Jon Stewart

Coping with the Age of Opinion

I bought a magazine in the Dunedin airport (in New Zealand) I wanted to read and I thought Sarah Harriet would like. It is called Frankie and in one of the articles it talked about "the age of opinion".  Everyone has a RIGHT to an opinion, facts be damned. This especially resonated with me. The day before on the train from Middlemarch to Dunedin some US citizen with a southern drawl was telling the train conductor in a loud voice, "Barack Hussein Obama is a secret muslim." And she was not joking. (We should spend more energy keeping people from leaving the country and not worry so much about those coming in.) My mouth dropped open at this woman's conviction and her willingness to parade her ignorance. A sophisticated Chinese tourist sitting across from me caught my eye with that look that is both "Can you believe she said that?" "Are you going to react?"  I still do not know what I could have said.

One way I keep my sanity in the age of opinion is to watch Jon Stewart The Daily Show and more occasionally The Colbert Report. This week is the last week of shows for Stephen Colbert. He will replace David Letterman (sometime in 2015) and will no longer be in character as a snarky conservative news commentator. His last few guests have been as eclectic as his intellect: rap artist Kendrick Lamar and Smaug the dragon from the Hobbit.

There are print satirical antidotes to an overdose of people's opinions: The Onion, Let me know if you have any other ways of coping.

Here is the link to Colbert's interview with Smaug:



Robin Williams Still Making Me Laugh

I wish we could have had a Robin Williams Week (like Shark Week only funny) before he died, when we could have watched his old clips and laughed out loud. Instead it took his death to appreciate what a truly talented person he was. I also remembered I have a lot in common with him. We are both politically liberal, Californians, cyclists and huge bike racing fans. 

Of course his fame made it possible to ride in the team car behind Lance Armstrong when he was tearing up the Tour de France.  (He subsequently expressed his disappointment in Lance and still loves cycling.)

I am enjoying old interviews with Robin Williams because 1) he talks about cycling, 2) he shares my disdain for France. (My recent adventure has confirmed that I have had enough of France and French attitudes for a lifetime.) For example, on Fresh Air they replayed a 2006 interview between Terry Gross and Robin Williams and this line almost took me off the road, "When I speak French in Paris they say to me 'Stop speaking French. No. Speak englais.' Then they give their baby a cigarette."

He really lets loose on The Daily Show. Check out the second interview where he riffs on the French for much longer. 

And go ahead and laugh out loud. It is the best way to honor Robin Williams.

How do you Inoculate Against Hyper-ism?

One of the most challenging aspects to returning to the United States is the barrage of hyper-emotional rhetoric around… everything.  I find myself tuning into National Public Radio and after just a story or two, changing the station to pop music.  It seems that every story is about a person with extreme views or a very messed up situation that resulted from people taking all-or-nothing stands.  Even the trivial, i.e. celebrity lives are hyped to the hilt.  I have to avert my eyes in the check out line or look around and remind myself that most people are muddling through and living fairly decent, normal lives.  And yes, most everyday I open up the New Zealand Herald on my iPad and remind myself that there is a place where everyone is not all riled up. (My friend Jim Adan accuses me of finding everything better in NZ.) Social media seems to exacerbate the situation.  People react immediately without taking time to reflect.  The arc of action/reaction/reaction/reaction in the Penn State scandal seduced me into weighing in when I found a view that most closely matched my own (i.e. Jon Stewart’s riff on the students rioting over Coach Joe Paterno’s dismissal that I posted on Facebook).  I confess that is about as thoughtful as playing a child’s card game where you match objects to one another.

This past week there has been another cycle for the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood clinics for the non-abortion related provision of women’s health care:  principally breast health screening.  The action/reaction/reaction/reaction has fallen along tradition and superficial choice/pro-choice lines.  This controversy was amplified (one might have said televised in an earlier decade) in social media.

A similar but much quieter controversy is playing out over the federal government’s decision to require the Catholic Church to provide birth control to women in their health plans.  The shallow media stories focus on whether or not it will cost President Obama votes in November.  Lost are the more important questions of religious freedom, the separation of church and state, access to health care for women and how this affects individuals’ lives.

I notice on Twitter thanks to New Yorker magazine that the new “football” is the Chrysler ad during the Super Bowl featuring Clint Eastwood.  The shrill accusations of it being “political” are ironic at best and callow at medium best, and disgusting at worst.  Again, an opportunity to have a conversation about what everyone in the USA needs to do to regain our footing as a local and national economy and as a community is drowned out by the shrieking in our own media. (Amy Davidson's blog, to her credit, gets beyond the screaming and asks is it "perpetual morning" in America as Reagan suggested, or "half-time" and does attempt to provide some reflection.)

I am not down on all media.  The Internet that has thrust us into a time of transition and confusion is also the source of great thought and information.  It is where I watch Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose and read the New Yorker magazine.  On my iPad I read the Bible in the morning and see wonderful clips like this one (and I love that it is from Chile where Grace Julie is an exchange student):

These galaxies are always present even though we do not “see” them.  We imagine ourselves to be so sophisticated.  And yet we are out of touch with the basic realities of the universe.  We imagine earlier civilizations to be unsophisticated because, in part, of their dependence on God (in various forms).  Perhaps we would come to the same conclusions about a Creator if we lived each night without man-made light pollution and could see the Milky Way in its true glory.

We are surprised when volcanoes and earthquakes destroy the creations of men.  Maybe briefly we allow ourselves to acknowledge our lack of permanence, but then quickly reassert the illusion of control.

I am not interested in some kind of return to Religion.  I am interested in the transformation that occurs in us (individually) when we encounter the power greater than ourselves.  Like the prophets before me, first I worship and then I search my own heart and find it unclean.  And from that place I ask the old question: what is to be done?