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A compendium of politically incorrect polemics and other writings

National Focus

* Who controls our airwaves? Who ought to?
* One God versus another
* Election aftershocks
* Rabbis lobby Senator Spector



The current brouhaha arising from CBS's and NBC's refusal to run a commercial for the United Church of Christ illuminates fundamental issues, far deeper than the instant disagreement, that ought finally to be addressed by the FCC and Congress. Not much point in communicating with the network executives involved: the real problem is far beyond "fixing" by the broadcasting industry.

Historically, broadcasters have behaved as if their license to exploit the public airwaves involved some sort of "right" rather than "privilege." The result has been unwarranted arrogance in the extreme of which the present situation is only an example.

The networks readily accept political advertising of all stripes, arguably the most controversial of all possible contents. And they routinely air programming with blatantly controversial content. Such offerings as "Touched by an Angel," "Joan of Arcadia," Sunday church services, and Midnight Mass from the Vatican on Christmas Eve deal with subjects which to non-Christians of every ilk are not merely controversial but truly anathema. Fundamentalist Christians, by the same token, find programming such as supports evolution equally objectionable.

What justification, then, can there possibly be for the networks, as custodians of a public trust, to exclude the UCC's message of welcoming inclusiveness?

Apparently there were three rationalizations for rejecting the mooted commercial:

1 - It tended to make churches of limited inclusiveness look "bad" by comparison. (Mildly similar to what is routinely countenanced in negative political advertising).

2 - It was uncritical of homosexuality. (Not that homosexuality isn't rife in many network shows and now widely accepted as a non-discretionary condition including, implicitly, by the United States Supreme Court.)

3 - By seeming to counter the position of President Bush and his extremist religious sycophants, it might be deemed "politically incorrect." (The perceived peril apparently being that government agencies might retaliate in some way and/or that some advertisers, sensitive to possible White House retaliation, might cease buying commercial time, at least temporarily.)

And, oh yes, the networks argue that controversial advertising must be rejected in order to prevent wealthy partisans from dominating debate. (This position is so specious on its face that it would be ludicrous if it weren't so tragic.)

So, what needs to change?

First, the Janet Jackson policy needs to be rescinded. Far from being arbiters of public morality, broadcasters should be prohibited from attempting to act as public censors. If anyone should have been punished for Jackson's mammary display, it should have been Jackson herself and the folks who put her up to it, not the broadcasters. (Actually, the whole incident was a tempest in a chamber pot blown all out of proportion by the media on what was otherwise a slow news day.)

Second, the media should be required to have a single rate structure for all comers and for all classes of advertising - commercial, political, and otherwise controversial - with discounts, quantity or otherwise, available to no one. This would tend to level the playing field vis-a-vis access to the public airwaves as between heavy spenders and those of limited means.

Third, scheduling of commercials within each logical time/price segment (e.g., drive time, daytime, prime time, Superbowl, etc.) should be strictly by random chance subject to the provision that where demand exceeds supply, each applicant should get one slot before any applicant could be eligible to receive a second slot and so on.

Fourth, so-called "public service" programming should be limited strictly to coverage of candidates for political office subject to rigorous enforcement of "equal time and schedule" constraints by the FCC. News programming should be routinely monitored by the FCC to preclude sneaky circumvention of this constraint.

Fifth, in cases where "acceptability" of a commercial or program were an issue, the matter should be decided by the FCC and the broadcaster required to comply with the FCC's ruling. The party at interest, but not the broadcaster, should have the right of appeal via litigation.

The bottom line is this: real-time control of the use of the public airwaves for all purposes should be in the hands of a public agency, the FCC, and not in the hands of broadcasters whose greedy profit motives will always tend to trump the strictures of responsible stewardship.



A minister friend forwarded an essay by another minister which was, indeed, a powerful indictment of the unholy alliance between George W. Bush and the Religious Right. But I think the author missed the fundamental point by contrasting "[his] Christ" with Jerry Falwell's.

The world isn't likely ever to get well as long as partisans of all stripes continue to get away with appeals to the supernatural for authority to believe - and do - whatever they personally perceive as "right."

Jews (not just Zionists), Muslims (not just Extremists), Catholics (not just the Clergy), Other Christians (not just Fundamentalists) all try to run the same number on the rest of us when they proclaim that their human biases, whatever they may be, reflect the "will" of a "God" that no one has ever seen or heard except through self-proclaimed "prophets" and for the very existence of which there is not one scintilla of credible evidence.

How perverse that theology of all ilks gets in the way of pragmatic ethics. The logic of the Social Compact is the sufficient ultimate buttress for the Golden Rule, and all the pious embellishments throughout the ages tend to detract from that truth rather than enhancing it be their authors Moses, Christ, Mohammed, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Jim Jones, Strom Thurmond, John Paul II, Pat Robertson, Arial Sharon, Yasser Arrafat, George W. Bush or any other self-serving purported spokesperson for "Almighty God" -- of God of the Gullible.

I characterize myself as a Born-Again Heathen (not to be confused with "Pagan"). As such, the thing that frightens me most about Bush and the folks surrounding him is they really believe there is a "God" even though they probably don't believe in ghosts, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Rabbit.

In consequence, they are utterly out of touch with probable reality. Proceeding from such a flawed fundamental assumption, their conclusions are likely to be "wrong" for human purposes, and if occasionally "right," it's only by accidental coincidence. I'm wasn't scared about the possible outcome of last November's election. I was - and continue to be - terrified.



It was interesting to note what various media have had to say about Bush's re-election.

The Wall Street Journal was elated.

The New York Times was thinking seriously about vomiting.

Maureen Dowd's column was captioned "The day the enlightenment went out."

Cultural anthropologists ought to have a field day figuring out why what happened was what happened.

It's said that "moral values" carried the day for Bush. But I can't figure out what kind of morality could possibly trump the immorality of 100,000 slain Iraqi's, most of them innocent women and children. Or 1,000 of our guys dead and another 10,000 maimed for life.

The 59,000,000 who voted for Bush aren't stupid, but they are, for the most part, ignorant. As youngsters, most of them were brainwashed to believe that faith is more important than fact: for them, uncritical belief in the supernatural trumps Darwin and science at every turn.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who understand gray, and those that can see only black and white. Black and white won this one. But if you believe as I do that the world is deterministic and free will an illusion, then sin, guilt, blame and all the rest of that stuff (and, of course, "merit") are meaningless. Surely it's not a black and white world. At best it's actually gray, and when you come to think about it, maybe there really isn't any gray, either.

A strong case can be made that Calvinism is rife in America today. Our materialism, for example, is a reflection of our need to prove to ourselves that we are of the "elect," and the "priesthood of all believers," civil rights, and "freedom" sure puts the focus on "me" rather than "us," on the individual rather than the community, personal aggrandizement rather than the common weal.

We don't want socialized medicine because it would interfere with the ability of the "haves" to feel "elect" by bestowing largesse and alms on the "have nots." We have to acquire wealth and THEN give some of its away in order to look like we're predestined.

And we can't legalize same sex marriage, abortion, or recreational pharmaceuticals because that would deprive us of important opportunities to perceive ourselves as holier than them.

Karl Rove got it right. The majority of Americans (albeit a small majority) find it more important to preserve their ability to perceive themselves as the elect than to confront real realities about war, terrorism, civil rights, the economy, and all the rest.

I think my sister the anthropologist was spot on when she opined: "The masses are asses."

I was mightily depressed by the election's outcome. Not because Dubya won but because of the evidence it provided that the majority of the electorate is so blindly incopetent. I was thinking that if I could, I might resign from the human race. Like Groucho Marx once observed so cogently, "Any club that would have me as a member, I wouldn't want to belong to.

Perhaps the Democrats will learn from this experience. I hope so. Wusses don't win elections. Neither do intellectuals. Not do non-charismatic candidates that are unable to pander to the hot buttons of the masses or who lack simplistic, crystal-clearly articulated, positive programs.

Kerry was destined to lose from the get go because he didn't come across as "real." Long before Kerry was nominated, I urged the Democratic Party to nominate Martin Sheen of "West Wing" renown. I'm convinced he would have won in a walk, like Reagan or Schwarzenegger.

As I see it, religion - belief in the supernatural - continues to do more mischief in this world than all other influences combined. This is true in Israel, the Muslim World, and America. It's just possible there really is no hope, and the human species won't survive to the end of this century. Fairly shrewd heads were giving it only a 50-50 chance before the election, and I'm sure the odds haven't gotten better.



A delegation of Rabbis recently called on Senator Arlen Spector who is Jewish and chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee to urge a major role for morality in the Committee's vetting of Bush nominations for the Federal Supreme and lower courts.

While I accord with the purpose of the Rabbis visitation, I'm not 100% comfortable with their means. I would experience similar discomfort if delegations of Priests called on Catholic legislators, delegations of Fundamentalist Ministers called on Born Again Christian legislators, delegations of Agnostic activists called on Agnostic legislators (if any), or delegations of Imams called on Muslim legislators all with a view to persuading those legislators to exercise their political power with a sectarian bias whether "moral" or otherwise.

As a born-again heathen (not to be confused with Pagan), I believe morality is not an absolute for all time decreed by some supernatural authority on high but, rather, a derivative of the Social Compact as it operates in each time and place. Thus, I would have preferred to learn a delegation of assorted Rabbis, Priests, Ministers, Imams, and agnostics (with perhaps Buddhists, Sikhs, and others as well) calling on a similarly diverse assortment of legislators to urge all of them to act in concert in accord with generally accepted contemporary, human, non-sectarian moral principles.

Sectarian "lobbying" whether by farmers, laborers, religious, or what have you always implies an attempt to achieve some advantage at the expense of others rather than to achieve some universal "good." An ecumenical approach tends to defuse such contentious aura and, unfortunately, sectarian religious advocacy is usually perceived as having an "us" versus "them" component.