Literacy, ill.

While tooling around on the internets this morning, I noticed that Dr. Giroux paid a visit to Bill Moyers (watch it here and it reminded me about this post I wrote around this time last year.

I had just been thinking, again, about our selfie culture and insane drive to buy moreandmoreandmore crap- as I watched the footage of the battles happening in shops on Black Friday- and ruminated on the fact that the impulse to buybuybuy- at times and places dictated to us by the marketing people and the economics ‘leaders’- has become increasingly repugnant to me. Not that I don’t love a good bargain (my Dad was a notorious bargain shopper- I guess I picked that up from him), but because I really resent the rank consumerism that is eating us alive.

We celebrated US Thanksgiving last night- Fletch and his lovely better half always host us for an amazing food-and-drink fest in their home. I’m still full. Of the food, certainly, but mainly from the friendship and fellowship and great conversations we always seem to find at their place.

I can’t imagine rushing out to fight crowds in stores where under-paid employees are forced to leave their homes and hearths to serve the state-sanctioned consumerism of the general public.


I love words.  I love seeking their origins, working out where they came from and why we use them to say the things we’re trying to say.

I have a fairly developed vocabulary- owing largely to the fact that I read a lot, but also because I know a number of languages, in addition to my mother tongue.  The ancient languages provide a foundation for some of the whys and wherefores, and the modern languages help explain particular usages.  It’s like a big puzzle- the way words connect us.  Words demonstrate the way in which we communicate- across this wide world of ours- and the way we always have done.

‘Newer’ languages borrow words from those that came before- adapting them to seek their particular linguistic needs.  Language is never static- it develops with each passing day.

Literacy- in any and  all languages- is something I regard as supremely important.

View original post 1,698 more words

Happy Earth Day, Mr. Prime Minister.

It has been my intent, of late, to be a kinder, gentler person.  I’m sort of feeling like I don’t have a choice.  All the edges around me seem a little jagged and jarring.  I’m more than a little hair-trigger and hyper-sensitive right now.

None of this is terribly surprising.  I still feel, pretty much every morning, as though I’m going to check my email (as one does) and find something in the inbox from Dad.  There won’t be, of course.  But the way in which I react to the world has a lot to do with the way in which he reacted to the world.

I have to wonder what he would be thinking about this latest move.

Dad spent much of his adult life involved in the oil industry- in one capacity or other.  This background brought dimensions and perspectives to our discussions of fossil fuels, sustainability and environmental concerns that I might not otherwise have entertained.

We rely on them ol’ bones- but this isn’t even really about whether or not we need to be doing more to foster the development of alternate sources of energy.  Take it as a given that we do.  Have to.  That the reality is that fossil fuels are limited in supply and increasingly hard to access- whether for reasons of scarcity or political lines on a map.

Dad isn’t here to temper my response.  And, to be honest, I’m not really convinced that he would have done.

Harper’s government went and did this.

And, as a result, he’s done it again.  Made me so freakin mad that all my good intentions about not commenting on the particular idiocies of particular political leaders has flown right out the window.

In an uncannily timed piece of true, poetic beauty that can only have come from the leader of Harper’s Canada, today, Earth Day, the government announced that they will be removing humpback whales from the protection of endangered species legislation.

“The government sent out 312 consultation letters and got 22 responses back.

Only five were in favour of the new designation — a total made up of two unidentified B.C. government ministries, one tourism organization, one environmental non-government organization, and one “unknown source.”

Of the other 17, six environmental groups, three academics, two tourism industry organizations, one First Nations organization and a single “unknown source” were opposed. Another four — two academics, one First Nations, and another “unknown” — were undecided. In several instances, the undecided said insufficient information was available.’


‘The decision removes a major legal hurdle that the environmental group Ecojustice said stood in the way of the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project that would bring 550,000 barrels of diluted bitumen crude from Alberta to Kitimat.’

It seems that Harper and his bought-and-paid-for science folks missed the Star Trek Movie Marathon that was on cable this weekend.  Especially #4- The Voyage Home.  You know, the one where the crew have to journey back to 1984 to collect a couple of humpbacks in order to save humanity from its short-sighted drive for economic superiority and conspicuous consumption?

Jebus.  The irony.

He also seems to have missed this week’s installment of my new fave show, Cosmos, which happened to be largely about the ways in which corporations and/or governments deliberately mislead the public regarding scientifically demonstrable facts that impact the environment.

Here in the WordPress World, Donna Parker, over at, has some great insights about Earth Day- including this extremely distressing little nugget of info:

‘There are places in the world, including Alberta (Home of the OilSands), etc. where some people, including members of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative Coalition, celebrate the opposite of Earth Hour, Earth Day, Green Week. For example, during Earth Hour some Albertans actually run all their appliances, vehicles, etc. to burn as much energy and fuel as possible. Some do the same for Earth Day. Seriously. I know I live in the same country as them, but I really think we exist on different planes of dimension, at least, I hope so.’


On top of that, Bill Moyers’ morning reads included links to stories about things like the majority of Americans not ‘buying’ the Big Bang, the fact that FOUR YEARS LATER the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico is as much as disaster as when it happened, and the largely ignored fact that concern for the environment and economic prosperity are NOT, actually, mutually exclusive.

The day before yesterday I started a post- that I intended to finish and publish tonight- about Hell.  As a place.  As the place of residence of our Devilish Friend.  A place I don’t believe exists (since I don’t believe in the Devil Dude).


All this (imagine me waving my arms in the air in crazy despair and desperation)... I don’t even know what to call it… willful delusion and determined deceit makes discussions of imaginary lands devoted to the eternal punishment of wrongdoers seem at once inadequate and renders it a place I kinda wish DID exist.  In certain, very specific cases.  For certain, very specific people.

Today, all I can say is WHAT.  THE.  HELL?

Seriously.  WHAT is going on?!

‘Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination

I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
For whatever that means

And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed
Just to get it all out what’s in my head
And I, I am feeling a little peculiar

And so I wake in the morning and I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream at the top of my lungs:
“What’s going on?”

Unlike the Grunge-y and complacently defeatist angst of the Non Blonde response to the question, we are long past the point where we can ‘pray every single day for a revolution.’

Prayers ain’t gonna cut it, folks.

‘And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages
on the depths of the seven seas,
and through the salt they reel with drunk delight
and in the tropics tremble they with love
and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.
Then the great bull lies up against his bride
in the blue deep of the sea’

Weep not, whales.  There is a sea change in the air.  It’s moving slowly, but the voices are getting inexorably louder.  The desperation of those who seek to further- increasingly illicitly- the financial stability of the few to the exclusion of the many while exploiting both the environment and the inaction of those who remain ignorant (willfully or otherwise) of the danger in which they place us all, is reaching fever pitch as more and more nonsensical initiatives receive their due vilification in a growing number of public forums.

Let this be one of them.

and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea. – See more at:
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea. – See more at:
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea. – See more at:
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea. – See more at:
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea. – See more at:
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea. – See more at:

Literacy, ill.

I love words.  I love seeking their origins, working out where they came from and why we use them to say the things we’re trying to say.

I have a fairly developed vocabulary- owing largely to the fact that I read a lot, but also because I know a number of languages, in addition to my mother tongue.  The ancient languages provide a foundation for some of the whys and wherefores, and the modern languages help explain particular usages.  It’s like a big puzzle- the way words connect us.  Words demonstrate the way in which we communicate- across this wide world of ours- and the way we always have done.

‘Newer’ languages borrow words from those that came before- adapting them to seek their particular linguistic needs.  Language is never static- it develops with each passing day.

Literacy- in any and  all languages- is something I regard as supremely important.

Lately there’s been a lot of talk in the news about the ‘words of the year’, according to the Oxford Dictionary– with ‘selfie’ leading the charge as the most popular term.  It’s still new enough that as I typed it, the little red line appeared underneath, letting me know that the spell check hasn’t yet been alerted to its ‘official’ recognition.

If you travel anywhere at all in the world of social media you are aware of the definition of this brave new word.  It is one of the many indicators of the paradigm shift that’s been happening as the interworld becomes increasingly realized as the de rigueur place to hang out.  These days it’s “all about me”.  Everything is geared toward self-glorification and the experience of those moments of fame (or infamy) to which we have been told we are entitled to experience.

For all the new words we create- to describe our increasingly self-absorbed perceptions of life- somehow we have completely lost the plot when it comes to things of real import.  You know, those issues that affect us and that are creating greater and greater divides of opinion and practice as our ‘communication’ allegedly increases?

I love Bill Moyers.  I think I might have mentioned that once or twice before.  Today I saw an excerpted post on his website about this very thing.

Henry Giroux, cultural analyst and foundational theorist in the realm of critical pedagogy, is another voice crying in the wilderness of the institutionalized dumbing-down of society that I have railed about so very many times here in my little corner of the WordPress world.  Although he is an American- and his great body of work generally cites American exemplars- we have been privileged to have him up here in the neighbourhood, as the Global Television Network (I won’t address the irony of that– at the moment, anyway) Chair Professorship in the English and Cultural Studies Department at McMaster University in the Hammer (again, sorry about the Grey Cup loss, Ticats), and is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University, here in the Big Town.

The excerpt from his book, Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism, notes:

‘The collapse of journalistic standards finds its counterpart in the rise of civic illiteracy… a difference species of ignorance and anti-intellectualism… It is a form of illiteracy that points less to the lack of technical skills and the absence of certain competencies than to a deficit in the realms of politics- one that subverts both critical thinking and the notion of literacy as both critical interpretation and the possibility of intervention in the world.  This type of illiteracy is not only incapable of dealing with complex and contested questions, it is also an excuse for glorifying the principle of self-interest as a paradigm for understanding politics.  This is a form of illiteracy marked by the inability to see outside of the realm of the privatized self, an illiteracy in which the act of translation withers, reduced to a relic of another age.  The United States is a country that is increasingly defined by a civic deficit , a chronic and deadly form of civic illiteracy that points to the failure of both its educational system and the growing ability of anti-democratic forces to use the educational force of the culture to promote the new illiteracy.  As this widespread illiteracy has come to dominate American culture, we have moved from a culture of questioning to a culture of shouting and in doing so have restaged politics and power in both unproductive and anti-democratic ways.’


Have you ever felt like you’d like to spend even just one day in someone else’s brain?  I admit that I seem to be feeling that way quite a bit lately- between peeps like Ray and Professor Giroux I admit to something of a sense of comparative inadequacy in my own thought/creative/analytical processes

As one of my very smart and engaged sociologist friends pointed out to me this morning, Professor Giroux could be describing the situation we have here with our now-mayor-in-name-only and his remaining Nation.  To the letter.  (And today additional information was released by the courts.  Yes, there’s more.  Than just the crack smoking.  And obscenities.  And drunken stupors.  Stand by.)


The system- including educational, media AND political bodies- encourages the continuance of self-absorption (to a pathological degree, sometimes) so that we remain uninvolved in anything outside of ourselves, engrossed as we are in the minutiae and irrelevancies of cults of celebrity and mindless television/internet programming, rehashed (‘rebooted’) films, and formulaic/manufactured music.

We aren’t challenged in our entertainment- as we use what little leisure time we may be able to access as work days/weeks become longer- since such stimulation might lead to the exercise of unused brain matter that might, in turn, lead to more important evaluations- of society, politics, the imbalance between the super-wealthy and everyone else…

Heavens forfend.

That would certainly interfere with those who hold power- be it politically or economically- maintaining a status quo that is increasingly unfavourable to the rest of us.

WHY are we letting this happen?

(This is not a rhetorical question.  All possible explanations are welcome.)

I realize that many people are facing the sheer exhaustion of day-to-day living- what with un/underemployment, rising utility/housing costs, concerns about access to healthcare (particularly in the States)- and that time has become a precious commodity for more and more of us.  I also understand the need to use what little free time we might have in ways that make the daily grind worthwhile.   Time spent with family and friends, and even a little mindless entertainment is a good thing.  Such things do much to help us get through the day.

But I strongly object to the idea that ALL down time should be used playing Bejewelled or catching up with any freakin Kardashians.  We need to start educating ourselves- and cluing back into the communities in which we live.  If we don’t, these communities will continue their downward slide into political and social apathy as we let big business (pharma, the media, commercial conglomerates and etc.), the 1%, lobbyists and career politicians pad their own financial portfolios on the backs of the rest of us.

There’s this guy- a ‘financial expert’- who is a frequent contributor on the CBC (another precious Canadian commodity that is gradually being phased out by the Federal Conservative government- as we watch it happen and do nothing to stop it.  Farewell Hockey Night in Canada– your days are truly numbered… Sorry.  Got sidetracked.  I’ll defend the CBC another day) for some reason.

Some days- when I’m in a ‘selfie’ kind of mood, I think he’s there for no other reason than to make me see red.  In addition to his own ‘name on the masthead’ show, he is a frequent guest on the morning show.  I have no idea who might make up his appreciative demographic (although I can guess), but he’s obviously a ratings draw.

Anyhoo.  He makes me angry.  And that anger compels me to read up about the stuff he says that makes me angry.  To look at his opinion and the countering views of others.  In this way, I can form a balanced impression about whether or not I am reacting to the fact that I can’t stand HIM, or if I am truly opposed to his take on the ways of the world.

I try not to be knee-jerk about anything.  I fail, sometimes, but I think that I generally take the time- and do the work- required of me, as a fully-functional member of society, to make informed decisions.

I’m starting to feel more and more in the minority, as far as this approach to the world is concerned.  With each passing day/news story/political scandal/new reality tv series.

This new word of ours- ‘selfie’- shares a common linguistic root with ‘selfish’.    Which is defined as being ‘concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, regardless of others; characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself.’ 

We cannot afford to remain a selfie culture.  Shouting- whether in the comment section of online articles, with constant self-promoting pictures, or by actually yelling (and mowing down older women) in council chambers- needs to be replaced by critical examination and reasoned discussion that might lead to answers that will benefit ALL of society.

Everywhere we turn we are encouraged to develop ‘our brand’ through self-promotion and shouting louder than other voices.  We have become a society in which those who yell loudest tend to be the ones who end up as our leaders.

Is this really what we want?  Self-aggrandizing in place of discourse?

Pop songs are increasingly all about self-involvement- about ‘roaring’ and ‘sparkling’ and being a ‘firework’ and the like.  Some may argue that they promote the empowerment of those who feel powerless (particularly the young(er) peeps who can actually listen to Katy Perry et al without breaking out in hives), and maybe they are- on the most simplistic and formulaic of levels.

(I just CAN’T post one of those videos here.  Just.  CanNOT)

I’d argue that they contribute to the persistence of this pervasive solipsism that is making working together to change the world more and more difficult.

Professor Giroux is more emphatic:

‘The raging narcissism that seems to shape every ad, film, television program and appeal now mediated through the power of the corporate state and consumer society is not merely a clinical and individual problem.  It is the basis for a new kind of mass illiteracy that is endlessly reproduced through the venues of a number of anti-democratic institutions and forces that eschew critical debate, self-reflection, critical analysis and certainly modes of dissent that call the totality of society into question.’

‘Raging narcissism’.  Yep.  That sounds about right.

Basically, we don’t want to end up like this:

If I looked all over the world
And there’s every type of girl
But your empty eyes seem to pass me by
And leave me dancing with myself

So let’s sink another drink
‘Cause it’ll give me time to think
If I had a chance, I’d ask the world to dance
And I’d be dancing with myself

That post-apocalyptic imagery strikes me a as being a little bit too possible, these days.

Ob-la-di Ob-la-da

I’m trying reallyreally hard to follow the advice I gave myself the other day (while channelling two of my mentors- Cat Stevens and Papa Kaz).

Just sit down and take it slowly.

Breathe.  And let it go.  All of it.

But, somehow, expectations are among the things that we seem to cling to.  Sometimes these expectations can get all mixed up with something that is thrown around as a negative descriptor a lot these days (I used it myself recently)- entitlement.

‘The belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges’ = entitlement

‘The act or state of looking forward or anticipating… a prospect of future good’ = expectation

The differences are subtle:  that which we think we deserve vs. that which we feel it was reasonable to anticipate.

Likewise two terms that are connected with the collapse of expectations:

‘The feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations or hopes to manifest’ = disappointment

‘Dissatisfaction focused primarily on personal choices that contributed to a poor outcome’ = regret

These feelings, as overlapping as they are, come out of the cultural scripts that we studiously follow in an effort to ‘get ahead’.  Modern parents often comment that they want ‘better’ for their children than what they grew up with.  As noted by that maven of truth telling, Bill Moyers, that expectation is less likely to be realized these days.  Especially, at least in the United States, if you are not white.

Interestingly, this particular cultural script is one that is relatively recent.  The culture(s) that produced that Big Book of Myths that has shaped many of our Western mores and ways of approaching the world (and the afterworld, for that matter) were, generally speaking, societies of something called ‘Limited Good’ an anthropological/sociological (please don’t tell the PM of Stephen Harper’s Canada that I’m committing sociology here) concept that suggested that there was a limited amount of the ‘good’ to go around.  If some people suddenly appeared to have ‘more’, the assumption was that someone else must therefore have correspondingly ‘less’.

In biblical times, there was small percentage (about 10%) of the population- the nobility, military, priesthood and a small group of artisans and tradesmen- that was relatively well-off.  Everyone else expected no perceptible change in fortune from generation to generation.

If someone wanted more, that increase in fortunes meant that someone else HAD to have less.  So any improvement of one’s status and increase in possessions was greeted with suspicion.

But it was more than an excess of money or stuff that was viewed as problematic to the larger society.  Having more than one’s fair share of pleasure and happiness was deemed questionable.  This limiting of material and emotional goods in this life also served to make conceptualizations of the afterlife more precious and attractive.

Biblical (and extra-canonical) myths about the afterlife were built on this culturally pervasive theory.  This life may suck- or, at best, be mediocre enough so as to not garner suspicion from one’s neighbours- but the rewards will be plentiful in the next world.  Riches and happiness were to be found in abundance- for those who followed the rules while alive.

The Industrial Revolution shifted the ideology significantly.  Goods were no longer perceived as limited once they could be mass-produced at little cost.  With this change came the development of the middle class and the eventual rise in consumerism.

Goods could be, and were, purchased for reasons of luxury and display by those who could newly afford them.  Spending for the sake of spending, and waste of resources that were previously seen as precious and valuable, became the norm.

‘Conspicuous consumption’ became the new goal in Western cultures, as people were encouraged to keep up with the Joneses and demonstrate perceived superiority through the trappings they were able to display.

Part of this drive lead to the development of the idea that each generation could do better than the previous ones- through the increased availability of educational opportunities and by following the new cultural scripts (arguably based in the concept of the Protestant Work Ethic) that suggested that things like ambition, entrepreneurship and ruthlessness in business were demonstrative of the potential for everyone (dependent on racial background, of course) to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become one with the nouveau riche.

Generations have now been taught that following certain paths will lead to success and security.  Things like education, social connections, hard work, volunteerism and general experience of the world are held up as models for:

‘the favourable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavours; the accomplishment on one’s goals’ = success

When the attempts and endeavours don’t turn out quite the way we’d like, or in line with our expectations (based in our cultural stories that claim such things are not only possible, but probable when we do as we are told) our disappointment can lead to regret– about the paths taken (or not taken)- or to a sense of entitlement based in our beliefs in the myths.

As societal models move increasingly toward ones that share a fair bit in keeping with those of Limited Good (the divide between the veryvery wealthy 1% and the rest of the 99%- including a rapidly shrinking middle class), suspicion- usually justified- about the disparity in wealth distribution grows and leads to societal anomie and/or activism.

We can look to our history and examine these models as a way to help figure out ways in which the disparity can be moderated, if not eradicated (given the fact that Marxism/communism looked good on paper, but hasn’t worked out so well given that little reality of humanity’s propensity to give in to greed and self-serving actions).

Hope and optimism are also learned behaviours derived from our myths and the cultural scripts they create.  At the moment I really have to just calm down and remember that disappointment can be overcome without resorting to unfounded feelings of entitlement OR debilitating regret that doesn’t allow for forward momentum.  We can keep our expectations, a little battered and shopworn though they may be, great whilst weathering the storms of current realities.

After all.

Life goes on.



Media Goo Goo, Media Ga Ga

Last week I wrote a couple of posts (which will not, for some arcane reason, be linked into this one- Moss Grows Fat… Parts 1 and 2, if you’re interested) that could, in part, be construed as a defence of media- in particular, investigative print (and online) journalism.  This week I honestly feel like rescinding even that tentative support.

Holy cows.

Yes.  A couple had a baby.  They are experiencing the joys of first-time parenthood and seem to be handling it all beautifully.  In this case ‘it all’ includes constant and invasive and ridiculous media presence.


I have absolutely nothing against William and Kate- or the British monarchy, for that matter.  I am Canadian, and I’m okay with our historical connection to Britain and its kings and queens.

My issue lies completely with the media (speaking in BROAD generalizations here)- and the way it is allowing itself to be used by our political establishments.  And since it’s not the first time- even very recently- that this has come up, I can’t not comment on what’s going on.

Even the venerable CBC has spent an inordinate amount of time discussing this child (it was a topic on Power and Politics with Evan last evening.  Sigh).  The morning show on CBC News Network (which is, admittedly, more about headlines than stories with any depth) was all about the Royals going home and the first visit of Her Majesty, Great-Grandma.


Enough already.

A friend of mine recently commented that the media is completely responsible for the fluff that dominates our airwaves these days.  While I would never consider myself a conspiracy theorist, I have to say that there is insidious behind-the-scenes governmental/social leadership culpability when you boil the phenomenon (this domination of non-news in our news feeds) down to its source.

The powers that be- Municipal, Provincial (or State), Federal and religious- ALL benefit from an ignorant populace.  The more that we are sedated by mind-numbingly terrible television shows and junky celebrity magazines, the less attention we tend to pay to issues of any import.

My personal beef is with the fact that no one seems to read anymore.  Granted, complaining about non-readers (and lack of reading comprehension) on a writing site seems counterintuitive at best.  Venting about such things in a forum that features writers -often writing about the great things that they’ve read- does amount to preaching to the choir.  But it is my hope that there are choristers among us who may be in positions to positively influence change in this regard.

Teachers, speakers, political leaders, pundits and writers with a larger readership than little ol’ me can (and should) speak out about the lack of critical reading skills- and, by extension, listening skills (for those who still refuse to look at anything in print format)- and encourage those closest to them to actually think about the stuff they are exposed to (in whichever forum that they prefer).

We have myriad means of communicating with one another.  I have spent most of a lifetime examining the ways in which we communicate with one another, and the ways in which those methods of communication are often controlled and manipulated.

Humanity’s myths are frequently propagandist.  Propagandist techniques include such things as scapegoating and demonizing the enemy (for a full list see that bastion of all knowledge, Wikipedia) Such myths are means of establishing and maintaining order and are designed to be intentional societal scripts.  Some of these stories are self-aware and clear in this intent.  Others are more insidious.  We have to remain vigilant in order that we not fall under the lulling spell of some of our imposed scripts- including the idea that mindlessly watching television programs about hillbillies and rich ‘celebutantes’ is a deserved reward for how hard we have to work each day to keep body and soul with roofs over our heads and food in our bellies.

There are people speaking out about this manipulation of the media as a means of continuing the imposition of willful ignorance that seems to be the norm these days.  Bill Moyers is among my favourite voices crying in the wilderness of this reality.  With Marty Kaplan (the founder and Director of the Norman Lear Centre which studies the impact of entertainment on society) he frequently discusses such topics as media and political systems as ‘Weapons of Mass Distraction’, and how the mainstream media purposely avoids discussions of important issues such as climate change, and the lack of general outcry as the distance and divide between the very wealthy and everyone else continues to grow at an alarming rate.

There are others.  Not all television or journalism is skewed toward the ridiculous or inconsequential in the grander scheme of things.  Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart (and lately, in his absence, John Oliver), Louis C.K., Lewis Black, Rick Mercer, the cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes… all these good folks illustrate the folly of drinking the Kool-Aid our mainstream media is trying to force-feed us on a moment-by-moment basis.  Our comedians are providing us with more coverage of important local and world events than our news outlets.

We are being manipulated.

Of this there can be no doubt.

We have to pay closer, critical attention to the mythological scripts that are being presented to us, and make informed decisions about what we are willing to stand for from our media and our leaders.  We can’t sit in apathy and complacency while allowing the propaganda to distract us from taking stands and making changes when they are required.

An arguably important baby has been born.  Let’s react to this bit of news by ridding ourselves of the infantilizing effects of media and political propaganda.

Time to grow up.

(All that said, a very Happy Birthday to young Master ‘no name as yet’  (update: George Alexander Louis) of Cambridge.  May he grow up to become a leader worthy of his history and a positive force in the world he will inherit).

Moving On

Every once in a while I take a weekend and unplug completely.  This past week was pretty much the epitome of ‘working for the weekend’ (ah, Loverboy.  Where would we be without that particular concept?) and I honestly couldn’t watch anymore as the grief of the citizens of Lac Mégantic was broadcast across all news outlets while the owner of the train company not only refused to take responsiblity, he sounded like an arrogant sociopath once he finally deigned to comment on the situation.

As of Friday evening at 5pm, I turned off and tuned out for the duration.

Nice to have the break, but I missed a whole whack o’ news- little of it good:

The Zimmerman verdict down there in the States represents yet another violation of anything resembling justice.

A young Canadian actor was found dead in his hotel room from a (likely) drug overdose.

The waste of youth, talent and potential in both cases is tragic- if for different reasons.

Both will prompt all kinds of discussion in the coming days. On Moyers and Company Lauren Feeney and Eric Boehlert discussed the media frenzy around the trial, how the story went from being about the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin to the ‘Zimmerman Show’- and the conservative ‘news’ groups that viewed him as some kind of persecuted innocent (!).

I imagine that greater minds than mine with more knowledge of the American system of (in)justice will try to make some sense of the travesty.  I can do little more than add my dismayed voice, in whatever small way, and shake my head at the ‘one step forward, two back’ social reality evinced by the US over the past month.

I admit that I watched the first season of Glee.  There was an energy to it that was attractive- and the flashback song selections were pretty fun.  Sort of lost the plot as it went on- and as we started to see less of Sue (who was awesome)- but I appreciated the talents of the actors/singers on the show.  In comparison to the endless selection of ‘talent’ competitions, Glee offered some real musical theatre in an entertaining one-hour format, and Finn was at the heart of the whole shebang.

Not being all that tapped into much infotainment, I wasn’t aware that Cory Monteith struggled with addiction.  31 is too young to exit this world- especially for someone of talent and support.  Sad.

All this waited to be discovered when I turned the computer/tv back on this afternoon.

But before I did so… as part of my hiatus, I went for a good long walk yesterday.  It was a glorious weekend- especially after the, um, extreme weather we had last week.  We took the storm- and the clean-up and aftermath- in relative stride.

The Indy was in town- always interesting for the crowds it brings to the downtown core.  And there were the usual festivals, community parties and special events that make Toronto such an awesome place in which to hang out in the summertime.  LOVE this place in the summer.

Anyhoo.  While out for my walk, the Shuffle Daemon was at it again.  This time it seemed to be anticipating the fact that I’d need a reminder that sometimes the bad stuff- even when it’s really really bad- has to be put behind us and we just need to keep on keeping on.

Perhaps the iPod was tapped into the fact that I had just been thinking about story and song, and Papa Nez, because the first song to come up was a country/southern-rock classic:

That song never ceases to put a smile on my face.  The idea of just rolling with things and moving on as the spirit takes you… something that I find so very hard to do.


Running on Empty.

Same type of message, but Jackson Browne describes one of the key things I try to keep in mind in my life:  “Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive- trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive.”

The frenetic pace that he describes in the song reminds us that we need to both keep moving on and stop every once in awhile and appreciate those things that are most important.

Further good advice from Billy Joel came next:

Working/worrying oneself into heart attack (ack ack ack ack ack)- so not worth it.  It’s all about priorities and perspective.

This one hurt my heart:

Although it was in keeping with the whole keep on moving theme that the Daemon had going, and despite the fact that INXS remains one of my fave bands, the tragic death of Michael Hutchence (also too young) always casts a bit of a cloud over their fantastic songs.

Still, Just Keep Walking, from their first album, when they were (ridiculously) young and hopeful, frequently reminds me to keep my head down and move forward regardless of the difficulties thrown in my path.

U2 always seems to weigh in:

Walk On is about Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the more than 20 years she spent under house arrest as a result of her fight for her country’s freedom.  On a universal level, it talks about leaving behind baggage while taking only what is most important as the fight requires a change in locale or perspective.

And, because the Shuffle Daemon has a sense of humour (and because I have rather strange eclectic taste in music):

Who better than Kermit and Fozzie to demonstrate that moving it along is about adventure and companionship- and those we might chance to meet on the way.

Sometimes you just have to let things go and shift gears/change scenery/take a break from the known and breathe in the new.

These six story songs illustrate the concept wonderfully.  Although we can, and should, get caught up in the dailies and the important issues of the world, sometimes we have to shake it off and go in a different direction.

It is important to be aware of and engaged with the terrible stories that happen with way too much frequency.  Our access to communication requires that we not ignore the injustices and atrocities.  The stories- well-examined and evaluated- must spur us into action to counter the wrongs that we find contained within them.

Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to move on.  Becoming mired in the negative leads to anomie and apathy.  Being bombarded by the bad, it is hard to find the good.

And there is very good to be found.  Our stories continue- regardless of how some might try to silence the inspirational voices among us.

Malala knows- and our songwriting storytellers remind us (through the medium of ‘possessed’ iPods)- that the status quo is always subject to change.

A hopeful note on which to start a new week.

Standing on the Shoulders of the Master

Myth.  It is a word that has become ‘loaded’ in that it is used, in the common parlance, to indicate something that is inherently untrue.  On any given day one can find at least one example on interworld newsgroups discussing “10 myths about healthy foods” or the like.  There are television shows devoted to the supposition that a myth is, by definition, a lie, just waiting to be debunked by someone. The television show “Mythbusters” comes easily to mind.

Myths have become equated with lies, when what they really ARE are stories- tales that help to describe and explain the lot of humans and their interactions with their environments, both earthly and the postulated divine realms.  Myths help us to understand how people of other times and cultures understood and shaped the world.

In Religious Worlds, William Paden stated that myth “addresses and resolves conflicts and contradictions in human experience.”  Northrup Frye described myth as “charged with a special seriousness and importance” (The Great Code: The Bible and Literature).  And, in The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell stated that myth is “humanity’s one great story… or, as it says in the Vedas of India, Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.”

Sure, there are examples in popular culture that give myths their due.  They can sometimes be seen as the means of communication that they were intended to be.  In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (‘Darmok’) the crew of the Enterprise encounters a culture whose language is constructed through the use of mythic imagery and events.  Jean-Luc recounts the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu as a means of communication with his alien compatriot.

Generally speaking though, myths have become things to be discounted and dismissed.  In misusing the term this way the implication is that myths are the stories of those who are “other”- i.e. not Western, 21st century, rational, thinking individuals.  The perception is that they are totally fictitious and somehow ‘wrong’.  There is a negative value judgement inherent in designating something as a ‘myth’.

Myths are integral parts of religions and societies- both ancient and contemporary.  They are stories that were created, repeated, believed and beloved.  Yes, there are lots of stories about the gods, but myths also recount tales of historical events of significance to a particular tradition.  As one example, the ritual celebration of Passover reenacts an important mythological event in the religious tradition of Judaism- the release from bondage in Egypt, as described in the biblical book of Exodus.

Ritual, doctrinal and theological dimensions of religions are supported by the myths of the belief system.  Theology uses myths to create doctrines- coherent systems used to present a total picture of the realities of a particular worldview.  Without ‘myth’ there can be no ‘religion’.

But the myths behind various belief systems are not always particularly ordered or coherent.  As such, and given our human (and myth-based) propensity for the establishment of order, we are constantly seeking to make sense of the symbols and themes that recur across cultures and religious systems.  This involves human interpretation of human-created stories which can be both wonderful and dangerous, depending on the lens through which the interpretation is attempted.

Joseph Campbell, the prolific author and celebrated teacher of comparative mythology, brought myth, and its importance, to the masses.  He was the non-academic academic; he made the stories of humanity accessible and brought their study into our homes and consciousness through a body of work that included the series “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers in the late 1980’s.  His message, and conversational approach to the study of world mythology, is timeless and remains without peer.

Following Professor Campbell’s example, we have to stop blindly citing short passages of longer, larger, less-ordered myths, waaaaaay outside of their created contexts, as a means of ‘justifying’ current ideologies and culturally based prejudices, and realize, as Campbell emphasized throughout his worldwide teaching career, that our myths connect rather than separate us as humans.  Myths certainly have things to teach us and a determinedly human wisdom to impart that transcends the time and location in which the individual stories were composed, but they must be viewed through the specific lenses of time and place.  And they must be examined in this context in their totality with the irrelevancies and injustices of history removed to better reflect our human evolution.  We are learning, growing organisms, and our interpretation of the wisdom of the ages has to reflect this reality and our advances in science, philosophy and cultural discourse.

Discovering our collective and individual myths is an important way of connecting as humans- and of getting to know others who may, at first, seem incomprehensible to us, but the stories MUST be interpreted according to our contemporary ideals, values and consciences.  They should never be seen as static, but as living, developing representations of people being people who are trying to make sense of the realities of living and dying and everything in between.  As Professor Campbell so eloquently stated:

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life.  I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking.  I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.  That’s what it’s all finally about, and that’s what these clues (myths) help us to find within ourselves.”  (The Power of Myth).

He was not suggesting that our stories should be unexamined prescriptions for living, but that they can inform our ways of interacting in THIS world and help animate and celebrate this ‘go round’ on the wheel of LIFE.  I realize that I’ve already said that his views are timeless but it bears repeating.  In this world of instant communication we have to strive ever harder to connect with the stories that define our humanity, while relegating those cultural mores that no longer reflect our continually progressing stages of development to the dust bin of positive change.  Doing so will help us to see that we are all looking for our own, personal and societal, ‘raptures’, and will demonstrate that most of our differences pale in comparison to the common drive of all humanity to live the best life possible in the time we are given, through the use of the tools we have created.

Such tools can form the basis of dialogues that will ultimately lead us to an understanding of one another, regardless of the surface differences that are highlighted daily in the media, and that contribute to an atmosphere of fear of the ‘other’.  If we need anything in today’s climate, a release from that fear certainly tops the list.  Joseph Campbell’s model for the appreciation of our myths- both ancient and modern- remains an excellent means of unpacking the symbols and meanings behind our attempts at making sense of our existence.  The wonders of our technological advancements allow us to access his teachings, and our stories, with the click of a mouse or the tap of a touch screen.  With such tools so readily to hand, can we honestly make excuses for not accessing the databanks and attempting to understand the perceived ‘other’?