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August 31, 2010

Michael Winship: The Awful Price for Teaching Less than We Know

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by Public Affairs Television senior writer Michael Winship.

The Awful Price for Teaching Less than We Know
By Michael Winship

Watching Glenn Beck's performance Saturday at his "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, DC, I thought of the novelist Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, the charlatan evangelist who seduces most of those around him with his hearty backslapping and false piety.

Then I realized it wasn't Gantry of whom I was reminded so much as another Lewis character, Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, the politician who poses as a populist, then once elected president turns the United States into a fascist dictatorship, aided by an angry, unknowing electorate and a paramilitary group called the Minute Men.

Read how Sinclair Lewis described Windrip seventy-five years ago in his novel It Can't Happen Here and think Beck: "He was an actor of genius. There was no more overwhelming actor on the stage, in the motion pictures, nor even in the pulpit. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts -- figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.

Continue reading "Michael Winship: The Awful Price for Teaching Less than We Know" »


April 9, 2010

Language and Culture

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with acclaimed author Louise Erdrich about her writing and her Native American heritage.

Erdrich described the significance of her Ojibwe language and culture:

"Native American people puzzle other people. Why is [their culture] so strong with them? Why don't they just become like the rest of us? What is it that's so important in their culture that they cling to it so? I think it has to do with the belongingness and the sense of peace that I feel among other native people, this sense of community - you're in the comfort of a very funny, grounded people who are related to everything that's around them, who don't feel this estrangement that people feel so often. That's why being Ojibwe or Anishinabe is so important to me... Even learning the amount of Ojibwe that one can at my age is a life-altering experience. You see the world in a different way. I for instance was astounded when I realized early on that Ojibwe doesn't see the world in terms of gender. You're working in a language in which there is a spirit behind this language. Everything is interrelated and participates in a level of spiritual interaction."

What do you think?

  • Do you speak multiple languages? If so, how does each help you see the world differently?

  • Tell us about your cultural heritage. How does it contribute to your unique perspective?


  • July 24, 2009

    Fear and Loathing in Political Discourse

    This week, the JOURNAL reprised a report from last year examining the provocative and often hostile rhetoric used by some right-wing ‘shock jock’ talk radio and cable TV hosts to criticize liberals and liberalism.

    A year ago, a gunman with an expressed hatred of liberalism stormed a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, killing 2 and wounding 6. Several books by right-wing ‘shock jocks’ were found in the killer's apartment, which led some to speculate that he may have been influenced by their rhetoric.

    The church’s pastor, Chris Buice, said on the JOURNAL:

    “A man came in here and totally dehumanized us. Members of our church were not human to him. Where did he get that? Where did he get that sense that we were not human?... Some have suggested that his spiritual attitudes, his hatred of liberals and gays, was reinforced by the right-wing media figures... When you hear in talk radio that liberals are evil, that they are traitors, that they are godless, that they are on the side of the terrorist, that’s hate language. You don’t negotiate with evil people. You don’t live in a community with people you consider to be traitors.”

    In April, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sparked controversy when it issued a report [PDF link] warning that "... lone wolves [individuals acting alone] and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States." Among other factors, the report pointed to the economic downturn, the election of the first African-American president, and fears of gun control as potential drivers for right-wing radicalization. It also warned that "disgruntled military veterans" -- with their military training and combat experience -- could be targeted for recruitment.

    The DHS later apologized to a number of veterans groups that complained about the report.

    Penn State history professor Philip Jenkins argued in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE magazine that the true threat of right-wing violence and domestic terrorism has been exaggerated by partisans for political purposes. Jenkins wrote:

    “We will hear a great deal about threats from racist groups and right-wing paramilitaries, and such a perceived wave of terrorism will have real and pernicious effects on mainstream politics. If history is any guide, the more loudly an administration denounces enemies on the far Right, the easier it is to stigmatize its respectable and nonviolent critics... Paying proper attention to terrorist threats is laudable, whatever their source, and some right-wing extremists have through the years demonstrated their potential for violence: they need to be watched. Yet almost certainly, a renewed focus on the far Right will develop more out of an ideological slant than any reasonable perception of danger.”

    What do you think?

  • In your view, do right-wing ‘shock jocks’ and their rhetoric bear any responsibility for violent incidents like the shooting in Knoxville? Explain.

  • Do you agree with Philip Jenkins that partisans have used tragic events to stigmatize legitimate opposition? Why or why not?

  • What are your ideas for bringing more civility into political discourse?


  • July 17, 2009

    Religion and the ''Moral Axis of the Universe''

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with author Robert Wright, who discussed his vision of how various cultures’ notions of God have evolved throughout history. Wright suggested that, at their best, religious traditions have aligned their adherents with a transcendent “moral axis of the universe” that encompasses values applicable to all of humanity:

    “I believe there’s a purpose unfolding that has a moral directionality – I have barely the vaguest notion of what might be behind that and whether it could be anything like a personal God or an intelligent being or not... Whatever is behind it, if something is, is probably something that’s beyond human conception... Given the constraints on human cognition, believing in a personal God is a pretty defensible way to go about orienting yourself to the moral axis of the universe... [The] conscience, which certainly is imperfect as natural selection shaped it, is not by itself a reliable guide to moral conduct, I think... If we want to secure the salvation of the global social system and of the planet – in other words, if we want salvation in the Hebrew Bible sense of the term – we do have to move ourselves closer to what I would call the moral axis of the universe, which means drawing more of humanity into our frame of reference, getting better at putting ourselves in their shoes, [and] expanding the realm of tolerance.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you believe, as Wright does, in a “moral axis of the universe” based on common values of expanding tolerance? Why or why not?

  • In your view, is religion necessary to build a more ethical society?


  • June 25, 2009

    The Arts, Politics, and Political Art

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with poet W.S. Merwin, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize.

    During the taping of the interview, Merwin argued that political poetry rarely makes for good art. He explained:

    “Because you start by knowing too much. You have your mind made up, and you know that you’re right. And I think that always the moment you’re right, you’re wrong. Political poetry starts with the assumption, “This is the way it is, and I’m going to persuade you that this is the way it is.” You end up almost always writing propaganda. During the Vietnam war, many poets wrote poetry of protest against the war and poetry of anguish about the war. Most of it was just terrible... I think that poetry and the most valuable things in our life come out of what we don’t know.”

    Some have argued that art must be political if it is to be honest. In 1964, Irwin Silber of the liberal folk music magazine SING OUT! wrote an open letter to Bob Dylan criticizing his transition from political songs to more ambiguous subject matter:

    “You seem to be in a different kind of bag now, Bob -- and I'm worried about it... You said you weren't a writer of "protest" songs -- or any other category, for that matter -- but you just wrote songs. Well, okay, call it anything you want. But any songwriter who tries to deal honestly with reality in this world is bound to write "protest" songs. How can he help himself? Your new songs seem to be all inner-directed now, innerprobing, self- conscious -- maybe even a little maudlin or a little cruel on occasion... You seem to be relating to a handful of cronies behind the scenes now -- rather than to the rest of us out front. Now, that's all okay -- if that's the way you want it, Bob. But then you're a different Bob Dylan from the one we knew. The old one never wasted our precious time.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree more with Merwin that political art is “almost always... propaganda,” or with Silber that any artist who “tries to deal honestly with reality in this world” is bound to be political? Why?

  • Can you name some examples illustrating either Merwin’s or Silber’s arguments?


  • July 2, 2008

    A Note from Tomas Young --- What's Your Favorite Antiwar or Protest Music?

    Veteran Tomas Young, the subject of the new documentary film BODY OF WAR, was paralyzed within a week of arriving in Iraq. He is now the co-executive producer of a new compilation of antiwar and protest songs, BODY OF WAR: SONGS THAT INSPIRED AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN, which Young calls his personal "soundtrack to Iraq." We thank Tomas Young for drafting a few words for THE MOYERS BLOG below.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Mr. Young are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    Being an antiwar activist in this day and age is frustrating. You fight and fight and nothing gets done and, when you add the daily struggles I endure just to get out of bed and try to have a normal day, life can be a tiring experience both physically and mentally. Music has helped me find the motivation to not only get up and fight another day but to do it with determination no matter how the frustration may stack up against me. Whether it be a song that is written from the perspective of a soldier confused at being in a position he doesn’t want to be in but has no say in the matter (“Hero’s Song” by Brendan James or “Day After Tomorrow” by Tom Waits), or a song written to inspire a vitriolic anger at the state of the union and inspire the listener to action (“B.Y.O.B. by System of a Down or “The 4th Branch” by Immortal Technique), music like the songs I chose for the BODY OF WAR CD compilation inspired a particular emotion in me that made me want to act towards the goals of ending the war and bringing light to the need for better veterans’ health care. These things are bigger than all of us and need to be paid attention to, so I can only hope that music of any kind helps and inspires you as much as it has helped me.

    We invite you to respond and share some of your own favorite anti-war or protest songs.


    April 25, 2008

    The Controversy Over Wright

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago and Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Il) pastor for more than 20 years, who’s been embroiled in controversy.

    “When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they wanna do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a "wackadoodle"... I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ... To put an element of fear and hatred and to stir up the anxiety of Americans who still don't know the African-American tradition, know nothing about the prophetic theology of the African-American experience, who know nothing about the black church, who don't even know how we got a black church.”

    Some have argued that TUCC’s “Black Value System,” which emphasizes commitment to the “Black community” and “Black family” rather than to communities and families in general, prioritizes racial identity in an inherently racist way. Arguing that Wright himself might be a racist who holds racial animus against certain groups, commentators have pointed to his statement that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need” and to his accusation that the U.S. government “invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Furthermore, Wright’s association with Louis Farrakhan, whose history of anti-semitic and anti-white statements has been condemned, has brought further controversy.

    In contrast, some have come to the defense of Wright's rhetoric and his notion of “the prophetic theology of the African American experience” and black liberation theology. In today’s Dallas Morning News, Gerald Britt dismisses “attempts to delegitimize Dr. Wright and Trinity United Christian Church for its Afrocentric theological emphasis” and argues that the black church “has been admired for its powerful presence within the African-American community; its worship is envied for its emotional freedom.”

    What do you think?


    April 18, 2008

    Religious Tolerance in America

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, author Martha Nussbaum addressed the topics of religious tolerance and equality in America.

    Nussbaum said:

    "The University of Virginia said that student activity fees could be used to fund every student group: the Young Democrats, the lesbian and gay students group, the gardening club, the choir. But the one thing they couldn't use the money to fund was the Young Christians. Now, there really is an issue of fairness. I mean, why should it be just because you're a religious group that you don't get what everyone else gets to pursue their own conscientious commitment?"

    In the case that Nussbaum mentions, students decided to sue and ultimately persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court that their right to free speech had been denied because of religion.

    In addition to this divide between religious and non-religious groups, division can be seen between religious groups themselves. For example, many have alleged that there is a "war on Christmas," defined as attempts to replace traditional Christmas greetings and decorations with generic "Season's Greetings" in the public sphere, while symbols of other religions are welcomed for providing diversity.

    A recent blog post from the NEW YORK TIMES noted that many voters took umbrage at an email that was widely circulated after Sen. John Kerry's (D-Ma) defeat in the 2004 election. The email, which labeled states that Kerry had won as "The United States of Canada" while dismissing those that President Bush had carried as "Jesusland," was interpreted by many as offensively anti-Christian.

    Recently, controversy has engulfed Minnesota's Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), a publically-funded charter school that reportedly has been violating state and federal law by teaching Islam, scheduling and organizing Muslim prayer on school grounds during the school day, and marketing itself among Muslims as an avowedly Muslim institution. Reports suggest that these abuses have continued despite several inspections by state officials responsible for ensuring that no public school promotes or endorses religion. Some commentators have speculated that a Christian school acting in the same ways would not have been handled with the same leniency.

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with the Supreme Court's decision in the University of Virginia case?
  • Are some commentators correct when they allege discrimination against Christians?
  • Are the examples in Virginia and Minnesota representative of what's happening across the U.S.? Have you seen these divides in your community?


  • February 25, 2008

    Bill Moyers Rewind: Seyyed Hossein Nasr on Finding Peace in the Middle East (1990)

    In a conversation with Bill Moyers on WORLD OF IDEAS in 1990, three years before the first attack on the World Trade Center, Mideast scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr discussed the prospects of achieving regional peace given increasing unrest in parts of the Islamic world, rising anti-western sentiment, and the first Gulf War.

    "[The symbolism of American and other western troops being stationed near Mecca and Medina] in many Muslims' eyes is kind of a final desecration of things Islam, the final humiliation that Muslims can't defend even the center of their world."

    Click below to watch the interview:


    We invite you to respond by commenting below.


    February 15, 2008

    An Age of American Unreason?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON author Susan Jacoby offered various reasons for what she calls “an overarching crisis of memory and knowledge” in America, including our educational system:

    “You shouldn't have to be an intellectual or a college graduate to know that the sun doesn't revolve around the earth. There's been a huge failure of education. I do agree with many cultural conservatives about this: I think schools over the last 40 years [have been] just adding things, for example African-American history [and] women's history. These are all great additions, and necessary, but what they've done in addition to adding things is they really have placed less emphasis on the overall culture, cultural things that everybody should know. People getting out of high school should know how many Supreme Court justices there are. Most Americans don't.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Jacoby that America faces “an overarching crisis” of civic irrationality and ignorance?
  • If so, to what extent does the problem lie with America’s educational system? Politicians? The media?
  • Do these outlets reflect the priorities of interest groups more than essential knowledge for the public good? What reforms would you recommend to promote civic intelligence?

    (NOTE: Another interview with Susan Jacoby from the Moyers archives is available here.
    Several viewers have written in stating that the Constitution does not specifically state that the Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution or all judicial review. Some legal scholars maintain that Article III does imply it and many argue that Marbury V. Madison only formalized that authority. )


  • Bill Moyers Rewind: Susan Jacoby

    This week, Bill Moyers speaks with Susan Jacoby, author of THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON. In the clip below of a 2004 interview from NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, Jacoby discusses her previous book, FREETHINKERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SECULARISM.

    Watch Video

    We invite you to respond in the space below.


    February 8, 2008

    Bill Moyers' Reading Recommendation

    Last week, Bill Moyers asked viewers what book, other than the Bible, they recommend the next President bring to the White House. In the clip below, he reviews many of your submissions and reveals his own pick for the future President-elect.

    Watch Video

    We invite you to continue sharing your thoughts on Moyers' and others' recommendations and submitting your own suggestions for Presidential reading.

    (Please note that due to your overwhelming response our "complete list" keeps growing and growing. We invite you to view our books feature, complete with slideshow of popular suggestions and video of authors, as well as, peruse all the suggestions on the blog.)

    Here are the current top titles.

    • Naomi Klein, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

    • Howard Zinn, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

    • Kim Michaels, THE ART OF NON-WAR

    • Jared Diamond, COLLAPSE

    • Chalmers Johnson, BLOWBACK triology

    • Tom Paine, COLLECTED WORKS/COMMON SENSE

    • Al Gore, ASSAULT ON REASON/AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

    • David Cay Johnston, FREE LUNCH

    • George Orwell, 1984/ANIMAL FARM

    • Naomi Wolff, THE END OF AMERICA: LETTERS TO A YOUNG PATRIOT

    • Greg Mortenson, THREE CUPS OF TEA

    • Barbara Ehrenreich, NICKLE AND DIMED

    • Barbara Tuchman, MARCH OF FOLLY

    • Doris Kearns Goodwin, TEAM OF RIVALS

    • David Korten, THE GREAT TURNING

    • John Steinbeck, THE GRAPES OF WRATH

    • Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED

    • John Dean, BROKEN GOVERNMENT

    • John Perkins, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN

    • James Carroll, HOUSE OF WAR

    • Thomas Friedman, THE WORLD IS FLAT

    • Lao Tzu, TE TAO CHING

    • Tim Weiner, LEGACY OF ASHES

    • Dr. Seuss (THE LORAX, HORTON HEARS A WHO, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO, IF I RAN THE ZOO)


    February 1, 2008

    Power Reading

    On the CBS EVENING NEWS, Katie Couric asks candidates from both parties which book, other than the Bible, they would bring with them to the White House and posits:

    "It's true you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can tell a lot about a person by what he or she reads."

    Find out what the candidates said on the CBS NEWS Web site.

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that you can tell a lot about a person from what he or she reads?
  • Were you surprised by what the candidates picked?
  • What one book do you want your next president to read?

    Greetings to all. This is Bill Moyers, and I want you to know I read every offering this evening. I wish that I could answer all of them because each one of you has made an interesting suggestion for a book. We'll give air time to a few next Friday night and put out a press release with a list of all the books recommended. I appreciate very much your taking the invitation seriously.

    Bill Moyers

    (Please note that due to your overwhelming response our "complete list" keeps growing and growing. We invite you to view our books feature, complete with slideshow of popular suggestions and video of authors, as well as, peruse all the suggestions on the blog.)

    View Bill Moyers' suggestion. Watch Video

    (Please note that due to your overwhelming response our "complete list" keeps growing and growing. We invite you to view our books feature, complete with slideshow of popular suggestions and video of authors, as well as, peruse all the suggestions on the blog.)

    Here are the current top titles.

    • Naomi Klein, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

    • Howard Zinn, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

    • Kim Michaels, THE ART OF NON-WAR

    • Jared Diamond, COLLAPSE

    • Chalmers Johnson, BLOWBACK triology

    • Tom Paine, COLLECTED WORKS/COMMON SENSE

    • Al Gore, ASSAULT ON REASON/AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

    • David Cay Johnston, FREE LUNCH

    • George Orwell, 1984/ANIMAL FARM

    • Naomi Wolff, THE END OF AMERICA: LETTERS TO A YOUNG PATRIOT

    • Greg Mortenson, THREE CUPS OF TEA

    • Barbara Ehrenreich, NICKLE AND DIMED

    • Barbara Tuchman, MARCH OF FOLLY

    • Doris Kearns Goodwin, TEAM OF RIVALS

    • David Korten, THE GREAT TURNING

    • John Steinbeck, THE GRAPES OF WRATH

    • Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED

    • John Dean, BROKEN GOVERNMENT

    • John Perkins, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN

    • James Carroll, HOUSE OF WAR

    • Thomas Friedman, THE WORLD IS FLAT

    • Lao Tzu, TE TAO CHING

    • Tim Weiner, LEGACY OF ASHES

    • Dr. Seuss (THE LORAX, HORTON HEARS A WHO, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO, IF I RAN THE ZOO)


  • January 25, 2008

    Rethinking The Criminal Justice System

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, author John Grisham said:

    “We still have two million people in prison in this country right now. Two million. Our prisons are choked, they’re so full. And most of them are non-violent. Most of them – and we’re spending between $40,000 and $80,000 somewhere to house them, every guy in prison. Now, somebody’s not doing the math here... Lock the bad ones away. But you gotta rethink everybody else. You gotta rethink the young kids who are in there because of crack cocaine. They need help. And if they serve five years they get out there and do the same thing over and over again. The system’s getting worse.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with John Grisham that our criminal justice system should be rethought?
  • Why do you think the system works the way it does?
  • What reforms to our criminal justice system would you recommend?


  • January 18, 2008

    Is Cynicism Un-American?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Reviewing Professor Harvey J. Kaye’s book THOMAS PAINE AND THE PROMISE OF AMERICA in THE NEW YORK TIMES, historian Joseph Ellis wrote:

    “'The promise of America' that Paine glimpsed so lyrically at the start cannot be easily translated into our 21st-century idiom without distorting the intellectual integrity of its 18th-century origins... In the wake of Darwin's depiction of nature, Freud's depiction of human nature, the senseless slaughter of World War I and the genocidal tragedies of the 20th century, Paine's optimistic assumptions appear naïve in the extreme. What a reincarnated Paine would say about our altered political and intellectual landscape is impossible to know. Kaye hears his voice more clearly and unambiguously than I do, a clarity of conviction that I envy. My more muddled position is that bringing Paine's words and ideas into our world is like trying to plant cut flowers.”

    Responding to this review in his JOURNAL interview, Kaye said:

    “I got to the end and I thought, 'How sad. The loss of hope, the loss of aspiration - how un-American,’ I almost said... Americans should always be trying to plant flowers. There are ways of sprouting things anew, and that’s what America’s about. We have no reason to fear. We have no reason to be cynical, no reason to be desperate...

    We need to have this kind of confidence in our fellow citizens that they somehow are able to take advantage of that confidence. It's our job to join with our fellow citizens and join them in the courage that we have.”

    What do you think?

  • Is cynicism about the direction of the United States “un-American?”
  • How much can “confidence in our fellow citizens” cure the ills of our body politic?
  • If such confidence can be effective, how can ordinary citizens “plant flowers” for a better nation and world?


  • January 11, 2008

    Grievance, Black Politics, and Black Identity

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, scholar Shelby Steele said the following:

    I am black and happy to be so, but my identity is not my master. I’m my master. And I resent this civil rights leadership telling me what I should think and what issues I should support this way or that way. And that’s where, in black America, identity has become almost totalitarian... You [must] subscribe to the idea that the essence of blackness is grounded in grievance, and if you vary from that you are letting whites off the hook. And we’re gonna call you a sell out. We’re gonna call you an ‘Uncle Tom’... I was gonna have a life or I was just going to be a kind of surrogate for blackness... but you enter an exile where the group identifies you as someone who is a threat, and part of being black is despising or having contempt for people like me.

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Steele's contention that today’s black identity is “grounded in grievance?”
  • Is ideological diversity within the black community limited by an imperative to not "let whites off the hook?"
  • To what extent are racial divisions and classifications reinforced by minority group identity?


  • December 20, 2007

    Society on Steroids: A Bill Moyers Essay

    There's been talk all this week about that stunning report from former Senator George Mitchell revealing that Major League Baseball players, including some of the sport's biggest stars, have been using steroids for years. The findings prompted my fellow journalist and friend Dick Starkey to recall an important insight into America by the eminent social critic, Jacques Barzun. A Frenchman by birth, now 100 years old and living in Texas, Barzun, like his illustrious ancestor Alexis de Toqueville, has been a canny interpreter of the American character. "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America," he once wrote, "had better learn baseball."
    Watch Video

    All American

    So what do we learn about ourselves from the Mitchell Report? That something is flowing through our veins other than red corpuscles. It turns out owners, players and the players' union were complicit in ignoring the growing use of steroids and other illegal drugs in our national pastime. But suppose our national pasttime has become our national pathology? Ours is a society on steroids, and we're as blind as baseball's owners were a decade ago.

    Continue reading "Society on Steroids: A Bill Moyers Essay" »


    Does Consumerism Degrade Democracy?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Benjamin Barber commented:

    "Democracy means pluralism. If everything’s religion, we rightly distrust it. If everything’s politics, even in good politics, we rightly distrust it. But when everything’s marketing and everything’s retail and everything’s shopping, we somehow think that enhances our freedom. Well, it doesn’t. It has the same corrupting effect on the fundamental diversity and variety that are our lives, that make us human, that make us happy. And, in that sense, focusing on shopping and the fulfillment of private consumer desires actually undermines our happiness."

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Barber’s take on consumerism?

  • Do Barber's remarks have a special resonance during the holiday marketing blitz?

  • If so, how can we as individuals and as a society transcend the commercialism to bring more humanity and "fundamental diversity and variety" to our holiday experience?


  • November 2, 2007

    Is the Internet the antidote to media consolidation?

    by Rick Karr

    Rick Karr by Robin HollandA majority of Americans (pdf) think media consolidation is a bad thing, as we report in this week's JOURNAL. So why do Republican members of the FCC want to allow more consolidation?

    The answer, in two words, is "the Internet”. Let's look at the argument that leads up to that conclusion:

    (Photo: Robin Holland)

    Continue reading "Is the Internet the antidote to media consolidation?" »


    October 12, 2007

    Difference, Dissent and Tyranny

    This week on THE JOURNAL, Anouar Majid, professor of English at the University of New England, explains that dissent in communities is vital to maintaining social, cultural and intellectual curiosity. Stifling disagreement and smothering debate, he believes, can have dangerous effects on a civilization:

    People who cannot live comfortably with differences always have a tendency to slide into tyranny. That's why we have to maintain vast differences within every society...to prevent those practices from ever taking root.

    Yet even though constructive conversation is often desirable, is it always possible? As Bill Moyers asks Professor Majid:

    You can't have a conversation with somebody who doesn't think you're human, a conversation with somebody who wants to kill you, somebody who thinks you're subhuman, somebody whose purpose is to manipulate you, right?

    How would you answer Bill Moyers' question? We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    Photo: Robin Holland


    August 3, 2007

    Cultural Amnesia: Who would you remember?

    Cultural critic, Clive James, has gathered 106 biographical essays in his recent collection, CULTURAL AMNESIA: NECESSARY MEMORIES FROM HISTORY AND THE ARTS, with the hope that future generations will learn from the lives and interconnections of these individuals; how they each contributed to our collective story, for good or bad.

    You can read many of his essays here at Slate.com including commentaries on Duke Ellington, Adolph Hitler, and Leon Trotsky.

    But since we all have different lives, and inhabit various circles, we are each affected by a diverse group of people.

    • So who do you believe is worth remembering?
    • Which individual, for good or ill, do you believe is most important for generations to come to understand and learn from? And why?


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