Author Archive: David Jaffe

A Conscious Ignorance

I have grown weary of paying heed to a heedless world. Weary of daily examining the endless tragedy, corruption, greed, degradation, misery, and injustice that passes for news these days. Weary of watching and listening while others simply turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. Weary of caring more for humankind than it cares for itself. Why should I?

A flower that turns away from the light cannot fully blossom. My spirit has shriveled with the darkness. I yearn to escape the shadows. Is that so wrong?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that “there are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.” At this moment, I wish to be ignorant of the world’s myriad troubles and of the fools and tyrants that enable such. Knowledge is not power here. It is spiritually corrosive. It is painful and distressing. A conscious ignorance is the anodyne.

For the time being, I choose to pay no heed to the world at large. I will no longer allow the current of current events to drag me down. I will not read the New York Times, listen to NPR, watch newscasts or even the Daily Show, respond to mailed and e-mailed pleas for support from various groups and causes, or otherwise make an effort to remain informed. Strife and suffering will go on whether I tune in or tune out. What will change if I bear witness?

I will leave it to others to fight the good fight, rail against injustice, expose deceit and hypocrisy, and tilt against windmills. I can devote myself to less taxing pursuits. There are other things I can do and say and focus upon. I can write poetry and prose instead of diatribes and opinion pieces. I can take a different path, one that is less toxic and more affirming to my spirit.

It will not be easy. I have grown unhealthily accustomed–perhaps even addicted–to a diet I can no longer stomach, one that never truly fed me in the first place. I hunger for something more nourishing.

Do you understand?

Adieu, for now.

Fun de Mental (x 10)

How are you feeling today? Tense? Tentative? Tender? I ask because of the uniqueness of the date. It’s 10/10/10. The tenth day of the tenth month of the tenth year of the century. Isn’t that intenth? Twice today, unless you’re on military time, it will be 10:10 on 10/10/10. Outside of the Playboy Mansion, where are you going to see so many 10′s? (Apropos of nothing, wouldn’t it be apropos if the Playboy Mansion were located in Silicon Valley?) For most of us, the novelty of this date is cause for mild interest. For some others, perhaps members of an obscure religious cult that believe a confluence of binary numbers is a sign of the apocalypse, today is cause for anxiety or depression or delusional rapture.

Fortunately, today is also World Mental Health Day. In honor of this special occasion, the crack pundits at Kmareka are taking a crack at identifying 10 individuals who appear to be cracked in some measure. Why? Because we want you to feel good about your mental health. And what better way to bask in the flickering glow of your sanity than to ogle all the wackier folks in your midst? So here goes. We’ve sifted through the Chex Party Mix that passes for news these days and, in no particular order, pulled out these 10 nuts:

1. Kenneth E. Bonds – This fellow from Memphis appears to have some anger management and impulse control issues, not to mention an aggressive sense of fashion. A couple of weeks back, as reported by the Scripps Howard News Service, Bonds “began yelling at two youths, ages 16 and 17, about pulling up their pants” and then “pulled a black semiautomatic pistol from his waistband” and “fired several shots, hitting the older youth in the buttock.”

2. Talmadge D. Littlejohn – This Mississippi judge may have a God complex, believing either that he is above the law or that his robe confers superpowers upon him. Last week, as reported by the Jackson Clarion Ledger, Littlejohn jailed an attorney “on a contempt of court [charge] for failing to recite the pledge of allegiance in open court.” In so doing, he “ignored what most in the nation’s legal community deemed to be a question of settled law” since 1943.

3. Rick Santorum - The former Senator from Pennsylvania apparently resides in an alternate universe where up is down and the George W. Bush years were the good ol’ days. Last Thursday, as reported by Think Progress, Santorum went on Fox News and claimed that, “under the Bush administration…poverty among African Americans and among single unmarried women…was at the lowest rate ever in the history of this country. So Obama’s policies are not working. Bush policies worked. For a long time as a matter of fact.” Unfortunately, “there’s one small problem with Santorum’s claim — it’s completely false….Under Bush, the number of Americans living in poverty jumped an astonishing 26.1 percent.” African Americans and single mothers grew more impoverished. The only thing poorer is Sanotorum’s grasp on reality.

4. James Fletcher – This Brit made a bizarre spectacle of himself last week when he crashed a book-launching party for Jonathan Franzen in London and then “proceeded to steal the author’s glasses off his face, leaving a ransom note with a demand for $100,000 and a Hotmail address by way of contact.” His rationale, as he related to GQ Magazine, was that the party was “dull,” so he “decided to do something.”

5. Charlie Davies – This professional soccer player likes to pull a fast one. As reported by the Associated Press, Davies “nearly died in a car crash last year” yet was apprehended by French police last weekend “for going 125 mph.” He later claimed to have switched places in the vehicle with his teammate.

6. Sharron Angle – This candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada appears to suffer from paranoia and Islamophobia. As reported in the Associated Press, she recently “told a crowd of supporters that the country needs to address a ‘militant terrorist situation’ that has allowed Islamic religious law to take hold in some American cities.” She claimed that Dearborn, Michigan, and Frankford, Texas, were somehow operating under Sharia law. While the former “has a thriving Muslim community,” the latter no longer even exists, having been “annexed into Dallas around 1975.”

7-10. Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, Dan Maes, & Alan West – This quartet of candidates for political office seems to think they’re something they’re not, namely “secret agents.” As initially reported by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and then by The Raw Story, these four horsemen of the apocalypse all “claimed to have received classified information or have special roles in law enforcement,” although “there is little or no evidence to back up the candidates’ claims.” Perhaps the evidence was destroyed by Obama and his fellow Nazi Muslim socialist extremists.

Happy World Mental Health Day!

On The Menu

Yesterday, while unwinding from work, I found myself plopped on the couch watching a rerun of Family Guy. The episode was a takeoff of the 1982 film, “Poltergeist,” and was entitled “Petergeist.” (For you non-viewers of this subversively—and sometimes inappropriately—funny animated comedy, Peter is the family patriarch.) In one scene, upon finding themselves homeless and hungry, the Griffin family visited a soup kitchen. They sat down at a table and were waited upon by a staff person. The following exchange ensued:

WOMAN: “Hi and welcome to the soup kitchen. I’ll just start you off with a basket of pizza crusts and apple cores. Oh, and we do have one special today. It’s an avocado pit with a little bit of avocado still on it, and that comes on a ripped pair of boxer shorts.”

PETER: (examining a menu) “Now, I’m trying to decide between the tossed spaghetti on a newspaper and the half yogurt with a balled-up tissue in it.”

Later in the evening, I returned to the couch to watch NCIS, which was aired on the CBS affiliate out of Hartford. During the show’s commercial breaks, I was repeatedly subjected to political ads from Connecticut’s two U.S. Senate candidates, Linda McMahon and Richard Blumenthal. The ads were pointedly negative. The candidates “approved” of them nonetheless. I did not.

Come this Election Day, the citizens of Connecticut will be forced to choose between the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and the state Attorney General, between a woman who “made a fortune from…[a business that] lives off performance-enhancing drugs, violence and the exploitation of young people” and a man who “abysmally erred in lying when he said that he had fought in Vietnam.” That’s some choice.

It got me to thinking about the Family Guy episode, about the limited and distasteful options presented to the family at the soup kitchen. Who wants to eat if forced “to decide between the tossed spaghetti on a newspaper and the half yogurt with a balled-up tissue in it”? Who wants to vote if forced to decide between an exploiter and a liar?

I’m not suggesting that people abstain from voting. But I think a lot of Americans, myself included, are tired of holding their noses while they do so. What’s a concerned citizen to do?

Sad News

Autumn has arrived. The air is cooler, the leaves are turning, and the baseball regular season has concluded. Sadly for many New Englanders, the Boston Red Sox failed to make the playoffs. In the grand scheme of things, it is a minor disappointment, one that will weigh the heart only briefly. Other news is considerably sadder. Ben Mondor, the gentle and generous owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox, has passed away:

Ben Mondor, 85; owner revitalized R.I.’s Red Sox

The Rhode Island Red Sox were on the verge of bankruptcy after the 1976 season, their facilities and organization deemed unworthy of membership in the Triple A International League.

In Boston, Red Sox minor league director Ed Kenney began searching for a new owner and asked the advice of former Red Sox pitcher Chet Nichols, a Rhode Island native. Nichols recommended that the Red Sox approach Ben Mondor, a recently retired businessman. He agreed to take over the struggling team.

“It was a decision that saved professional baseball in Rhode Island,’’ said Dick Bresciani, then the Red Sox director of publicity. “Once Ben took over, he turned everything around in a short time.’’

Mr. Mondor, whose renamed Pawtucket Red Sox became a model minor league franchise, died at his home in Warwick Neck, R.I., Sunday evening. He was 85.

Under the guidance of Mr. Mondor, Pawtucket went from drawing 70,000 fans in 1977 to a record 688,421 in 2005. More than 500 future major league players passed through Pawtucket during Mr. Mondor’s tenure…

At McCoy Stadium yesterday, team president Mike Tamburro became emotional while discussing Mr. Mondor’s legacy.

“It’s the end of a great era,’’ said Tamburro, who joined the team in 1977. “This guy was an icon. What he accomplished here is just absolutely remarkable. It’s a great loss, not only for us personally but for the entire community. He was a Rhode Island treasure.

“It’s not going to end now. This operation will continue to grow and flourish because of him and in his memory.’’

Lou Schwechheimer, vice president and general manager of the PawSox, said Mr. Mondor was especially proud of the $16 million renovation to McCoy Stadium that was finished in 1999. That allowed the franchise to stay in Pawtucket.

“He was always great when things were great,’’ Schwechheimer said. “And he was one in a billion when things were going rough. He made you think in the roughest of times that you could conquer the world. That was the sheer presence of his personality.’’ [full story]

I remember Mr. Mondor from my days working at the Brown University Bookstore in Providence in the mid-1980′s. He would shop there every so often and was very cordial to the staff. Without having to be asked and without making a fuss, he would leave a handful of free PawSox tickets, so that we might enjoy a game. Indeed, I first attended a professional baseball game (not including spring training games in Florida) at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, where there are no bad seats and you are close to the action. I relish the memory of those games and others I have gone on to see (at 18 different major league ballparks). Thank you, Mr. Mondor, for your kindness, generosity, and good works. You will be missed.

Faithfully Ignorant

It’s not often I am presented with the opportunity to tout my atheism and gloat. After all, we of little faith generally do not win any popularity contests. Or elections, for that matter. But we did come out ahead in a recent Pew Research Center survey on religious knowledge:

Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences. [full article]

It’s not always easy being a faithless heathen in a country full of God-fearing believers, even if we are possessed of greater religious knowledge (and the occasional demon). Granted, times have changed. In years past, we might have gotten invited to the occasional barbecue (featuring us as the main entree). Now, the worst we might face is a look of scorn or pity or, ironically, disbelief. I guess folks have the Muslims to get all hot and bothered about instead.

Anyway, if you’d like to take a 15-question sample of the Pew survey, follow this link. In case you’re wondering, I aced it—15 out of 15 correct. I’m going to savor this moment while I can, since an eternity in hell (where the televisions are all tuned to Fox News) reportedly awaits me.

Battered Nation

He was passionate and charming, a God-fearing man sustained by the strength of his convictions and the force of his personality. He did not hesitate to speak his mind and did so bluntly and plainly. He conveyed power, self-assurance, and a rugged masculinity. When she was with him, he made her feel protected and watched over. She fell for him hard.

They were together for 8 years. At first, he seemed to treat her well. Though not a generous man by nature, he occasionally managed to bestow modest gifts upon her, about which he made a great fuss. Over time, he became less giving and less attentive. He seemed to take her for granted. He began to ignore and minimize her needs, thinking only of himself and his cronies. He became secretive and deceitful. He spied on her. He spent unwisely and took money from her. He burned through their savings and amassed a mountain of debt. He behaved rashly, even picking fights with strangers. When she brought up his behavior, he angrily questioned her love and intimated that she was unfaithful. He told her that no one would care for her if he left.

Despite everything, she stayed with him. She looked the other way or made excuses for his behavior. She rationalized that he could not help himself, that he was just naturally intense and passionate. She felt like she needed him. So she stuck it out, busying herself with work and taking refuge in the creature comforts of eating and shopping—and in the illusion that everything was all right.

More years passed, and then something shifted. His hold over her waned, and she managed to gain her independence. She even started to see someone else, who seemed more kindly and sensitive to her needs. But she remained burdened by the legacy of her prior relationship. She was haunted by crushing debt and painful memories that defied escape. She despaired, and her new relationship suffered. He could not rescue her, and she faulted him for this inability and his matter-of-fact demeanor.

When her old beau began to woo her back, pledging that things would be different, she found herself oddly tempted.

The Arbiters of “Over”

Baseball legend Yogi Berra once famously remarked, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” But when is something over? Really over? Is it when the fat lady sings? Why should she decide? Who made her the arbiter of “over”? What if she declares it over prematurely, because she’s grown bored and is jonesing for a big bucket of KFC? What happens then?

Maybe it’s over when a panel of economists emerge from their Fortress of Solvitude to say it’s over:

U.S. recession ended June 2009, NBER finds

The U.S. recession that started in December 2007 ended in June 2009, making it the longest slump since World War Two, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The NBER, a nonprofit group that determines when recessions begin and end, said the economy bottomed out in June 2009, followed by a slow expansion. The group said the 18-month recession was the longest since a pair of 16-month slumps in 1973-75 and 1981-82.

Yet the NBER also cautioned that its findings bear no relation to the current state of the economy or represent a forecast about the future. If another downturn occurs anytime soon, the NBER said, it would constitute a separate recession…

“In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity,” the NBER said. “Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month.” [full story]

Well, gee, I’m overcome with ebullience. Break out the Champale. To heck with the Cheez Whiz, this occasion calls for Velveeta. Let the revelry begin!

If I appear sarcastically dismissive of this announcement, it’s because I am. Not because I dispute the panel’s economic findings, but because it all seems a tad out of touch with the economic realities of most Americans. It will take more than a modest uptick in the gross domestic product or other indicators to convince me that the Great Recession is over. A whole lot more. This country has barely begun to climb out of the massive hole that Wall Street and their political bedfellows drove us into. We’re no more out of that hole than the 33 Chileans are out of the mine they’ve been trapped in since August 5. (Of course, that didn’t stop some psychologist in Chile from recently declaring that “the worst is now over” for the miners.) A sliver of daylight should not be mistaken for a recovery. It’s not even close.

So put the Champale back on ice. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Readings for These Unreal Times

In the event you seek something other than distraction this weekend, here are some suggested readings for your edification:

Synthetic Novelty Is Not Reality – In Salon, writer David Sirota reflects on “the hullabaloo surrounding Florida pastor Terry Jones and his much-hyped plans to burn the Quran” and concludes that “we have just witnessed the realization of historian Daniel J. Boorstin’s most renowned prophecy”—i.e., “that real news and serious discourse would eventually be replaced by a ‘new kind of synthetic novelty’ called ‘pseudo-events.’”

America’s Decoupling from Reality – Journalist Robert Parry examines “the consequences of the nation’s three-decade-old decoupling from reality” and “how the country stumbled into this morass” (republished by Common Dreams).

Stephen Hawking Asks, What Is Reality?Time magazine offers a brief excerpt from the new book, The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.

Rally to Restore Sanity

Finally, an event I can get behind, a tonic for the polarized politics and pugnacious punditry that pollutes the public discourse: The Rally to Restore Sanity. The event was announced yesterday by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and is scheduled to be held in Washington, DC on October 30. Not to be outdone, Stephen Colbert announced a competing rally, The March to Keep Fear Alive. Here’s what Newsweek had to say about these events:

You’ve got to hand it to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, social critics that they are, for keeping us attuned to the absurdity in our political discourse these days. Both have taken on the topics of the Tea Party, Fox News, and most recently the lazy campaigning of Democrats. Pulling back the curtain on the media obsessing over the normally snooze-worthy process of electing Congress, Stewart has begun asking, with the bravado of Hank Williams Jr., “Are you ready for some mid-terrrrrrrrrms?”

But neither man has gone after anyone quite so ferociously as Glenn Beck, the weepy Fox pundit who’s demonstrated he can amass quite a following. Last month, Beck hosted a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, urging America to “Restore Honor”—an amorphous plea to support the troops, find God, and honor thy neighbor. About 100,000 people showed up and agreed.

But do those people speak for the rest of the country? Stewart and Colbert say no (or should it be Colbert and Stewart? More on that in a moment). Neither thinks that the loudest voices should be the only ones who are heard. And, in a move that is part social critique and part hilarious satire, both men are hosting rallies next month to counter, or maybe simply mock, the Beck rally.

That’s right, they’re hosting rallies. Plural. Stewart and Colbert (who, of course, was birthed by Stewart) have an antagonistic relationship made for TV. Neither wants to play second fiddle to the other, so each is having his own rally on the same day in the same location. Stewart’s rally is to “Restore Sanity.” Colbert’s is to “Keep Fear Alive.”

“We’d like you to join us in Washington, D.C. on October 30—a date of no significance whatsoever—at the Daily Show’s “Rally to Restore Sanity,” writes Stewart on his event’s new Web site. “Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs)—not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence … we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point.”

If you’d like to watch video of Stewart’s announcement, follow this link.

The 46-Pound Toupee

How can America hold its head up? That 46-pound toupee inelegantly perched on its crown must make it hard.

What the hell am I talking about? This past Sunday, Frank Rich tossed out a line in his New York Times column that gave me pause. He noted that “the top 1 percent of American earners now take home nearly a quarter of Americans’ total income — perhaps the single most revealing indicator of how three decades of greed and free-market absolutism have eviscerated America’s fundamental ideals of fairness.” The sentence was linked to the first part of a series by Timothy Noah in Slate on the Great Divergence, a term coined to describe the post-1979 period of broadening income inequality in America. Noah cites research from 2007 indicating that “the richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income.” Over the last century, income inequality has ebbed and flowed:

It dropped a bit in the late teens, then started climbing again in the 1920s, reaching its peak just before the 1929 crash. The trend then reversed itself. Incomes started to become more equal in the 1930s and then became dramatically more equal in the 1940s. Income distribution remained roughly stable through the postwar economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo have termed this midcentury era the “Great Compression.” The deep nostalgia for that period felt by the World War II generation—the era of Life magazine and the bowling league—reflects something more than mere sentimentality. Assuming you were white, not of draft age, and Christian, there probably was no better time to belong to America’s middle class. The Great Compression ended in the 1970s. Wages stagnated, inflation raged, and by the decade’s end, income inequality had started to rise. Income inequality grew through the 1980s, slackened briefly at the end of the 1990s, and then resumed with a vengeance in the aughts.

Vengeance, indeed. During the Great Divergence, specifically “from 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent.” Now, according to statistics compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency, “income distribution in the United States is more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador. Income inequality is actually declining in Latin America even as it continues to increase in the United States. Economically speaking, the richest nation on earth is starting to resemble a banana republic.” Despite this trend, the issue of income inequality has “barely entered the national political debate.” Yet it is “a topic of huge importance to American society” and has become a cause for worry among many economists and political scientists. “Even Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Board chairman and onetime Ayn Rand acolyte, has registered concern. ‘This is not the type of thing which a democratic society—a capitalist democratic society—can really accept without addressing,’ Greenspan said in 2005.”

So how can America permit such gross inequality and hold its head up? How can a democratic nation stand tall with the equivalent of a 46-pound toupee upon its pate? (If an average adult male in the US weighs 191 pounds and 24 percent of that weight is concentrated at the very top, that would make for a 45.84 pound hairpiece.) We are dangerously top heavy. If the country were an SUV (and our fondness for the gas-guzzling behemoths makes that an apt analogy), we would be at risk for a rollover. How long before we topple? How long before the chasm between the top one percent and everyone else in America swallows us whole? What are we doing?

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