Monday, August 31, 2009

My "News-Fast"

Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. In Joe's case it was news - news in all forms.

Ten years ago Joe got acquainted with Dr. Andrew Weil's book, “8 Weeks to Optimum Health.” One of his recommendations for week two was a “one-day news fast.” Well, he decided to take a one-month news fast and liked it so well he went for another two weeks. When the Times-Standard newspaper came in, he just took the first section and filed it and went right to Section B. On Sundays he made sure to file Section D right alongside Section A. The absolute last thing he wanted to see was Dave Stancliff's beaming face advertising his worthless opinions. He can't decide what is more intolerable, propaganda and biased news or moronic, infantile opinions. Perhaps, it's the fact that such crap gets published, printed and shown to the World, as if it has some merit.

Does Dr. Weil's program work? It does if you follow it religiously.

So, that's our next project. How to effect a news fast once a week on this blog. But, in the meantime . . .

If you're going to break your news fast, this is as good a place to start as any, with Glenn Greenwald's Sunday, August 30, 3009, It's time to embrace American royalty.

UPDATE :: Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Anyone know this guy? His name is Wallace Shawn and he has an interesting take on the news media and all of us "unabotrusives." Reading from his new book, "Essays" -- Enjoy:

So, I suppose, my role in life is to be a recovering centrist from the privileged class, so this passage reflects that, I suppose. This is just a piece of an essay. You’ll have to guess what it comes from and where it goes. It just is in the middle.

“One evening last week, a friend and I went to a somewhat inexpensive restaurant, and the waiter who served us was in such a state of agitation or anxiety about God knows what that he didn’t even look at us. And so I was thinking about the fact that in more expensive restaurants, the staff is usually trained to focus their attention on the pleasure of the diners, not on their own problems. In fact, the waiters in more expensive restaurants are invited to be friendly, amusing, to make funny remarks about their lives and to let us diners get to know them a little. But in the most expensive restaurants, the really fancy ones, we don’t get to know the waiters. The waiters in those restaurants just do their work with such discretion that they’re barely noticed. And people compliment them by saying that they’re unobtrusive.

“And actually that’s quite a good word for all those people whom we don’t know and don’t think about much but whose lives we actually dominate: ‘the unobtrusive.’ And the interesting thing I’ve noticed is that in those very expensive restaurants, we don’t talk to the waiters, but we enjoy their presence enormously. We want them there, these silent waiters, the—‘unobtrusives.’

“It’s obviously a characteristic of human beings that we like to feel superior to others. But our problem is that we’re not superior. We like the sensation of being served by others and feeling superior to them, but if we’re forced to get to know the people who serve us, we quickly see that they’re in fact just like us. And then we become uncomfortable—uncomfortable and scared, because if we can see that we’re just the same, well, they might too, and if they did, they might become terribly angry, because why should they be serving us? So that’s why we prefer not to talk to waiters.

“A king feels the very same way, I’d have to imagine. He doesn’t really want to get to know his subjects, but he nonetheless enjoys the fact that he has them. The subjects are in the background of his life. They’re in the background of his life, and yet they provide the meaning of his life. Without his subjects, he wouldn’t be king.

“It’s become second nature to all of us to use the quiet crushing of these unobtrusives as a sort of almost inevitable background music to our daily lives. Like those people who grow bizarrely nervous if they don’t have a recording of something or other quietly playing on their sound system at dinnertime, we’ve become dependent over the course of decades on hearing the faint murmur of cries and groans as we eat, shop, and live.”

And while the essay really is talking about how, as Americans, we, even those of us who march in the streets in favor of peace and speak against imperialism, even we, perhaps consciously or unconsciously, enjoy being members of a powerful country that can crush other people. So that’s a lot of what the book is about, a little bit of an attempt at self-examination.

And to conclude:

“My feeling of superiority, and the sense of well-being that comes from that, increases with the number of poor people on the planet whose lives are dominated by me or my proxies and whom I nonetheless can completely ignore. I like to be reminded of those poor people, those unobtrusives, and then I like to be reminded of my lack of interest in them. For example, while I eat my breakfast each morning, I absolutely love to read my morning newspaper, because in the first few pages the newspaper tells me how my country treated all the unobtrusives on the day before—deaths, beatings, torture, what have you—and then, as I keep turning the pages, the newspaper reminds me how unimportant the unobtrusives are to me, and it tries to tempt me in its articles on shirts to consider different shirts that I might want to wear, and then it goes on, as I turn the pages, to try to coax me into sampling different forms of cooking, and then to experience different plays or films, different types of vacations…”

In other words, the stories in the newspaper about Afghanistan are partly true and partly false, but they’re presented in a context that basically makes me feel alright about treating the people there as non-equals, which obviously we do if we send an unmanned drone and we are thinking of killing some person who we think is an enemy and we kill fifteen members of his family. We wouldn’t do that to people who we thought were our equals. For example, friends. Even if there was someone that we despised or who wanted to kill us in the middle of their family, we wouldn’t kill the whole family. We just wouldn’t. And the New York Times helps me to take that as totally normal.

That's something worth thinking about when you read you Times-Standard or whatever every morning.