George Sarant

A raw feed of material that may be updated or appear elsewhere.

Archive for October 2017

BAD NEWS

leave a comment »

There is a bigger problem with the media today than the bias that often distorts stories. It is not “fake news” either. It is rather, no news. There is a paucity of real news everywhere and far too much goes unreported or is very briefly summarized. Cable news gives us mostly talking heads expressing opinions and not much in the way of real news. Broadcast news isn’t much better these days to the extent that there are too few stories that are selected in a rather arbitrary way, while hiding the fact that they have seriously cut back on correspondents covering various subjects or parts of the world. On cable “news” you see few correspondents reporting actual stories. Newspapers, and news magazines, even the “serious” ones aren’t much better, again with fewer correspondents now covering things regularly. News sites online aren’t all that informative either, especially to the extent that they are simply extensions of the television and publishing companies. 

A recent search I attempted clearly illustrates how shallow all of this is. The other day Vladimir Putin made what seemed to be some important statements, and from the news summaries my curiosity was engaged. But that’s all I could find, anywhere- summaries. I wanted to see more of the substance of what he said but could not find it anywhere from any “news” organization despite fairly extensive Internet searching. But the search engines are part of the problem because if the information was out there they weren’t showing it and what you usually get nowadays is top listings that re mostly paid followed by more that are basically off-topic. I find this happening time after time. Just try this with almost any other story. The idea that we are now able to easily obtain more serious information online is false. What one gets is the usual repetitive nonsense. 

 What we actually have now is mostly a repetitive echo chamber. In other words one source comes up with a story, say, the New York Times or Washington Post, and it is picked up by everyone else and repeated. This creates the illusion that they are actually covering the story from multiple points when in fact they are mostly repeating and uncritically passing on the same story. It is not just a herd mentality, but lazy, superficial reporting, Furthermore things that might really matter are often subsumed by nonsensical, superficial stories. Just think about what stories dominate the news every single day. Barring some sort of natural disaster the news contains a lot of trivia when not devolving into entertainment stories. As a result we are getting dumbed down news provided by dumbed down reporters and commentators. 

It gets worse. What we now get is more “entertainment news” instead of real, hard news. The entertainment news is ubiquitous, with each having its own entertainment program. In the recent past this did not exist at all and there were basically only gossip columns in this area, but now it supersedes everything. We get a huge amount of attention devoted to dopey “celebrities” that in reality are of no consequence in the larger scheme of things, and who are getting far more attention than they deserve. The media that now show unprecedented hostility to Donald Trump are largely themselves responsible for producing his presidency in the first place. Thus for all the information the we are supposedly being overwhelmed with, the truth is that we are less informed than ever. 

Advertisements

Written by georgesarant

October 22, 2017 at 7:26 PM

GETTING BUSHED

leave a comment »

George W. Bush made a statement today that no doubt will be widely praised in the liberal media as courageous and realistic for “breaking his silence” snd coming forward to broadly criticize the Trump era; never mind that he has a good deal of responsibility for creating it in the first place, as well as for the election of Democrat Barack Obama.  His presidency was an overall failure and a disaster for conservatives and Republicans who supported him, who only managed to recover because his successor was hardly any better. There is simply no way around this. Giving credit where it is due, he did acquit himself well in the wake of the 9/11 attack, but it was downhill from there. He is also a likable guy, of the sort you could easily share a beer with, he was honest, and has a lovely wife. But that’s about it.

The “divisions” he essentially lays on Trump in fact became ossified during his presidency, starting with his failure to unify the country when he had the opportunity and did little to move it forward. The fact that his successor only made this worse does not relieve him of his own responsibility. His foreign policy was disastrous, and cost us dearly, in terms of treasure, and lives lost while aggressively pursuing an ill-advised policy of nation-building and promoting democratic freedom all over the world, whether feasible or not. Those of us who supported him at the time simply can no longer ignore the fact that he misled us, took us into an unnecessary war, and in its wake left the Middle East in chaos. As much as one might argue that his successor let all that effort go to waste, and made it worse due his distaste for the war in Iraq, the fact remains that it was Bush who started it all. It may be painful for some to admit this, but by any objective standard the conclusion is unavoidable.

He managed to alienate an entire generation of young people from his party, while also causing it to lose control of congress by his policy failures. When together they had an opportunity to get things done with a reform conservative agenda they completely squandered it and accomplished nothing.  Instead he greatly increased the scope and power of the federal government, while claiming the opposite. Domestically he was a lot like Richard Nixon; using conservative rhetoric to gain support while actually pursuing generally liberal policies. When he did do anything that was somewhat associated with the right, it was something idiotic, like cutting off birth control assistance for poor countries. He ran up the deficit with nothing to show for it, precipitated a recession, and presided over an unnecessary financial crisis. While much of the cause of the latter can be attributed to the policies of his predecessor, particularly in mortgage finance, his administration did nothing to stem the growth of the problem or introduce any fiscal discipline,.

Overall then, he not only accomplished very little, but was actually counterproductive in many areas. As the epitome of establishment Republicans and followed by two lackluster candidates from the same mold, the base of the party ultimately became so frustrated that when the opportunity arose they gravitated to the most anti-establishment candidate to come along,

namely Donald Trump. They were so tired of being Bushwhacked they nominated the most improbable candidate to ever arise, and one who otherwise would never have been chosen. It was a total loss of confidence in the establishment along with a desire to avoid another Bush-style presidency that led to this. I am not suggesting anything about the wisdom of any of these choices but simply trying to describe how we wound up where we are today, thanks in so many ways to George Bush. For him to now decry what he himself had a major role in precipitating is simply disingenuous to say the least.

Written by georgesarant

October 20, 2017 at 2:14 AM

HISTORICAL TRUTH & HISTORICAL LIBEL

leave a comment »

One of the most irritating phenomena in contemporary entertainment is how exceptionally good production values are combined with thoroughly juvenile, idiotic, inaccurate, and historically ignorant screenplays. It is true there has always been “poetic license” to fabricate things presumably in the interests of some “larger truth.” However it becomes problematic when it is distorted to the point of creating an outright lie, because producers can count on the widespread historical illiteracy of contemporary audiences. Some examples:

The film Titanic depicts its subject very well but has a thoroughly ridiculous storyline. Worse, it mixes in some people who really existed and sullies their reputations. Most egregiously, in the film, the First Officer, William Murdock, is shown shooting passengers before shooting himself. Nothing of the sort ever happened and in fact the real man heroically went down with the ship. To libel his memory in this way is simply outrageous and there is no possible justification for it.

In Gangs of New York, which grossly distorts history in an otherwise good production, Horace Greeley, editor of the NY Tribune is shown collaborating with Tammany Hall figures; the complete opposite of what the man actually stood for. One of the most egregious cases occurs in an obscure film titled Hoodlum, wherein a character says they have to pay off Tom Dewey, which is preposterous. Thomas Dewey was in fact an excellent prosecutor, Governor of New York, and a two-time presidential nominee who was known to be incorruptible. To slander him in this way is inexcusable, but few now remember the truth. There are many more examples, but the point is that there is too often a gross dereliction of responsibility and decency, made all the worse by  purporting to be telling a true story. Even dead people deserve to be treated fairly.

However, it is more prevalent to find a great job being done depicting the background with an over-the-top portrayal of real characters, doing things that never happened,  accompanied by people that never existed. This happens a lot in fiction, but it matters when it goes beyond trivial matters and portrays things of consequence in a totally misleading fashion, A good example is current series about Renaissance characters, such as The Medici, and The Borgias.  The former is somewhat better, but the latter is totally warped by a completely fabricated screenplay. The real Borgias have a grossly exaggerated reputation for evil, even in 19th century novels, but this show uses that as a starting point along with rumors and innuendo from their enemies as a basis for an endless series of awful events that go much further, are completely made up, and devoid of any historical foundation. Anyone who thinks this is history is being played. (This is the Showtime series; the other Borgias series on Netflix is much better). But the most preposterous show being currently aired is Marco Polo, which has virtually nothing to do with the real Marco. The producers of this series have clearly never even bothered to read Marco Polo’s journals, which actually contain enough interesting material for drama, but none of it appears here. They simply have taken a real figure and period and then run off into a kung-foolery universe.

It is possible to do a credible job with historical situations, when carefully produced, as in the History Channel’s Vikings series which uses some historical, some mythological and some fictional characters in a way that, while sometimes fanciful, nevertheless does not seriously deviate from overall spirit of the source material. Real figures can also be faithfully portrayed successfully, such as in the HBO series John Adams, (although an old PBS series titled The Adams Chronicles was even more accurate). Rome, on that network was also not bad, if you ignore the excesses. But apart from these, the best are from the BBC or PBS. Unfortunately the excellence of the UK productions does not extend to continental Europe, which has gone Hollywood with previously mentioned shows. 

Even the greatest have done both. Shakespeare was surprisingly accurate in some of his dramas based in ancient Rome, since he largely relied on Plutarch as his source, and it is actually his depictions that largely inform people today about these characters. However, when it came to more recent characters from British experience, Shakespeare wrote in a way that frequently glorified the Tudor version of history. Further back even Virgil did this in the Aeneid, a second-rate epic that grossly flatters Augustus, and which Virgil himself actually wanted destroyed, At least in those days it was excusable in order to keep one’s head. However in an age when far more people get their information from movies and TV and sadly far fewer people read, entertainment producers have at least some responsibility to tell the truth.