End of the Year Thoughts on Politics and Culture

I'm calling this lame!

Remember the loathsome Yuppies of the 1980s? How about that entire attitude-laden Gen X bunch that came of age toward the end of the 20th century? I certainly recall the smug contempt they had for Baby Boomers and the way in which they lampooned "hippies." I actually shared some their amusement–but not their scorn­–over the gray-haired tie-dye crowd that refused to notice that the calendar had moved forward, but who is laughing now? I'm enjoying a major LMAO moment watching balding, overweight folks in their late 40s/early 50s walking around in choir robes and carrying plastic "light lasers." At least hippies had ideals, however misplaced they were (or were not). Pray tell, what's the ideology behind Star Wars? Consumerism?

The Democratic Party data scandal is a GOP fantasy come true. The DNC (Democratic National Committee) is the tin standard against which all cluelessness and ineptitude must be measured. It is a confirmation of my oft-repeated quip that Democrats possess an unlimited capacity for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Here's what the DNC action says: we will do whatever it takes to derail the party's only honest candidate (Sanders) in order to advance our flawed anointed contender (Clinton).

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, has she done a single thing thus far to make anyone think that she's anything less than the scheming, amoral, possibly corrupt charlatan that her harshest critics have claimed? She's sure looking like the latest in a long line of DNC hacks whose de facto campaign slogan is: "Vote for me. I'm not as bad as the Republicans."

The DNC simply doesn't get the fact that politics have changed. Call is style over substance if you wish then move on, as this is how the game is now played. A modern candidate needs to appear strong, counter when attacked, be likable, be perceived as trustworthy, and put forth a distilled positive message for what H. L. Mencken famously dubbed the boobocracy­–that teeming mass electorate defined by their limited education and even more limited attention span. How's Hillary stack up on this scale? High marks for toughness and meanness, but epic fail on likability, trust, and message. Machine-style politics is dead, as we keep proving in Massachusetts, where we elect GOP governors because their Democratic opponents comes off as boring, elitist, or both.  

Well here's an item that got buried. Did anyone notice that Palestinian Authority mouthpiece Mahmoud Abbas called the stabbings of Israelis a "justified popular uprising?" You probably didn't see it—it got buried in newspapers and Internet news feeds because we're too damn busy insisting that Palestinians are victims rather than instigators. What does it tell you, though, when scientific polling reveals that 2/3 of all Palestinians agree that stabbings are justified? This data tells me that Palestinians cry crocodile tears when they speak of peace. It tells me also that they're hypocrites when they speak of a "political solution" to border disputes. It tells me they are not ready for nationhood. Under what moral code do knife-wielding thugs qualify as "freedom fighters?"

In under-reported religious news, one would never know it, but incidents of anti-Semitism outnumber those that are Islamophobic in the United States and Europe. More than one billion people on the globe hold anti-Semitic views–around one in seven. Thus far in 2015, anti-Semitic incidents have risen by 21% in the United States, 23% in Russia, and 12% in Britain. The US remains something of a safe haven for Jews in global terms, but in its haste to counter Islamophobia, rising anti-Semitism gets swept under the rug. No less a source than Al-Jazeera notes that hatred of Jews and hatred of Muslims tend to rise simultaneously.

In global terms, though, another thing you'd never know is that Christians are the most persecuted religious group. As reported by the Boston Globe on December 20, martyrdom levels are approaching levels not seen since the early 3rd century Roman Empire. Some of the violence has been directed against overt proselytizers such as Jehovah's Witnesses, but there are vast swaths of the world where it's simply open season on Christians, even those minding their own business. In all, human rights groups report anti-Christian persecution and violence in 151 nations, some of whom you probably wouldn't suspect: India, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Pakistan…. The Pew Research Center confirms that Christians suffer more persecution than any other religious group. Even more surprising, Pew reports that in the United States, those who perceive themselves to be discrimination victims are, in order: Latinos, evangelical Christians, Catholics, LGBT groups, and African-Americans.

I've never found comparative repression to be particularly useful. (There's no prize for being first as opposed to sixth on this tragic list.) If it were up to me, I'd make the UN Charter on Human Rights the only standard of fairness. The problem with that is that a whole host of religious practices would be declared violations (exorcisms, burqas, forcible conversion, the caste system, female circumcision, Judeo-Christian sexism, anti-gay teachings, jihad, theocracy….) I'm okay with these things being forbidden! 

A final cultural observation: It's pretty hard to avoid thinking that American cinema is on its last legs. Put bluntly, most Hollywood movies suck, few independents get enough screen time to justify their costs, TV channels like HBO make better movies than Hollywood, and download services such as Netflix have enough backlog to carry them for decades. Today's American cinema consists of mindless mall blockbusters, box office duds, and a handful of niche cinemas that are only marginally viable. Put aside your personal preferences for a moment and name a truly great American film from 2015. Not a good one–one a future film student might discuss as "art." Maybe you can come up with one, but can you go further? I doubt it.

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