What Does Winning Look Like?

Jinny and I were out in B.C. this weekend visiting her family. It was her grandparents’ 60th anniversary, very cool. While I was there I saw the cover of a recent Maclean’s magazine with the title “What Are We Dying For?” I didn’t get a chance to read the article (busy weekend) and I don’t have a subscription (thus no link to the article either), but I’m pretty sure that I know the general tenor of the question. The picture over which the title was laid was of a coffin being carried out of a military transport with a Canadian flag draped over it. My guess is that this article was asking the same questions that I hear friends and family and people in supermarkets asking…why are we involved in a shooting war on the other side of the world and is our presence there accomplishing anything positive at all? Before I go any farther let me just say that I have absolutely no answers to these questions, or to any questions that have to do with these questions.

Winding down this evening I was watching TBTVSAT and came across a short exchange with some powerful words. The character Leo McGarry (played by the late John Spencer), the Chief of Staff in President Bartlett’s White House, was discussing the problem of western involvement in the Middle East. Though the immediate context of the conversation had to do with events surrounding Sorkin’s fictional country of Qumar, the basic principles certainly apply to the real world. McGarry asks whether the only way that the conflict between the West and the Middle East will end is with “the American flag flying over Mecca?” In the same conversation he says that he “doesn’t know what winning looks like anymore.”

What does winning look like? Is it found in total withdrawal from the region or in total commitment to military action? The first option would, I think at least, be the most likely way of ensuring that western nations (Europe, Canada, the US, etc.) would cease to be targets for jihadists. It would also, however, mean leaving allies like Israel to their fate, to say nothing of millions of people still living under the oppressive thumb of religious dictatorships (I’m thinking particularly of women in countries like Iran). The problem with the second option is, obviously, its imperialist tendencies. If modern history has taught us anything it is that telling people how to be better people at the point of a gun doesn’t work very well (and is more than a little bit arrogant). So what does winning look like? I haven’t got the faintest idea. But I have one question to ask about that question.

Is “winning” the right metaphor?

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Back in Black…

So I’m back into the blogosphere!! I figured I’d change up the old template a little bit to celebrate (plus it gives me the chance to use this cool/cheesy title). The first chapter of my thesis is done (draft one at least) and I’ve moved on to research on chapter two. One of the nice things about getting beyond literary theory and methodological concerns is that I can get back into ancient languages and literature. So much more fun than literary theory…and also much closer to anything that I might call an area of expertise.

Not a whole lot to natter on about in my first post back. I’ve been spending most of my time either working on a translation of Daniel 7-8 or reading books by one of my new favorite authors, Patrick O’Bryan. O’Bryan is the author of the series of books that the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was based on. Though the film is wonderful it’s not exactly an accurate portrayal of the books. Hell, there are 21 books, you can’t really blame the film-makers. The books are tremendously fun, very historically and technically accurate and contain some of the best written characters I’ve ever come across. I recommend them highly.

Another random note, I recently read what is maybe the single best blog title of all time on Kat and Chris’s blog. It’s called David, Destroyer of Worlds and is (not surprisingly) about their newborn son David. Very very funny. Teehee.

That’s it for now, though I have a couple of posts in the hopper that I might get out soon. Cheers.

Even Better than the Real News…

I’ve been thinking for a while now that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a better source for information about the world than the real news. For those of you unfamiliar with The Daily Show…well first of all buy yourself a damned television…the show it is a spoof based on real news programs. It’s probably the funniest thing on television right now and is my favorite thing to watch after the Greatest Television Program of All Time. Some of the wonderful things about the Daily Show include: a fantastic sense of irony, interviews with people who are actually interesting and influential, George Bush being mocked (not hard, but still hilarious), and a very well executed marriage between subtle political humor and crass low-brow jokes. When it comes to the Daily Show, however, the greatest irony of all is that this fake news show happens to be a far more accurate window to the world in which we live than the real news. This is true for two principle reasons.

First of all the Daily Show is entertainment and we all know it. What many of us don’t know is that every regular news show on television (particularly US television, but it happens here in Canada too) is also principally about entertainment. Neil Postman pointed out a long time ago that television is a communication medium that has more to do with entertainment than anything else (cf. Amusing Ourselves to Death). That’s how the news works in North America. Note the catchy music, cool graphics, and the way anchors bounce from profoundly distressing events to the local dog that can water-ski. But because the news promotes itself as “real” and “serious” it makes many viewers think of it as actually real and actually serious, when it is in fact neither. The Daily Show, on the other hand, is so blissfully and self-consciously absurd that nobody who is even semi-intelligent can fail to realize that entertainment based on reality is what is being offered.

Secondly the Daily Show does a great job of deconstructing itself, the mainstream news media and the world at large. When you watch Jon Stewart commenting on the news of the day you get essentially the same actual information as you would on the regular news (I suspect that any given news program only contains about ten minutes of actual information about what is happening in the world). The other thing that you get, which is absent in most real news, is ironic (though usually accurate) commentary on that actual information. By doing this Stewart and his crew continually point out the inconsistency and insincerity of politicians, pundits, reporters and public figures (and private figures sometimes too) as well as the spectacular (and perhaps frightening) idiocy that is pervasive in the world in which we live.

It’s important to note that though I say that the Daily Show is a more accurate window into the world than the real news, I certainly do not mean to say that it is truly accurate. All that I’m trying to say here is that it’s time for us to stop thinking of the regular evening news as “real” and start thinking about it as pre-packaged, entertainment based, news-like programming. Perhaps Stephen Colbert’s word “truthiness” would best describe what I’m talking about.