facile claim that there are “two competing traditions of the origins of political power.” (Perhaps I should have added “worked quite well as a theory;’ thought the back reference to “two” was enough, but apparently not. My bad.)

              Two? “Surely not.” And “traditions” without any historical grounding at all. Et cetera.

        3. myshkin

          “The prosperous and mighty of our day still live at a dizzying height above the wretched of the earth, yet the latter have made their will felt in ways that have already changed history, and can change it more.”
          With all due respect to the admirable J.Schell, ‘In the long run we’re all dead’ and for the generations upon generations crushed and perhaps the planet as we know it, the arc of history, wherever it is headed, becomes largely irrelevant. What’s a national politician to do?

          Disregard if you can the evidence now weighted heavily against Obama’s ‘change we can’t believe in’ and entertain a thought experiment. If Obama were in fact the left’s agent of change, set down in the circumstances he was in fact set down in, what could he have done? Probably very little. Make use of the bully pulpit to awaken the great center and quickly be dismantled by the MSM? Likely take a bullet in the head arranged by the TPTB? Impeachment?

          One factor to consider is his precedent setting first black presidency, within that vast discourse are the points that before it happened, it seemed impossible and once it did, Obama arguably may have been captured by the historical circumstances that among other things, demanded middle-of-the-road posturing and the projection of cool, not anger.

          His initial and ensuing appointments were a great disappointment, in his defense some raised the “Team of Rivals” idea. Ultimately Obama was either not up to the task or it seems, more likely, was what he appeared, a centrist which in the US spectrum is certainly not a Martin Luther or an MLK but the “Unhappy choice” that MikeNY posits.

          1. LifelongLib

            Yes, if Obama had been more confrontational earlier in his career, he might at best be a Chicago city councilman now. Higher office would have been closed to him. That doesn’t let him off the hook for what he’s done (or hasn’t done) as President.

          2. LifelongLib

            Re the “Team of Rivals”, Lincoln did indeed appoint rivals to his Cabinet (where he could control them) but never anybody who did not share his basic goal of restoring the Union. There’s a difference between rivals and deadly enemies.

            1. myshkin

              I agree with both posts which leads back to the question, what’s a politician at the national level to do?

              It is likely that the political system is irremediably broken, though it never functioned particularly well, there were some high points but mostly a dismal record of failing to serve the general welfare, as suggested in the Preamble to the Constitution, a nice fundamentals paragraph that is generally ignored.

              Gar Alperovitz among others suggests that the foundation for change exists already in credit unions, co-operative movements, worker owned businesses. That route is a long shot at best but the political process is too riddled with corruption to function coherently.

              Obtaining the presidency and most positions in the political process at the national level requires dissembling on key issues so as to make the issues meaningless and the process of governing not possible.

              Who Obama is and what he believes makes for interesting speculation, MikeNY may be right when he says, “He is aware of, and consciously chose, the unavoidable moral dirtiness of politics.” For the nation floundering with identifying and solving the issues of the day in a responsive and timely manner, the morass of politics as practiced in DC is likely not a relevant part of the equation. This realization, if true, is clearly not a good thing and many are suffering the consequences.

        4. Ascetic Esthetic

          It is this struggle between persuasive and coercive power which makes me so concerned about the ways in which technology has further entrenched elite power, particularly with respect to the coercive side (though of course TV is one of many examples of technology greatly enhancing the persuasive power of elites).

          One of my greatest worries is about the government control of much research on AI and robotics. As it stands, the powerful need to retain enough moral authority so that the thugs looking down those gun barrels don’t turn on their purported masters. Presently, much of military and, I suspect, police training is dehumanization, cruel efforts to deaden the affects and to subordinate all other human values to the imperative of “following orders”.

          Robotic military/police forces could almost eradicate the elite need for being “persuasive”. Eventually, it could be cheaper to produce these kinds of enforcers than it would be to roboticize existing humans. At that point, humanity’s days would be numbered. If artificial intelligence develops quickly enough, our rulers may find a way of destroying our species faster than the effects of the climate change they’ve helped to enable.

          The process has already begun. The first autonomous drone aircraft carrier landing happened less than 2 months ago (mobile link): http://mobile.theverge.com/2013/7/10/4511476/autonomous-drone-first-landing-on-navy-aircraft-carrier

          1. nonclassical

            …just watched it (DVD) for the umpteenth time-for those who haven’t:




            The “most honest” 3 hours of historical documentation on video…but wait!!! That’s only the mid-section; first, there is “The Century of Self”=4 hours, and following “The Trap” is 4 hours of “The Power of Nightmares”-all found here:


      1. from Mexico

        @ F. Beard

        I don’t recall King ever saying anything about banking.

        And I don’t know if you caught my response to a quesition you asked some time ago about Niebuhr. I don’t recall him ever saying anything about banking either.

        1. F. Beard

          Yes, I saw the other comment. Thanks.

          But it’s no wonder. Banking and money are deliberately confusing.

          Still, I’d expect men of God to be able to pierce the veil.

          It’s said that Lincoln read the Bible but did not go to church and he understood banking and money pretty well.

          1. nonclassical

            …believe King and Malcolm agreed on many banking issues…towards end of their lives they became far less hostile towards one another…war, etc. This is part of personal memories of events at time…having met several protagonists..

            Many are unaware of controversy regarding Malcolm’s assassination-convicted killer has always claimed innocence…and, Malcolm was turned away from Paris International Airport shortly prior to death, where he attempted to meet with African leaders to bring plight of poor third world citizens before U.N.

            It has been suggested this is real impetus behind his assassination…behind King’s?? I haven’t seen definitive explanation yet…has anyone else? The Kennedy assassination is pretty much defined here:


  9. Mikhail Kropotkin

    “The Most Honest Three Minutes In American Television History”


    See, the reason Americans have ever thought they were the best country in the world is America’s blindness to the rest of the world. If you can’t see it, you can’t compare it, no problem.

    Education may fix that too.

  10. Eugene Gant

    Season one of The Newsroom is also responsible for an eerily prescient foreshadowing of the NSA surveillance dislosures in this excerpt from Episode 8:


    It is my hope that this too will go viral some day soon.

    It seems that sometimes we can only truly grasp the reality of what is happening to our country and our freedoms and our values when we see those changes reflected in an ostensibly fictional medium.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          With the hazmat suit and waldos of YouTube clips, yes. Same thing with Game of Thrones: Saw the clip of the Red Wedding, bought the books.

          So, I’ll take the free first taste, but never put myself in a position where I have to say “I can quit whenever I want.”

  11. allcoppedout

    Britain is the best country in the world today. It’s raining at the Test match, reminding me we are so brilliant we devised and play a game needing dry summer sun in a country with none and without building roofs against the rain. With no play we are treated to the ‘history of the bat’ – there is little I now do not know on the English willow, now grown, tended and shaped in India …

  12. allcoppedout

    Britain is the best country in the world today. It’s raining at the Test match, reminding me we are so brilliant we devised and play a game needing dry summer sun in a country with none and without building roofs against the rain. With no play we are treated to the ‘history of the bat’ – there is little I now do not know on the English willow, now grown, tended and shaped in India …

  13. ex-PFC Chuck

    We once had a President who, in a time of national crisis, told our parents or grandparents that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Now we’re at thirteen years and counting of presidents who do all they can too instill fear in us.

    1. nonclassical

      ..sounds like you are channeling Adam Curtis’, “The Power of Nightmares”…the only one of Curtis’ videos banned from Youtube for “proprietary reasons”:




      ….here they are again-see before removal again…buy 4 part series from amazon-“Century of Self”, “The Trap”, “The Power of Nightmares”:


      1. nonclassical

        hmmnn…this MAY be part 3-Adam Curtis, BBC, “The Power of Nightmares”…damning historical documentation of U.S. under Bush-LIES-invasions-propaganda…

  14. proximity1

    RE: “One thing common to all these people is that none seems sure of what is happening to them, economically and otherwise. None seems to be a reader of NC, though that was not mentioned. All are people who just want to get on with their lives, do their jobs and be of help to others.”

    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/the-most-honest-three-minutes-in-television-history.html#5U9WKtty485MxRUk.99

    “Just get on with their lives”— that sounds so benign doesn’t it? But these people live in and passively support a heavily-armed, agressive, predatory military empire–one, of course, which lacks conscience–since governments, let alone military empires, lack conscience, that is a given.

    “Idiot” from ancient Greek, we translate today as “private person,” “layman,” from idios. But, in classical Greece, a private person was not a complimentary status, not something to be admired. For the Greeks of classical Athens a person who was “private” was one who took no part, no role, in public life, in civic life–in short, a private person was someone who was, from a civic life point of view, irresponsible, leaving the affairs of the polis to others because, by definition, every responsible person took an active, personal role in civic affairs.

    Now, if one is a slave, an illiterate, and propertyless, it’s expected and understood that one is then, in classic Athens, an “idiot.” Illiterates and slaves (or both–sometimes a slave was or became literate) were understood to be such and weren’t blamed for that.

    But, for an intelligent, educated, literate person, one having property in land and chattel, for such a person to remain aloof from civic life and its responsibilities–that sort of “idiot” was a status looked on as shameful.

    I’m not sure to whom I owe this account but my vague recollection is that I owe it to Karl R. Popper and his “The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol. 1: “The Spell of Plato”

    1. TimR

      That’s similar to my thoughts on it too, I don’t know if it’s enough to be “decent” in an insular way, with one’s family and neighbors — and blind and ignorant of the world at large. Of course the system is designed to create people like that, if not worse. There’s also a question of whether the blindness is willful, they prefer not to know what’s done in their name. At some dim level they might sense it, but as long as they ignore it, they can rationalize their complicity. People sometimes get angry at TPTB when you describe what TPTB are doing, but they quickly turn from it back to their insular concerns. It’s just this annoying background noise to them, if they recognize it at all. And they can easily step back into the mainstream propaganda hive-mind when they return to TV, etc.

      1. anon y'mouse

        well, since the concerns of the bottom 70% are not being tended to at all by the political class (according to Noam Chomsky in a recent interview), then perhaps their response is rational.

        why beat your head against the wall when there is literally no point? when was the last time the politicians actually voted in accordance with the majority on anything? did we want the war in Iraq? did we want the bank bailouts? did we want the ACA? the majority was clearly not in favor, and many did as they were “supposed” to and contacted their representatives, to no avail.

        one should not fault people for focusing on doing what they are capable of actually affecting: their families, their communities. the problem is, and i’m sure many who do that know this, that this doesn’t create any grand ripple effect outwards (upwards, really) of change all the way to the houses of power.

        if all one can do is rail against the decent but small people for not being capable of fixing the world, then they will rightfully turn on the more erudite (you intelligent folks at NC and others) and ask “so, why haven’t YOU changed the world yet?”

        1. Virmont

          What about the segment that dominates the comments section of any mainstream news site? That segment that believes that the neoliberal Obama is a socialist and that the cities of the Middle East need to be bombed into a stone age parking lot?

          1. anon y'mouse

            it has taken me a lifelong concerted effort to see beyond the propaganda put out by our own government, the thinktanks and the press complicit with them both.

            people down on the ground living day to day barely have the time to figure out how to adequately manage their own financial affairs and understand the fine print on the multitude of contracts they must sign to live “normally”. between mortgages, insurance, health coverage, pensions and the like, every issue in one’s daily live has been impacted by unnecessary complexity and placed behind a legalistic veil of “how we’re going to fuck you and make you pay us for the privilege”.

            one can’t blame people for not having the time to try to keep abreast of laws governing over 300million people. if we were back in the city-state days of Greece, we’re still talking about the elites who had estates and wealth and servants, and lived in idleness pursuing knowledge for its own sake, absorbing the arts and deciding upon the laws & their implementation.

            most Americans don’t have the leisure that even they had back then. if anything, even with modern “conveniences” they have less time, and less mental space to deal with the problems of governance. especially when we as a species are continually pushing the complexity in every subject and field upward. it takes a lot of time to come out of one’s specialized hole and figure out what in heck is going on.

      2. nonclassical


        ..some of us have worked for 40 years discovering information contained in these Adam Curtis BBC videos-try it-a true education:





        or, if you can find the combined collection:


  15. Expat

    Re: “There’s only four things we do better than anyone else:…microcode (software).”

    Thanks to the NSA, who would use the stuff?

  16. Banger

    The only measure of “greatness” worth anything is military and political power. As such the United States is by leaps and bounds the greatest country in the world. It can with an order shut down the global airspace, stop tanker traffic, or do most anything it pleases. Whether or not people are happy or healthy is irrelevant to the term “greatness.”

    Personally, I believe greatness a silly and outdated notion we ought to retire. Let’s talk about happinees, joy, parties, great art, music and so on the hell with measures–how does it feel living here as opposed to living there?

    1. John

      How can we have the “greatest” military on earth when we haven’t won a war since WWII even though we spend trillions on the war department?

      1. susan the other

        Our military was born in a state of paranoia-not after 1783, but after 1945 when we and the whole world realized that war was the option of any nation so bold and stupid. We spent those trillions, many of which produced technology like our present electronics/digital – which still has enormous promise – we just lack all political will and honesty. For which I literally hate congress and the POTUS. We have made decisions that seem “anti-american” and against our own national interests – true – but one of the overriding nightmares which are the basis for our decision making tell us repeatedly that peace is always best and always better served by a long and expensive process of diplomacy and cooperation. We have, however, betrayed our own people in the process. Solution? Here’s a hint: it is NOT capitalism.

        1. susan the other

          The thing that can give all humans on the planet equal justice and opportunity is ironically (now) very inequal. Each society determines what is equal. In the USA we have a huge gap. Our huge problem. The thing that always causes me to not participate in any dialog is the absence of any clear plan to preserve and conserve the planet and the environment. And provide equality. And it is exaggerated by debt and capital/financialism. Which wants its pound of flesh no matter what. This is why, as Meridith Whitney is now saying, the TBTFs do not have a sustainable business model. God, what an obfuscation. She doesn’t ever say that this system caused the mass irrational global blob of frozen economics in the first place. We need to get rid of capitalism, all it does is provide a way for shitheads to buy expensive shampoo.

          1. Banger

            You know, I’m on your side–I believe peace will give us room to develop human culture which has become increasingly dysfunctional and stuck. We had an opportunity to open up our consciousness to explore a deeper reality where our connection to nature and each other is directly visible. Ultimately the forces that favor stress, competition, fear, greed and, above all, ego were able to call the shots for a variety of complicated reasons no one seems to want to look at; thus, reluctantly, people still choose to believe the government, media, corporations and so on and accept the extremely narrow band of reality that seems to be the norm today. Most people do not believe as we do because that is a painful place to be and courage and adventurousness is considered the height of folly in today’s society.

            Most people want the security of comforting myths that allow them to continue to live largely narcissistic lives where morality is determine by wealth (at least it’s simple) while the majority pretend to adhere to religions that pretend to encourage a “higher” set of values but are really just another sort of soporific.

            Thus we refuse to act or even think about the issues of climate change, mass species die-offs and so on. We won’t act because we are pretending its not happening just like we don’t accept the fact that our vaunted economic system has failed in its traditional role of providing opportunities for social mobility and wealth creation for an expanding middle-class. This latter course was a real possibility before things started to go south in the late 70s and money become the exclusive determinant of power-relations (it has always been powerful but now it has knocked out all suitors for power) without any sign that this can change–yes, money has often dominated U.S. politics but not always and it did have competition from many areas–now that period of U.S. history is finished.

      2. Banger

        Korea was a war that could have been “won” had the U.S. gone all out–I think that war was the last “real” war the U.S. fought. As for Vietnam, the war was fought not to be “won” but be be lost expensively–the contractors, the officer corps all benefited from the war and, as Chomsky argued, we actually “won” because we destroyed Indochina and set back cultural, political and economic development in the region back a generation as an example to other countries seriously considering independence.

        As for subsequent wars they can only be described (other than the First Gulf War which was “won”) as police actions against the indigenous population of whatever country they picked to invade. The general goal was to reduce people in those “enemy” populations to dependency and permanent poverty. Just take a look at the difference between Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya before and after they became the objects of imperial wars.

    2. nonclassical


      “military” is 1/3 of the triumvirate…the others=”economic” (normally associated with Europe), and-or independent regimes containing natural resources,

      and “manufacturing”, dominated by Asia…

      in other words, the Orwellian triumvirate…

      1. Banger

        Good point–but in the current situation a strong military (I include the increasingly dominant role the covert services play) tilts the balance to those that control it. The advantage today of the United State’s military domination (in the full sense of the word) is that, since trade depends on trade routes and the world economy depends on oil, the fact the U.S. can turn on or turn off the oil spigot and to determine whether or not trade can occur safely gives it a competitive advantage that no other force or combination of forces can counteract at this time at least in the narrow range of consciousness we call reality.

  17. Norman

    With all the advances that are being made each day, have we really achieved greatness? Education is one of the basic fundamental principals of this nation, as it is with others. Yet can we say that now in the 21st Century, that we are better off than the 20th? If we were so great, then why are we not in the top ranks besides making war upon others, though certainly makeing a mess of even that. The one thing that, IMHO, is the freedom to express ourselfs as long as we’re civil. At least that hasn’t been denied us, yet.

    1. nonclassical


      ..some of us have actually taught in venues with which you are comparing “education”…and you are comparing apples and oranges.

      The short version; the GOAL of U.S. education is creation of a few “winners”, a few “losers”, and majority mediocrity=CHEAP LABOR FORCE….economic mediocrity…and therefore, we include privately financed higher ed, for the few-
      only around 18% of Americans today graduate 4 year university OR vocational equivalent…

      I taught in Europe also-where the GOAL is largely, fully educated workforce; creation of lifetime TAXPAYERS for “social systems”…Germany, for example, graduates over 70% from 4 year university or vocational equivalent…FOR FREE.

      If you like I can explain HOW this transpires…in both cases. Begin by realization European Ed. features aptitude based Ed, whereby after 8th grade, youth are directed towards 3 choices of continuing Ed, at least 2 of which are aptitude based.

      When we compare math or science scores, we are comparing ALL American youths who must continue past 8th grade in these disciplines, to only those Euros whose aptitude leads them to continue….apples vs. oranges…

      But HOW does American Ed continue to prioritize “mediocrity”?? The “CURVE” creates majority mediocrity….and it is applied on the way INTO the classroom..
      Schools don’t place youth in classes by alphabetical arrangement-it’s based upon PREVIOUS grades in specified disciplines….so many “A” students, to “pull up” “B” students, and so on…

      I can tell you, when students enter classrooms, first thing they do is compare themselves to others they know from other classrooms, appearing….it’s a violent process…the same “winners”, the same “losers”…ad infinitum. (and majority mediocrity-that’s the GOAL)

      speak truth to power…

  18. aspromised

    Many here, including the writer of this piece, are missing the point: the utter absurdity of the QUESTION she posed. A student at a university who is not even pondering the validity of the myth that’s so deeply ingrained in the American psyche: “we’re No. 1! we’re No. 1!” “USA! USA! ” and that she would actually expect learned people to give a one-phrase answer like a good little automaton …erm…patriot.
    That she asked a stupid question and got a smart, educated answer is what makes the segment great.
    PS: the comments here dissolved into a contest about owning a TV – big whoop. Did you used to proclaim that same superiority about radio? And somehow, the internet is more high-brow? It’s always about choice and there is intelligent programming should you choose to look for it.

    1. lambert strether

      Hmm. This:

      Assume Jenny was born in 1993; she would have been living, since the age of 8, under a 9/11 Shock Doctrine-driven, hermetically sealed compliance regimen previously unknown in this country. No wonder she thinks American is (still) the greatest country in the world!

      Too subtle?

    2. petridish

      Agree with your PS. Recently posted here was something to the effect of “Why Liberals are Lame.”

      This is a perfect example.

      Instead of using the tools available–TV–they prefer to call everyone who has a TV stupid and pat themselves on the back for being so uncommonly erudite. Don’t participate in the fight, denigrate those who do.

      Newsflash for those smart enough not to own a TV: While you’re busy not paying attention, the other side is winning.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Demo memo:

        Percentage of Millennials (aged 18 to 36) who say they could live without…

        TV: 35%
        Sex: 20%
        Internet: 17%

        Seems to me the TV-free on this thread are the wave of the future, and it might make sense to get with the program. Surely all these people aren’t making the bizarre claims of superiority being projected onto the TV-free on this thread?

        Why not get the highlights from YouTube and not pay cable any rents? Is that so wrong?

        1. Montanamaven

          Yes that is what my nephew and his friends so. They have a TV as a monitor though. They do download TV programs and stream them. They grew up on South Park and Comedy Central. They choose to watch TV and films, just not in a conventional way. I am in the movie/TV business having started out in theater. Storytelling is as old as humanity. There are good story tellers and stories yet to tell out there. Yes, there is a lot of shlock. That’s why there is an on/off button. Lot of shlocky books too.
          Speaking of TV news, so far I love Al Jazeera America on Direct TV 358. It’s bare bones sets speak to me. They are spending money on their reporters all over this ccountry and the world instead of on glitzy sets. Interesting to see what will happen. But I was pleasantly surprised that the business program yesterday did a story on the Blackstone Group and other big money guys buying up all the foreclosed properties in Atlanta. They did a very in depth story complete with following a young couple trying to buy a house but being out bid by the big guys. Very encouraging.
          Down below Andrea recommends “The Americanization of Emily”. I second that.
          And I hear Simon Pegg’s “End of the World” is a hoot. I loved “Shawn of the Dead”.

      2. Bruno Marr

        Assuming one who doesn’t own a TV to be free of information, is a mistake. Not “owning” one doesn’t mean they (we) are perping condescension. Like “sport talk radio”, TV is mostly commercials over content (mostly). The Internet can be as frustrating as NBC/ABC/et al, but it does allow for personal control (that’s why lots of folks watch TV commercial-free on the Internet).

  19. Andrea

    Chayevsky who made Network also made “The Americanization of Emily.”

    On the face of it, it is a romantic comedy, with Julie Andrews, no less. It is a very interesting movie, I won’t say more. (I’m not a movie buff/historian/expert and almost never recommend movies.)

    here is a 14 min extract. The topic is war (and love as a sub-text.)


    Have a look. I promise you won’t feel you wasted 15 mins.

    wiki on him:


    1. colinc

      Thank you, Andrea, for the link to that clip! I intend to share it as widely as I am able, though I’m certain few, if any, will “get it.” There is more “truth” contained in that 14 min. than most people are exposed to in 14 years. Alas, it may also be the ultimate evidence that the human species has, indeed, reached its “terminus.”

    2. lee

      Thanks Andrea. Takes me back to my draft dodging youth. I am not a pacifist, nor completely averse to physical risk or even violence under certain circumstances but the idea of being ground up like hamburger in the impersonal gear works of modern mechanized warfare for dubious ends, the Vietnam war in my case, was an affront to my most basic, primordial sense of self.

      I would sooner kill an officer who ordered me to kill a man with whom I had no quarrel than that man I was ordered to kill, I told them during my draft physical. I was declared unfit for military service. I think they thought me mad; I certainly thought that of them.

    3. Jeff W

      Thanks for posting a link to that clip, Andrea!

      Cmdr. Madison’s comments in the clip brought to mind MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, (27 May 2012 Sunday of Memorial Day weekend):

      It is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the word hero. Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word hero? I feel uncomfortable with the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.

      A week later Hayes walked back his comments.

  20. Johnny

    I’d like to see what the infant mortality and poverty numbers would be if they segregated out the illegal aliens, housing project indwellers and others that have little connection to the founding of the country and the maintenance of Western Civilization.

    As far as wealth goes, the 1% are mostly people whose descendants had little to do with founding the country and are merely economic opportunists hoarding wealth for their own cohort while monopolizing finance, academia and the media.

    1. F. Beard

      Jew don’t say?

      At least the Jews have an excuse for charging Gentiles usury since Deuteronomy 23:19-20 allows it (Of course, treating fellow Americans as foreigners is a bit risky since they might reciprocate?)

      But what excuse do Christians have for tolerating a government-backed credit cartel that drives other Christians (and most everyone else) into debt?

  21. TimR

    On the list of “bad America” stats from the clip (and bandied about by many critics of the US such as Morris Berman), it’s true enough and neglected for obvious reasons. BUT- how much of it has to do with the idea of “two Americas,” primarily the racial divide, as seen for ex in Detroit, in the familiar pattern of white flight to the suburbs. Say we just analyzed those “flight” communities – maybe the stats would be bad, but would they be closer to “developed world” norms? Not saying this is right or just, but that this internal abandonment of the black community is part of the picture — we’re not dealing with a monolithic society, the stats are not uniform across the population. Just as wealth “averages” are different than wealth “means”, so with these cultural measures…

    That said, there are many reports of these measures declining across the board; I see anecdotes from teachers and professors of a dramatic decline just in the past few years.

  22. JEHR

    I read NC nearly every day. I started to read it because I was curious about exactly what happened to cause the financial crisis in 2008 (and why my interest on my savings remain in negative territory when inflation is taken into account).

    I like the honesty that I find in the articles and in the comments on this site. You are the people who are not afraid to look into your own soul and describe without bombast both the evil and the good that resides there. We, too, could use a little of that soul searching ourselves.

  23. Bapoy

    This is an amazing video. The US is indeed not the best country in the world. Does it have to be # 1 everything to be?

    However, I keep being confused at the Liberals never win line… Hello America, our congress is full of liberals, our president is a liberal, the damn Republicans are essentially liberals. America, you hate the so called “tea party”, a small faction of the GOP which has accomplished NOTHING. What have they managed to change? Nothing, that’s what.

    And oh the audacity to say that Canada, France, the UK and Japan are better than the US. Now that, that’s amazing. These countries are crap holes waiting to explode. I’m surprised he didn’t mention China. If anything the US is definitely better than all of these by a landslide.

    Out of the largest nations, the US is the best, and that’s hands down. Not that we don’t suffer from the free for nothing mentality of the liberals (they are in charge after all), but not to the extent of the other smaller powers, they are in the opium stage there. All I can say is that let them keep being better than the US, it wont be long before that capital moves to the US and away from the socialist fools. Time will tell.

    1. JEHR

      Please, Sir, could you define “crap-hole” as it applies to Canada? Do you know anything about crap-holes or Canada?

      1. Bapoy

        Socialist utopias near collapse. That’s what I mean by crap hole. Not that the US is too far behind, but I am sure the nations I listed above are ahead in line.

        The socialists took over the US a long time ago, and we’ve gone from a Democrat like Kennedy, to a Democrat like Obama and Palosi. Need I say more?

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          “Need I say more?” No indeed. On Obama’s socialism: I assume you have the link where he advocates for the collective ownership of the means of production close at hand? And how a permanently high disemployment rate is really a gift to the proletariat?

        2. LifelongLib

          You need to review your history. Obama and Pelosi are far more conservative than the conservatives of 40 years ago. Republican Nixon was considered much more conservative than JFK or LBJ, yet he tried to implement national health care and a guaranteed annual income for everyone. Those things aren’t advocated by either party in today’s politics. How are the mightly fallen.

          1. Bapoy

            Right, and than you woke up.

            Did we have all the programs that we have today 40 years ago. Go and look at what percentage of the population was on welfare, social security, medicare 40 years ago, that should give you a good idea of how the country has deteriorated.

            The socialists are so obsessed, that it’s still not enough with even with the most socialists politicians ever. If this doesn’t show how out of touch with reality these folks are, I dont know what will.

            We have way more people on social programs today than any time in history, we have more people in social security, on medicare, and on and on.

            Obama, Barney Frank, Pelosy, Reid, and on and on and on.

              1. nonclassical

                Bapoy has been asked this prior, several times-he is forced to ignore Obama’s “decision” to (QE1,2,3) $ubsidize Wall $treet banks to the tune of $80 billion per month…

                unless Bapoy means “privatized profit$” and “socialized risk”…(he’s been confronted before with this also…

            1. Whistling in the Dark

              Is socialism a bad thing? What’s bad about folks being on social welfare? I mean, they would be hurting otherwise, so, what do you do? So, the fact that these various other countries have (according to your premise) invested public money into providing welfare to the needy… this makes them worse off? Why? So, you toss tax dollars at the poor. Guess what! They turn around and spend the shtt out of that money! Good for the economy, no? What’s the alternative?

              1. A Real Black Person

                The issue is that the population of welfare recipients is growing faster than people with jobs. Unfortunately, the free market doesn’t favor job creation over efficiency, at this point in history and people don’t magically disappear when they become unemployed.

                1. A Real Black Person

                  The word “jobs” in the response above refers to full time jobs or jobs with living wages.

  24. Andrea

    As pointed out by several, being the best country in the world, or amongst them at least in modern times, is just garden-variety nationalism. Germany in the past and Switzerland today (where I live) come to mind.

    But it is true that the ‘average‘ (whatever that is) US citizen seems peculiarly sheltered from information about the world, about the US itself, about other countries, etc. This is of course engineered by all officialdom, from the State Dept., Schools, down to the Local Gazette. The aim – quite blatant – is to quash questioning, dissent and maintain adherence to the US foreign policy and the Defense industry, war in all its shapes and forms.

    While we are on anecdotes, a young US person of my acquaintance who had a ‘summer abroad‘ was enchanted with Italy – and leaving aside the ‘Art’, the ‘fantastic guys’, the ‘food’ etc. which are things one can experience on vacation, was full of praise for Italy.

    The no. 1. point was Freedom, and she meant freedom to express herself, the second was political discussion in the media (under Berlusconi, yikes), the third was the public services (she went to libraries, sprained an ankle, called the police once, and so on), the fourth was ‘caring for their country‘ – environment, etc. But she also said that Italy was not a US ally so she might never go back. Once back in the States, she competed with other girls to sleep with an Iraq vet and snagged him for a short while, that was a splendid triumph.

    No criticism of the young woman implied. This is how imperialism works, one can enjoy sorties to the ‘garden’ of the rest of the world, and never ask any deep questions, allegiance is all. In her case, like for many others, any affiliation no matter how trivial with a foreign country (beyond the cultural college artsy type exchange or work experience in Corp or multinationals etc.) is suspect and frowned on.

    What is seen as very positive is humanitarian creds, yes she went on the spend x months in a very poor country, teaching English in a program which is a total scam, or if one prefers, caters to a demand, built to milk rich US parents. Brilliant Photos with dark loving little kids. These programs cost a lot, only the upper middles can afford. The host countries put up with it because it feeds a lot of people – it is a business. The schools have professional ‘students’ aged 5 to 14, who act the part, in the early teen years they have to retire. All this is essential to get into what are called ‘top schools’ or ‘top programs’…. Colonial creds!

    1. Bapoy

      Although Americans tend to be disconnected from the world in terms of current events, I tend to disagree here.

      Not that there is no national pride, but when compared to nations around the world, even more so those in Europe, Americans are resented globally. Now, have you been in the US? And have you felt somewhat un-wanted there? 99% of the people could care less which country you are from. I think we both know the answer to both questions.

      In terms of the imperialism thingy, the lady is an American and will be whether our leaders make good decisions or bad ones. If I was European, that would be the last thing I would want to bring up, count the number of wars in your continent and compare the number on the Americas. You will be surprised to see that Europe beats the Americas by a landslide.

      And not only that, when issues arise around the world (Syria), the same Europeans are the ones coming to America to defend the people, that way when things go awry, they don’t have to answer to their people. See France asking the US to intervene today.

      America is not perfect, but not the worst either.

      1. Bruno Marr

        If you believe that France doesn’t have historical/political complicity in the current events in Syria, and now wants “stability”, it’s easy to understand their plea to “The Big Stick”. (Can we send your kids, tax dollars, or future Social Security payments immediately?)

        1. nonclassical

          ..while this is true, Bruno, (Robert Fisk-“The Great War For Civilization-Middle East”)-Fisk who lived half his life in Beirut, as investigative reporter for “The Independent”…

          it doesn’t make either Bapoy’s or your point-U.S. was in deep collaboration with France and Britain in history you note…read the book-1300 pages of TRUTH, from personal observation-documentation, including resources delineating all:


          -total cost $3.97, free delivery
          Invest in your “opinion”…

    1. lambert strether

      Snow Crash is an interesting picture of an essentially stateless society. “Admiral Bob’s Navy,” “White Columns,” the three ring binders.

      Actually, now that I think of it, Obama’s concept of the rule of law is a lot like those three-ring binders. Especially the secret three-ring binders.

      1. anon y'mouse

        I loved SnowCrash.

        and, it enabled me to prepare to move into my UHaul storage unit at a moment’s notice.

      2. ChrisPacific

        I got a kick out of the Snow Crash quote. I’ve always thought that the NC authors would enjoy it – among other things, it can be read as a reductio ad absurdum debunking of the free market utopian ideal. Nice to see confirmation that Lambert at least has read it.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          My favorite Snow Crash quote of all:

          “The Mafia wouldn’t do that.”

          “Don’t be a sap,” Hiro says. “Of course they would.”

          Y.T. seems miffed at Hiro.

          “Look,” he says, “I’m sorry for reminding you of this, but if we still had laws, the Mafia would be a criminal organization.”

          “But we don’t have laws,” she says, “so it’s just another chain.”

          Fiction? Or prophecy?

          1. craazyboy@q.com

            I’ve read everything Stephenson has written, Snow Crash being the first novel. It was a long time ago and you’re reminding me I should re-read it because my aging memory fails me, and this makes reading old books good again.

  25. dale pues

    Just wrapped up a long week with relatives. They speak a different language from me now (my having been away from television for the past six years): newly invented clichés and expressions, unfamiliar allusions, vulgar gestures and secret giggles…a new dialect. They seemed to communicate amongst themselves perfectly. Cousins who were once intimate no longer share the experiences of their own lives but of the lives of their favorite television characters (I won’t award them with personalities). Boxes in the cupboards carry splashy labels, “As seen on TV!”. Reading material consisted mostly of curled copies of People, National Enquirer and the like. After dinner conversation focused on the new Royal Baby and what a wonderful life it would have. A lonely week it was too; my only social connection was with the three cats. But even that will be impossible soon as the bossy tabby has taken to watching Judge Judy.

  26. theblamee

    This article should be called “the biggest piece of propagandist crap” ever. Aaron Sorkin makes Joseph Goebbels seem like a choir boy. First we had this fable about America in “The West Wing” which for seven years, covered the fact that the country was being ruled by worst administrations in history, and the best Aaron Sorkin could do was peddle a fraud of American mythology. Now, Sorkin wants to exploit the next worst administration and government in American history by pushing the same fantasyland America upon the viewing audience with “Newsroom” which creates more fictionalized unrealities about what America has really become – a closed and closing society. This time Sorkin is like President Obama apologizing to America. He ought to be apologizing for real.

  27. Jess

    I’ll get in trouble for this, but one thing I’m sick of is the elitist mentality of “I’m superior because I don’t own a TV and/or I don’t own a car.”

    Lots of TV is mindless crap. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. TV brought the depredations of Bull Conner into our living rooms (and those around the world). TV brought us the horrors of Vietnam in a way where eventually enough people could not ignore it. TV gave us JFK’s inauguration speech. It gave us footage of Katrina and exposed the corrupt ineptitude of Bush’s administration at home.

    TV also gives us lots of information and knowledge about nature. Yves puts up a cute animal antidote every day. You can find similar stuff in far greater detail on Nat Geo TV. The History Channel has some excellent documentaries.

    And fiction programming often has a beneficial component. I will argue that THE COSBY SHOW helped pave the way for Obama’s election by depicting blacks as something other than morons or criminals. (Not that Obama is a good thing, it’s just that things like TCS helped with the transition in thinking about blacks as people and not just a racial group usually carrying a heavy baggage stereotype.)

    L&O often uses a fictional entertainment setting to address real issues that low info voters (or just the average Joe and Jane Sixpack) may not be aware of. So do certain other cop and lawyer shows.

    As for being superior by not owning a car: I’m amazed at how often this claim is made by folks who have no kids to be squired around to soccer tournaments, or jobs that don’t require calling on clients in far-flung locals, or even the L.A. County social worker down the block who is required to use his own vehicle (with a mileage reimbursement) to visit families all over sprawling L.A. county in order that we can have some assurance that kids are adequately fed and that those unfortunate enough to be on pubic assistance are not living in squalid or unsafe conditions.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I don’t claim to be “superior.” I claim to be avoiding a toxic substance.

      I mean, Cool Whip right out of the can tastes great, too — as it is designed to taste — but I don’t make it part of my diet.

      UPDATE Adding, yes, you will get in trouble, or, more precisely, your argument will.

      1. Jess

        Is there a broken link here? I tried clicking on “your argument will” for more info but it didn’t take me anywhere.

    2. Jim Haygood

      What happens when the plug gets collectively pulled on TV? Looting and shit. And a baby boom nine months later.

      TV isolates restless minds from the existential horror of thinking.

      1. optimader

        I was going to guess people would exert more control over their media consumption by spending more time pulling DVD content at their Public Library.

        I guess I’m more optimistic?

    3. optimader

      Just read your post, and agree with much of it as I relate in a post below.

      Not owning a TV is of course a legitimate for no other reason than personal choice. The notion that it’s “toxic”? Not so much. The notion that it is benchmark intellectual differentiator? Not so much.

      Unless of course you anticipate it will become a compulsive vice or it is an intimidating venue that will unduly influence your beliefs–neither of which I would expect apply to Lambert.

      Certainly my bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and its many companions in my liquor cabinet have the potential to be “toxic”. Do I enjoy them in moderation? Absolutely…

    4. F. Beard

      If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Colossians 2:20-23 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    5. proximity1

      August 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      I’ll get in trouble for this, but one thing I’m sick of is the elitist mentality of “I’m superior because I don’t own a TV and/or I don’t own a car.”

      Lots of TV is mindless crap. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

      Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/the-most-honest-three-minutes-in-television-history.html#hB1HdtvjVK2TOgdK.99

      Your argument is false–i.e. just because a lot is crap, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. As retorts go, that is pathetic and it indicates the poverty of the position you’re trying defend.

      I’m reminded, too, of something Neil Postman wrote in his Amusing Ourselves to Death, which wasn’t exclusively about television (especially U.S. television) but had a lot to do with it– he wrote that the lament about all the crap on television missed the point. The “best” stuff of television is, he wrote, the crap. For him, the trouble with television was mainly when and where it left the realm of presenting the crappy, the stupid, the trivial, and tried to deal with the serious and the important. In these, television did its worst job.

      Well, I agree in part with some of that. Particularly I agree that television is inherently incapable of handling any matter without reducing it to trivialities. I think its in the nature of the medium.

      But I also reject the part of television Postman excused as the “best part of television,” as also being crap–the part where it treats the stupid, superficial and silly matters and produces so-called light entertainment. In my opinion, even there, television produces incaculable social harm and always has and always shall. As a social nuisance, it’s far worse than smoking, the ill effects of which are limited to the people in the immediate vicinity of the smoke. Television is a ubiquitous and deeply sinister thing. It invades everything, poisons and pollutes everything and there is no refuge from its harms even when one has rejected it on the personal individual level. Even without one, I suffer along with everyone else from the harms which television produces. And I don’t even any longer live in the damned United States of America.

      So, now I return to your: …”I’m sick of is the elitist mentality of “I’m superior because I don’t own a TV and/or I don’t own a car”…

      You’re sick of what is an extremely minority circumstance– does the number (in the U.S.) of those without a television even rise to 1000th of one percent of the total population? There are so few people who have neither a television nor a car that I’m inclined to think that your reaction is due to your recognition that they are right–rejecting a television, and, where possible, an automobile, is superior to the alternatives, morally superior. And, if it weren’t so, it shouldn’t bother you-certainly you wouldn’t be moved to exclaim that you’re sick of hearing it again and again.

      As it appears from your comments that you live in southern California, maybe your livlihood depends on television directly or indirectly; in that case, you may be in an environment which combines real or supposed “elitist” people (writers, producers, media executives (though I think the overwhelming majority of these own several television sets) even some whose professions are also dependant on television) and so you often hear from them that they don’t own a television, perhaps usually preceded by a “…But I don’t own a ….”

      Southern California has become the cultural-engine of contemporary U.S. life. Since U.S. culture is and has been for generations driven by electronic mass-media (television, radio and, now, internet) it is California, (“Silicon Valley” and the Los Angeles area) which dominate the production of consumer culture—and this electronic mass-media consumer culture dominates everything else that would pretend to be a part of the culture. So, to the extent that U.S. culture is morally rotten–as I argue it is—this is a situation which is the “gift” of the morally rotten center of culture-product production, the sick, vapid and vile culture of which California, southern and Silicon Valley, is the epitome.

      Once, that disctinction belonged to New York City. Now it belongs to California, with New York in second place.

    1. nobody

      I like the “you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale” monologue better, though:

      You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU… WILL… ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.”

      1. Jeff W

        Best example of kinetic typography is this one of Jonathan Coulton’s “Shop Vac.” The perfect design takes your mind off of the depressing lyrics. (Jarrett Heather says it took him between 500 and 1000 hours to create.)

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          “… between 5000 and 1000 hours.” I so wish that had been “between 50 and 100 minutes.” That would mean they could be churned out as a fun editorial feature…

    2. F. Beard

      Well, I do have a pretty good idea where depressions and inflation come from – the government-backed credit cartel, where else?

      But as for anger:

      This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20 NASB [bold added]

      1. Bapoy

        Than why not embrace the free markets, who has no winners and losers? Why not let the markets dictate the money supply and the value/interest of money? Why not let the market extinguish those who take irresponsible risk?

        We want fairness, but a little bit of unfairness for our own good. We need to stop the greed.

        1. LifelongLib

          All markets exist within some sort of power structure. It can be the legal framework of ordinary government, or the rule of thugs with machineguns (e.g. heroin). In either case there are rules about what can be traded and on what terms. In the absence of those rules there is no market, just people bashing each others’ heads in and taking what they want.

          1. Bapoy

            Got it!

            I see, so we can’t live without a Federal Reserve setting market rates and the money supply. Free markets are unable to set prices – isn’t that why traders are bashing and killing themselves over the prices of oranges, rice, meat, dog food, apples, etc – oh wait, they are not – how can that be? Maybe, just maybe, there is no need for the government and the Fed to “help” the market.

            I’m not sure how rules/laws comes into the picture, as if free markets can’t survive under the confines of laws. But since you brought it up – what happened to the laws with respect to the banks/auto unions/home owners who put themselves into bankruptcy? Did the laws not apply to them? Why weren’t there bailouts for other regular Americans? The free markets would have for sure enforced the laws there, don’t you think?

            So try again, you have the story backwards. The free markets work in tandem and enforce the law every single time. You are responsible, you are rewarded with stability, you take unwarranted risk, you fail. Us humans tend to have a little thingy called greed and favoritism which seems to cloud our judgement.

            1. skippy

              I’m sure glad the – F00rEE MaRkEEt – created Zee Universe… I mean… its all Empirical… ObzeeRvaatSeeIon~~~

              skippy… Bapoy??? was that not the name of the Orange Basketball creature in Dark Star???

              1. Bapoy

                The beneficiaries of the mob also feel the same.

                It’s all good as long as I am not the one getting extorted. Isn’t the government a nice bully to have?

                1. skippy

                  Booverment???… the cowed sphincter of the unwashed populace… whom intestine tract is corporatist… you know the non risks posse… aka… payed for thingy… like:

                  “profit pressures dictate increasing margin compression in a top down managerial process, this is cyclic, and the end results are detritus to a good customer services provider relationship” – email to my Audi services- roflol

                  skippy… Free Market Ideology is the thumb screws of insatiable humans… devouring a planet for their pleasure… Zee Free Market is just a candy store facade.. to lure in the uninformed – manufactured – soft flesh – to be consumed… I screwed someone today… shiver~~~

                  1. Bapoy


                    The population experienced a growth in purchasing power during the gold standard. The Fed was installed in 1913, by 1930 we had the great depression and still the population maintained purchasing power.

                    Up until the un-peg in that fateful day in 1971, did the growth in purchasing power become disconnected. Here were in 40 years later, the purchasing power is gone and won’t return.

                    Sure, it was not the same regulations that screwed the population, it was gold. But wait Skippy, don’t run just yet – gold still exists and is selling for almost $1,400 an ounce. We can both purchase it to store our wealth on them. Of course, we would still be at the mercy of the socialists in government and those making sure we pay our fare share.

                    As I said above, it’s nice to have the mob on your side.

                    1. skippy

                      Gold is just an – object – that was given power by some deity backed breather, with more killing ability, than the mob. From that point on in history… the killing went parabolic.

                      Gold, oil, bullets, nukes it don’t matter… if folks keep worshiping delusional wealth over social well-being with an eye to the carrying capacity of this orb… it will all be part of the fossil record some day. Sans homo-econn~

                      skippy… your just another breather of some stripe… assert opinions from the fog as some sort of divine reality… barf~

                    2. Bapoy

                      Everything is an object, you, me, her, him, your house, my car, dollars, pesos. That’s besides the point.

                      The point is you cannot create gold by printing or creating digits at will, making yourself or a few near you rich in the process. You are either for the common man’s ability to keep their earned purchasing power or you are not. Again, that’s KEEP, not give..

                2. nonclassical

                  Bapoy can’t “follow the $$$$” to prove-document his anti-government rant, either…been challenged to do so often…

                  ..if it’s all so “free market” goodness, Bapoy, you do realize your Rand goddess
                  never debated her nonsense…and you realize her world theory depended upon
                  complete transparency of markets…equal access to information, for all…no “insider trading”, or “HFT”, or secret deals, or secret “derivatives”, or banking
                  secrecy…??? You do realize, right?

                  1. Bapoy

                    My anti-government rant?

                    How about the rant above about Obama subsidizing wall street, what do you call that?

                    There have been various socialists in our history, name 1 that has been “good” in your opinion. One single president..

                    1. nonclassical

                      ..demonstrably, Bapoy will never follow the $$$$ to the source of Wall $treet destruction of U.S. $6.5 trillion, world $16.5 trillion economies for over 7 years already…

                      nor will he follow the $$$$ to his imaginary “socialism” theory…

                      prove me wrong, Bapoy?? You will be confronted for your nonsense, each time you attempt such…

                      (Socratic method-search for truth)

                    2. Bapoy

                      Not looking to prove you wrong. But you are the one backing up the government’s grade on this. Who enforces the laws, Wall Street or Washington? Who elects the politicians in Washington, Wall Street or us?

                      What we need is an involved population and a few men and women with guts that can take back the management of our currency and enforce the law, enforce settlement, enforce non-theft by deploying a gold standard. You cannot have a fiat system and not have theft at the same time. Fiat systems are inherently counterfeiting/imbalance prone. Countries borrow and lend indefinitely (why do you think all jobs have moved to China and India?). Gold forces settlement between nations, meaning that China/India would be forced to buy from the US as the US buys from China/India. And people have to increasingly borrow to maintain the same lifestyle, which means no increased real incomes.

                      Follow the money my friend, follow the money.

            2. LifelongLib

              Markets don’t exist unless somebody with force is backing them up. “I’ll sell you these oranges for $10.” “No, you’ll give them to me for nothing or I’ll blow your brains out”. So orange man calls the cops. Oh wait a minute, there’s the government again. Or (if instead of orange man he’s heroin man) he calls his friends in the cartel. There’s the thugs with machineguns again.

              Your “free market” (market without force) is a myth. It depends on political choices (oranges yes, heroin no) and on enforcement (cops, gangsters with guns).

              1. Bapoy

                You again have it backwards.

                The government can’t stop people from using heroin, or smoking marijuana, or using any other kind of drugs. We waste billions fighting a useless war, while people keep using the drugs anyway.

                Also, the price of the orange is not set by the government at all, you have to be pretty creative to say that. The price of the orange is set by the market, that’s what you don’t want to say.

                People show up to the supermarket and they will either buy the orange or they won’t, based on the price. The farmer/distributor will HAVE TO price the oranges accordingly or will NOT sell them.

                Socialism is what doesn’t work. You see, the government can “give” people money (taxed from someone else) to fund the purchasing of x. The population gets these checks that they can only use to purchase x. The good part is the following, the government signs a contract with one x supplier (which some politicians knows by simple chance). You can guess what will happen to the prices of x for the rest of the population. Replace x with whatever you want, medical care, food, housing, etc, etc..

                1. nonclassical

                  ..your version, Bapoy, of “free market” setting prices is ridiculous…it is $peculators who have been disrupting price-markets-here’s proof:


                  WASHINGTON — When oil prices hit a record $147 a barrel in July 2008, the Bush administration leaned on Saudi Arabia to pump more crude in hopes that a flood of new crude would drive the price down. The Saudis complied, but not before warning that oil already was plentiful and that Wall Street speculation, not a shortage of oil, was driving up prices.

                  Saudi Oil Minister Ali al Naimi even told U.S. Ambassador Ford Fraker that the kingdom would have difficulty finding customers for the additional crude, according to an account laid out in a confidential State Department cable dated Sept. 28, 2008,

                  “Saudi Arabia can’t just put crude out on the market,” the cable quotes Naimi as saying. Instead, Naimi suggested, “speculators bore significant responsibility for the sharp increase in oil prices in the last few years,” according to the cable.

                  What role Wall Street investors play in the high cost of oil is a hotly debated topic in Washington. Despite weak demand, the price of a barrel of crude oil surged more than 25 percent in the past year, reaching a peak of $113 May 2 before falling back to a range of $95 to $100 a barrel.

                  The Obama administration, the Bush administration before it and Congress have been slow to take steps to rein in speculators. On Tuesday, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a U.S. regulatory agency, charged a group of financial firms with manipulating the price of oil in 2008. But the commission hasn’t enacted a proposal to limit the percentage of oil contracts a financial company can hold, while Congress remains focused primarily on big oil companies, threatening in hearings last week to eliminate their tax breaks because of the $38 billion in first-quarter profits the top six U.S. companies earned.

                  The Saudis, however, have struck a steady theme for years that something should be done to curb the influence of banks and hedge funds that are speculating on the price of oil, according to diplomatic cables made available to McClatchy by the WikiLeaks website.

                  Food stamps, Bapoy, were invented to feed farmers whose harvests cost more to plant than “market” remunerated…

                  again, “free market” requires equal access and information at all levels of production…corporate monopoly has eviscerated such…government’s role of
                  “oversight” is certainly missing=application of “anti-trust” regulation…

                  and yet again you have dismissed your own inability to follow the $$$$ and show us-prove your economic ravings….

                  1. nonclassical

                    ps, Bapoy,

                    you ask, “who writes the laws”??…

                    yes, whom does???:

                    “In the late 1990s, the financial industry concluded that what was available to corporations was too good for the common people. The ease of bankruptcy, supposedly, was inviting consumers to run up credit-card debt and other forms of profligate consumption. The Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, conservative think tanks, and, above all, bankers lined up behind bankruptcy “reform.” Congress passed a harsh measure in 2000, but it was pocket-vetoed by President Bill Clinton.

                    Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren came to national prominence with her research demonstrating that the charge of frivolous consumer bankruptcies was a red herring. As she demonstrated, most consumer bankruptcies were in fact driven by medical bills that overwhelmed family resources or by other unforeseen financial calamities such as the death or disability of a breadwinner or the breakup of a marriage. She testified in 2005 that during the eight years that the financial industry was promoting a harsher consumer bankruptcy law, the number of bankruptcy filings actually increased a modest 17 percent, while credit-card profits went up 163 percent to $30.2 billion.”

                    “With the accession of President George W. Bush and Republican control of Congress in 2001, the banking industry increased its efforts to tilt the bankruptcy code against consumers, spending about $100 million in lobbying over eight years. In 2005, Bush signed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. Its key provisions made it more difficult for consumers to file under Chapter 7, under which most debts are paid out of only existing assets and then forgiven, and compelled more people to file under Chapter 13, which requires a partial repayment plan over three to five years. The act introduced for the first time a means test, in which only debtors with income below the state’s median are exempt from the more onerous provisions of the law. If a citizen has above-median income, there is a “presumption” of abuse, and future income is partly attached in order to satisfy past creditor claims, no matter what the circumstances. Many states have a “homestead exemption” protecting an owner-occupied home, up to a dollar limit, from creditor claims. This, too, is overridden by the 2005 federal act.

                    In promoting the law, financial executives testified that if losses could be reduced, savings would be passed along to the public in the form of lower interest rates. But after the law passed, the credit-card industry increased its efforts to market high-interest-rate credit cards to consumers, including those with poor credit ratings. Adding insult to injury, the industry invented new fees. Thanks to the “reform,” when overburdened consumers did go broke, credit-card companies now had far more latitude to squeeze them for repayment.”

                    “Private-equity companies routinely use Chapter 11 after they bleed dry the operating companies they acquire, load them up with debt, extract capital, and then declare that debts unfortunately exceed assets. Once out of bankruptcy, the company can be sold for more profit. Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s firm, pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars as special dividends from such companies as KB Toys, Dade Behring, Ampad, GS Technologies, and Stage Stores, all of which subsequently filed for bankruptcy. In industries such as steel, airlines, and autos, where good union contracts were once common, one of the biggest appeals of a Chapter 11 reorganization is that contractual pension and retiree health obligations can be swept aside.

                    In Chapter 11, even the executives who drove a company into the ground get a second chance. Post-bankruptcy, American Airlines’ president, Tom Horton, was promoted to CEO. And why not? Declaring bankruptcy will save American a small fortune. American, while in bankruptcy, has nonetheless found the money to pay a firm $525,000 a month to advise it on labor cuts. The firm is Bain Capital.”


                  2. Bapoy

                    You need to focus on the root of the issue, not the symptoms.

                    You speak of oil prices… Would speculators be able to drive up prices if they didn’t have almost free credit pumped into the markets by the Fed? Truth is it’s all about legacy. Obama and Bernanke both care more about maintaining a juiced market (not collapsing) until they leave office. Who cares what happens after they leave.

                    So oil prices at 150 is not the result of a free market, it’s the result of a manipulated one. Try again.

                    1. nonclassical

                      wrong again, Bapoy, and yet again you have not “followed the $$$$” to show your work-ANY proof of your theory..

                      here’s Gretchen Morgenson’s documentation on oil price manipulation during bush-cheney, which you also attempted to ignore:

                      July, 2004, 8 large Wall $treet investment banks controlled circa 48% of TOTAL world oil “futures”…now, as we know (perhaps you don’t) these are time dated-must be rolled over-sold…and that’s exactly what was being perpetrated-Goldman-Sachs owned world leading 13.8%…JP Morgan 11%, etc, etc…

                      In July, 2004, Morgenson showed that Goldman sold off 1/3 of their “futures”..
                      the others blinked-Goldman assured them they would be buying back in, in blended and diesel fuels…

                      reason they had to be “assured” was, they were playing the same game played in late 1890’s, 1900’s, 1910’s, 1920’s, all leading to $peculatory economic collapses, documented thoroughly in Geisst’s, “Wall $treet-A History”. They were selling “futures” back and forth to one another to DRIVE PRICES UP…do you deny this? (Yes-no-obviously you won’t offer documentation supporting your claims)

                      At each “trade”, prices rose. Then, in Sept. 2004, Goldman sold off another 1/3
                      of oil “futures”…stampeding all others to sell, sell, sell…which brought prices DOWN just in time for-wait for it-November, 2004 bushcheney election cycle.

                      Now, your proposition stated, but without any form of proof is, government drives these prices-ridiculous, as Morgenson has proven, as WikiLeaks has proven, which you ignored=ignorance…intentional ignorance.

                      You may now vanish into internet ether, or change screen name, so as not to be
                      continually confronted with your own inabilities…

                      (Socratic method)

                    2. Bapoy

                      Those “trades” are captured in a system that’s available for audit by the SEC and the last time i checked there are securities fraud laws (tons of them). I already addressed the lack of enforcement from our regulators on a previous post. Please read my posts.

                      In short, there are financial systems (fiat) that are inherently counterfeit/theft prone. There are laws that are to be enforced by the government. The government will selectively enforce them unless the population complains.

                      The free markets/gold/non-fractional reserve system can live and actually helps enforced honest disciplines and laws.

                      From a socialist standpoint, no currency suffices as some theft is deemed good, but some theft is deemed bad. Some printing is good, some is bad. Some breaking of laws is good, some is not. Are you confused yet?

        2. F. Beard

          Why not let the markets dictate the money supply and the value/interest of money? Bapoy


          But for government money, inexpensive fiat is the ONLY ethical option otherwise private interests are free riding on the taxation authority and power of government. And that’s fascism.

          1. Bapoy

            Why can’t the government just tax the people for the funds it needs instead of borrowing?

            If the population demands a service from government, shouldn’t it be easy for the government to raise taxes?

            But, there is nothing to stop irresponsibility when you can either borrow the funds or print the currency. Both are a mistake and both will eventually cause the issues you see today.

            1. F. Beard

              Why can’t the government just tax the people for the funds it needs instead of borrowing? Bapoy

              A monetary sovereign should NEVER borrow. That’s welfare for the rich. Got a problem with that? Or not?

              But let’s say the banks have created $30 in debt for every $1 in existence. How is taxation supposed to fix that? Or should the market fix it with crushing deflation and WWIII to follow GDII as WWII followed GDI?

              The government-backed credit cartel is the problem! And what are you doing? You’re hacking at the potential solution!

              1. Bapoy

                How about a gold backed currency and a stop to fractional reserve? Tax the population if you want to spend more. Of course, it won’t be a piece of cake as the impact is very direct and is not put off to years down the line, like it is under a fiat system.

                I fail to see how deflation is bad for the population. How are lower prices crushing to anyone if your labor is able to buy you more goods and services? I would take deflation over stable prices anytime? Doesn’t competition result in lower prices? Isn’t deflation the natural state of affairs?

      2. nonclassical

        F Beard,

        You have STILL not “followed the $$$$” to PROVE your theory…please do so-but you can’t-won’t-never have-never will…and here’s documentation of where the $$$$ went (yet again) to show:


        and here’s explanation of:


        FACT that government has perpetrated cover-up, rather than “transparency, oversight, accountability”, which is their job, does not mean government either
        caused economic disaster of U.S. $6.5 trillion, world $16.5 trillion per year economies for over 7 years already….in fact, as we all know, (QE1,2,3) government has literally “bought into” Wall $treet bailouts…some say at the point of the gun of utter destruction of economies…

        Here’s some stats for you (again-you continue to ignore): 2001, Wall $treet “derivatives” valued around $2 trillion-but as the linked documentation shows, by 2007, over $600 trillion…government had nothing to do with that…beyond Texas RepubLIEcon Phil Gramm’s secret insert into Clinton era Omnibus Bill, which eviscerated Glass-Steagal…allowing “securitization” of financial instruments kept separate from Wall $treet since depression era institution implemented…you know-50 years.

        Had you read “Wall $treet-A History”, you would realize this has all been perpetrated before said financial separation-regulation:


        $3.97, delivered to your door free

  28. Lambert Strether Post author

    I wondered if anybody would click through to the transcript to find the Easter Egg:

    ou know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart then how come they lose so goddamn always?

    Remind anybody of Why Progressives Are Lame, and the ensuing discussion?

    * * *

    I think — see the bottom line of the post, er, at the end — that there’s huge opportunity here…

  29. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thanks, Lambert. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The media is the message.” … on so many levels.

    1. susan the other

      Just this: capitalism is now labor. How the hell did that happen? But nevermind, we have become confused. And: somehow a dollar plus interest has come to signify value. Interest on what, total planetary death? New ideas anyone?

      1. Chauncey Gardiner

        … “Is your money working for you today?”

        You have touched on something very interesting… a current social construct that is perhaps most consistent with elemental human nature, but that is placing humanity and maybe even the planet itself at risk.

        Is there a superior systemic alternative? If so, what might that be and how might it be implemented?

        Don’t know. Wish I did. How we collectively define an individual’s “Worth” brought us here ( http://www.bloomberg.com/billionaires/2013-08-23/cya ), but can it get us out?

  30. just me

    Well, our Constitution is a masterpiece. James Madison was a genius. … We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reasons. … We cared about our neighbors. … We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence.

    The Constitution: “…jury…jury…jury…”

    comment #1: http://www.emptywheel.net/2012/05/07/nyt-covers-the-war-on-terror-drugs-with-no-mention-of-larger-context/#comment-347640

    comment #2: http://www.emptywheel.net/2012/05/07/nyt-covers-the-war-on-terror-drugs-with-no-mention-of-larger-context/#comment-347826

    When I had the jury epiphany — and I call it that because there was that moment of light when suddenly the story made sense, the model worked, the thing fell together, and it sticks with me to this day — I set to wondering about the assumptions behind the Constitution. Now that I had a thread to pull. And there is that thing about there being no angels amongst us — if there were, we’d have angels to govern us or we wouldn’t need to be governed because we were angels. Madison said it. Jefferson said it…

      1. Whistling in the Dark

        But maybe he could have taught us “planetary devastation” … with dignity! You know, if it’s going down… go down with it some kind of a hero. Do your heroics save the thing? Maybe not. They do? Well, it will be good to remember why it was worth saving.* You know, if we are all dead — who gives a shtt?? I’m not sure why Madison could have done this for us, but you know, whoever.

        *And who can put this into words? Mmm-hmm, again. I mean, who can save the notion that humanity is worth saving? I mean so it would convince the evil love-child of Socrates and Caligula. Can’t do it. … But something about rebellion in the face of absurdity is a start. Kali and Gulo might even go for that. .. hey, it’s funny. You have to reach across a supercontinent to complete the pun, but “caligula” kind of means god of glutton for destruction. Anyway, that’s what I meant by it. So, you save the world, maybe, temporarily, but can you slay that guy? No? Well, then, won’t he win someday — I mean, if only his goals are so utterly… asymmetrical! The irrevocable action of zero! So, with that specter there, who cares whether it is sooner or later? It is important to have a reason for being, you know, in order to continue doing so. That’s all I’m saying. Just a friendly reminder.

  31. optimader

    “.. I don’t have a TV..
    NOTE ..TV is a public health hazard.”

    I think you mistake the syringe for the morphine.

    TV is not a health hazard. Granted, much of the programming is garbage but in the end what people watch or for that matter how they spend their time and form opinions is all about elective behavior. There is nothing righteous about not owning a TV, I own big one and I watch it selectively. It can be a fantastic and enriching bit of technology.

    The bulk least common denominator programming served up just aggregates a noncritical thinking public. If it wasn’t “TV” it would be talk radio or crap grocery store checkout line print “media”.

    On programming, Newroom is (to be fair I’ve only seen a couple trailer snippets like the embedded vid) a typical mediocre example of a US produced hit you over the head imitation. Such is our 800lbs provincial media gorilla, that sucks the bandwidth/awareness out of the creatively superior productions. And the US public are generally unaware of the originals. The notion of exceptionalism is best served up in an absence of alternatives.

    As is so often the case mediocrity and literalness wins market share over superior alternatives that operate on more subtle levels with satire and snark.

    Finkleman’s “the Newsroom”, More Tears”, “Good God”
    The Newsroom S1E2 P1 (Dinner At Eight)

    The Newsroom – 01×10 – Meltdown, Part I

    Timeless stuff

    A behind-the-scenes look at Good God

    Ian Richardsons’s “House of Cards”, “to Play the King”. “Final Cut”

    “Nothing lasts for ever. Even the longest, most glittering reign must come to an end some day.”
    “You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment.”
    Out of this world scripting

    Ricy Gervais’s “The Office”

    All are superior but not even on the radar in the US. At best, they enjoy occasional and limited exposure \ by virtue of syndication on Sunday night PBS stations, if lucky.

  32. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

    I think in theory, politics is a battle of ideas. In practice, it’s 10000 times more complicated. Firstly, people misunderstand each other because they assume too much about their understanding of the words, locutions, slang of the others. Then, #2, there’s the professional mystificators (fumisterie in French): they’re tasked with sowing confusion through deceit, self-aggrandizement, etc. etc. etc. Then #3, how religions or the traditions of yore cause perturbations in the political “atmosphere”. Then #4, in the USA say, they’re could be 300 “regionalisms” : @ one per every million citizens/residents. Then, #4, the penalties incurred for over-ranting and over-raging aginst the status quo, leading to avoidance-tendency on “dissident” speech. It’s a Long List …

  33. Paul Tioxon

    The unique point of the McAvoy anchorman, is that he is a conservative republican, or used to be before the Tea Party pushed him over into a moderate point on the left/right scale. So, this is the old swithceroo. When you have one successful TV show, say, “THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES”, you follow up with a “GREEN ACRES”. Man from U.N.C.L.E. get you Girl from.. etc. So following the wet dream of liberals during the Bush years, “THE WEST WING”, we get “THE NEWSROOM” during the Sharia takeover by Moozlem Hitler Stalin POl Pot, Hussein Obama El Shabazz. And why does Mr. I “used to be a normal republican and now I’m called a RINO” think America is now the Old Grey Mare, and she ain’t what she used to be? Well, could it be because Obama is in the White House? Duh!.

    We have to take back America before we can re make it Numero One! But, being an educated republican, dismissive of left street protests with no formal org chart, he actually has facts and figures in hand when asked if we are the best country in the world and answers with a litany of not #1 metrics. Except for military, imprisonment and what’s the 3rd, whatever! He can’t be recognized as a real republican for even implicitly casting doubt on the need for overspending on defense, because you never know when the specter of war will rear its ugly head and find you flat footed. No More Pearl Harbors! OOOPPPSSS, No MORE 9/11 Twin Towers Exploding!!

    His zeitgeist is hardly the critical theory school of de-construction, he is a crank. A right wing crank. And his crankiness is more palatable than the usual Youtube right wing denunciations of America as a Zionist Occupied Government (ZOG-“White people, wake up, the Jew is using the Negroe against us”). Joe Six Pack and his antecedents have been complaining about America since there was Hell in a Handbascket and the 5 cent cigar went up in price to a dime at United Tobacco. That does not mean this isn’t telling us something more meaningful than an anecdote, or isolated writing on the wall on the Frankford El, it is who is complaining about the Fall of America this time. And it ain’t Allen Ginsberg during the Nixon Regime. It’s a republican news anchor, being crowded out by his own party and out of power at the hands of a Black President.

  34. brazza

    There is no greatest country in the world. Born in Italy, I’ve lived and worked in 8 countries (including the USA for 8 years). The very concept is absolute horse-shit. Is EVERYTHING a competitive sport? Every population, as every person, has characteriological tendencies that can be perceived as strengths and weaknesses. In fact … they are just … differences; for which an artist like me is eternally grateful. The USA has been the most influential country in the world for the past several decades … but that in no way makes it the best, only the one with the greatest responsibilities perhaps.

  35. Emma

    Interesting clip with some great NC comments, though I’m alarmed at how negative a few of the comments are.

    I think the US is great but not the greatest.

    It is simply a country of extremes (the wonderful, and the woeful…) constantly playing a tug-o-war game with its’ own people. You have Senator Davis delivering an 11 hour filibuster that prevented a vote taking place on a bill that would have really reduced a woman’s access to safe abortion. Yet, it was in the same state that also executed its’ 500th person in the same week.

    Looking at womens issues alone, we can see that the US is not the greatest. For example, New Zealand was the first country to sign into law the right of women to vote in 1893, whilst it didn’t happen in the US until 1920. However, on a positive note remaining on the global stage, we can all be thankful to the US for having the balls, positive and practical mindset, to step in and solve shit elsewhere like WWII and ex-Yugoslavia because the rest of the world were too busy sitting on their asses squabbling about what to do.

    Yet here too we see the other side of the quarter. Just look at how the USA treats its returned soldiers who have fought for, and protected the US abroad. These men who were willing to sacrifice their lives for American people (and not only) are shockingly and inhumanely forgotten about by the government when they return home, with way too little in the form of tangible long-term support ie. just look at the statistics for returned servicemen living in cardboard boxes. WTF?

    There is nothing wrong in being proud of your country. Indeed one should be, and to be American too so Fxxk the talking-heads on The Newsroom. But please refrain from going on about being the greatest nation on earth because it cannot be proven outright. Nowhere IS the greatest nation on earth. America might be great in that it is probably the most innovative place on earth – just check out Wikipedia for the list of American inventions and Nobel prize winners. Ha! What other country can beat those achievements?!

    However, if you are to aspire to greatness as a nation, then surely you could continually strive to do better for your fellow men and women in your own backyard, otherwise, what’s the point of feeling patriotic? I think Americans need to remind themselves of what John Kennedy said decades ago: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” If Americans remembered this, stopped the tug-o-war games (and digesting too much bitch-sxxt via TV, Radio, or blogs) and brought both ends of the rope together, in a genuinely democratic, prosperous and egalitarian way, then that would indeed make them pretty close to being the greatest nation on earth.

      1. RBHoughton

        I just watched the film clip you referenced.

        I’m an amateur historian and have discovered many obscure or concealed facts that are essential to an underrstanding of what goes on in the world. I scold academic historians for playing this game of substituting nationalism for reality.

        Your link should be watched by everyone at NC. There may be some shortcuts in the narrative but the overall presentation is persuasive. It certainly confirms what I have learned myself.

        So here is BackwardsEvolutions link again:


  36. robnume

    I, too, watched this episode on HBO, which I can no longer afford. I grabbed my husband and brought him in for the Jeff Daniels’ character “rant” at the university. We were SO non-plussed that we sat there agog, since NO FICTIONAL TV show has ever had the balls to say, “We’re not No. 1”, and then go on to state just some of the reasons for this fact. Wish I could still afford premium cable channels; oh, well, middle class was fun!

  37. noodle

    I would recommend anyone intrigued by that Newsroom clip and thinking about watching further to avoid the show at all costs. While I defintely appreciate the message of the rant (or at least the first half, the rest is ‘greatest generation’ nonsense) the show as a whole is godawful. It’s writer Aaron Sorkin at his abosolute worst, given free reign to write snappy but thourghly unrealistic dialogue and generally be preachy. In his lament of the lack of quality, objective television news in the modern era he reveals a fundemental ignorance of how the world actually works and why that lack exists in the first place.

    On the subject of TV as a whole, I understand the inclination to ignore and ridicule the ‘boob tube’, but the fact is that we’re living in a golden age of quality television right now (and have been for the last decade or so). A lot of it is ‘merely’ extremely high quality entertainment but The Wire and Treme in particular should pretty much be required viewing for, well, everyone, in my opinion. There’s also still plenty of good stuff coming out of Hollywood, if you would take the time to look.

    It’s also extremely disappointing to see the denizens of this blog indulge in musical genre snobbery. There are plenty of talented people and plenty of great work going on in all styles of music, and to indulge in genre and era elitism is, frankly, moronic.

    1. craazyman

      After “Hogan’s Heroes” anything shown on a television set has to be considered little more than a symptom of cultural decline and creative exhaustion. That was the best show ever shown on a TV.

      (Except Star Trek and Kung Fu, of course. And also that show narrated by Leonard Nimoy about swamp mosters, ghosts and paranormal phenomenon, I forgot the title. Denis the Menace was pretty good too, but that goes back to the 17thh century)

      1. craazyboy

        Ya, Hogan’s Heroes almost made Nazis look lovable.

        “Mash” was another classic. Then “Frasier”. “24” was good as a TV show, but not for real life.

        Then on cable (which has very much improved the boob tube state of the art) there was the 2004 remake of Battlestar Galactica which was great. More recently there was Spartacus if you have strong stomach. Now Game of Thrones could turn out to be the best series of all time.

        So it’s not a total wasteland, and you can find most of it archived at Netflix or Hulu.

  38. Conscience of a Conservative

    Felt very contrived. And while I understand that the United States does not rank #1 in many things, I still come across many people who emigrated from other countries and very grateful what this country offers and furthermore have no desire to ever go back. While there is clearly room for improvement it is also true that it would be quite difficult to get wide spread agreement from most on what that improvement should be. Oh, and lastly, while it seems the point of this vignette was to get people out of a sense of complacency, it certainly never offered any concrete solutions.

  39. zygmuntNICEbernier

    Maybe the USA has one of the greatest mosaics of people, on earth. So, it looks like a complicated place.

  40. ChrisCairns

    Seen this before, a bit staged, but very compelling viewing.

    My tuppence worth, which mirrors other comments above, is that Americans just don’t know anything about anything outside of America. Inward looking etc.

    A high percentage of Australians know who the US Pres is, the President’s election gets a lot of coverage in the press here and, like many other countries, we have skin the game when it comes to who is ‘notionally’ in charge over there.

    How many Americans, even NC readers, could profess to know who the current Australian Prime Minister is, or that there is an election underway?

    Why the hell am interested in just how bad things are in the US, the UK and elsewhere?

    I guess my Mum taught me to look outside of my own four walls and to read. Like many other non-Americans, we look at what is going on there so that we can, hopefully, recognise the patterns and pathways that you have taken. That we may avoid and continue to embrace leaders that have a social conscience.

    Doesn’t work too well here either:

    We still allow energy companies to go onto private individuals’ land and drill for gas;

    We still don’t teach our kids about the genocide of our indigenous peoples;

    We still argue about gay marriage.


    But I wouldn’t choose to live in the USA in month of bloody Sundays.

    Thank you Yves and Lambert as I have learned so much and I pray for a better future, but continue to watch out for those drones…

    1. nonclassical

      here hear, and from those of us who have lived around the world…(and our friends, who still do-advised us against coming back)

  41. villageidiot

    “I don’t give a damn about a greenback dollar, spend it as fast as I can, for a good guitar and a wailin’ song, the only things that I understand, oh Lord, the only things that I understand.” – Hoyt Axton

    You gives a rip about the elite anymore? Who cares if America is the greatest country in the world? Why should it be?

    Go to Colorado and stop in at O’Dells Brewery, Avery Brewing, Boulder Brewing, Left Hand Brewing up in Longmont. Of course, New Belgium is there in Fort Collins, so you can drink good beer in Colorado.

    Buy a six pack of Stone IPA and you’ll be drinking some of the finest brew on the planet. If it’s from the keg, it will be even better. If you don’t like that, drive to Montana and have a Bent Nail IPA from Red Lodge Brewing. Then you can drive to Michigan for some Crooked Tree IPA for Dark Horse Brewing.

    The best beers are made in America.

    Forget about the powers that were, there is a life here on earth without even a peep of their existence.

  42. REader2011

    The Alliances were not getting real power, but they were spreading new ideas and a new spirit. Now, as a political party, they became the People’s party (or Populist party), and met in convention in 1890 in Topeka, Kansas. The great Populist orator from that state, Mary Ellen Lease, told an enthusiastic crowd:

    Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people,by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street… . Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags… . the politicians said we suffered from overproduction. Overproduction, when 10,000 little children … starve to death every year in the U.S. and over 100,000 shop girls in New York are forced to sell their virtue for bread… .

    There are thirty men in the United States whose aggregate wealth is over one and one-half billion dollars. There are half a million looking for work… . We want money, land and transportation. We want the abolition of the National Banks, and we want the power to make loans direct from the government. We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out… .We will stand by our homes and stay by our firesides by force if necessary, and we will not pay our debts to the loan-shark companies until the Government pays its debts to us. The people are at bay, let the bloodhounds of money who have dogged us thus far beware.

    — Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

    1. noodle

      I wouldn’t go around using Howard Zinn as evidence of anything. The man was a horrofic ‘historian’ who knowingly filled his books with lies and bullshit in order to push an agenda.

      1. REader2011

        “The work of an intellectual is not to mould the political will of others; it is, through the analyses that he does in his own field, to re-examine evidence and assumptions, to shake up habitual ways of working and thinking, to dissipate conventional familiarities, to re-evaluate rules and institutions and to participate in the formation of a political will (where he has his role as citizen to play).”

        ― Michel Foucault

        1. noodle

          There is a legitimate place for revisionist history. Howard Zinn doesn’t qualify however. His entire career, and that book in particular, are predicated on the assumption that all of US history is a whitewashed lie, and anyone portrayed in a positive light was actually a villain who wanted to crush the plebs. He then proceeds to caricature and quote-mine in an effort to prove his point. The man was a joke, and rightly viewed with contempt by actual historians.

          1. myshkin

            ” Howard Zinn doesn’t qualify…The man was a joke, and rightly viewed with contempt by actual historians.”

            – I suspect you’re not qualified to speak for the sub-set of “actual historians.” Whatever you think of his work as an historian, Howard Zinn, the man, was not a joke.

            1. noodle

              The fact that A People’s History of the United States was only barely beaten out by a David Barton book as the worst history book in print in 2012 tells you all you need to know about Howard Zinn and his credability.

                  1. REader2011

                    well said but let me share what Issac Asimov had observed:

                    “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

                    — Issac Asimov

  43. impermanence

    There is no such thing as a country, as only individuals truly exist.

    The creation of these fictitious institutions in simply the most efficacious method of stealing the most from the most.

    Otherwise, what would their raison d’existence be?

    1. JEHR

      Institutions were originally created for the public good by the public. When these institutions were taken over by the elite, they became their means to become richer (e.g., The Fed, Congress, House, OCC, and all their many protrusions).

      1. nonclassical


        not to offend, but “institutions” began with (western Europe) lords who realized they could tax townspeople more efficiently that feudal tenants farming…so prioritized towns-gatherings to administer services-skills desired at the times..

        Those taxes were, of course, used to maintain military might…

        Kings went a step further-“purchasing” the right hand of god to sit at their side-validate their divine right to “govern”…symbiotic relationship of course…

        this “church” aspect also was used to get rid of local sources of power-burning
        witches who supplied natural remedies and even mid-wife services…

        prior, wondering “priests” and “priestesses”, vowing no possessions, carried out
        such services, aiding harvests for daily bread, etc….

      2. impermanence

        Yeah, and the cow jumped over the moon!

        Groups exist for the sole purpose of fleecing individuals [one way or another]. It’s the way it had always been, and the way it will always be.

        Indivudals [via natural self-interest] have always used the power of the group for their own enrichment.

          1. pe

            Randroid ? Hardly. Impermanent is another socialist fool. There is no such thing as an individual – these are just socialist collectives of cells. All working for the common good! The stupidity of these cells – luckily there are some smart cancerous cells that are selfish and dont work for the common good.

        1. nonclassical

          …the “power” you note derived from military might, physically…

          and from religious doctrine, subliminally and overtly…

          in the exact manner described…which you have not debated, contrasted, nor discussed..

          matter of fact, it was the invention of eyeglasses, allowing “technology” to continue beyond age of failing eyesight, which led to accumulation of skilled
          practitioners, in early village society…

  44. REader2011

    Sheldon Wolin, one of the leading political philosophers of our time, talks about what he means by “every one of the country’s primary institutions is anti-democratic, anti-democratic in spirit, design, and operation.”


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