Ron Paul, Leadership and the American Media

“He’ll never win,” goes the chorus of news anchors, journalists, pundits and radio talk show hosts, yet Libertarian Ron Paul has led a remarkable if not unlikely campaign thus far for the Reblican Nomination for President in 2008.

Unusual indeed, for the unlikeliest of candidates provided the major highlight of the first Republican debate, squaring off against front-runner Rudy Guiliani on the biggest issue in American politics: the terrorist threat.

Hilariously, when Paul won the post-debate polls, Sean Hannity became the conspiracy theorist, accusing Paul supporters of rigging the results. With all the putdowns from the media and the establishment within the Republican party (one need only think of the President of the Michigan Republican Party trying to throw Paul out of future debates), it’s hard to read Paul’s candidacy as anything other than the will of the people versus that of the Establishment.

In the last quarter, the texas congressman has raised an impressive $5 million, more money than John McCain, the man whom George W. Bush defeated to become nominee in 2000. Single handedly, Paul has turned once monotous debates about who had the holiest soul and was most hawkish on national security into true clashes of ideas, promoting and defending libertarian values against the establishment within the Republican Party and the mass media.

Now, as far as how the mainstream press is portraying Paul, I’m not surprised — they have always, from my recollection, dismissed non-establishment candidates, particularly if they have stimulating and innovative ideas. A little more surprising and perhaps more interesting is how the new media has reacted. And it is their opinion with which I’m more concerned, as the Drive-Bys have discredited themselves long ago.

If we begin with Drudge, we see a somewhat muted response, which might not be what one would have expected considering Drudge agrees with many of Paul’s ideas. In fact, on one of Drudge’s radio programs, he stated how he agreed with Paul on all the major issues down the list, but ended his monologue exclaiming: “He can’t lead!” On a later program, after taking down another poll that had Paul winning, Drudge mentioned that he was receiving threats from Paul supporters, so perhaps this is a factor as well.

Early in the primary season, Rush Limbaugh stated outright on his radio program that Paul was hardly worth considering by virtue of the fact that “he’ll never win!” Since then he’s only mentioned Paul on his show to ridicule him, whether it be a story on “Strippers for Ron Paul,” or ridiculing a caller who asked Rush to speak more about him. I suspect the main reason for this is Paul’s firm anti-war stance, which is complete opposition to Limbaugh’s opinion on Iraq..

Self-proclaimed Libertarian Democrat Camille Paglia has said little to nothing about Paul in her monthly column in Salon, and was supporting John Edwards as recently as a few months ago (link). To Paglia I have to ask: what leadership qualities does Edwards display when you see him talk? His rhetoric is empty and manipulative — this was clearly demonstrated so when he attacked Cheney’s daughter for being gay in the vice-president’s debate last election. Edwards also has a socialist agenda, which includes free health care and university education for every citizen. Libertarian Democrat…? Hmm…

George Noory, host of Coast to Coast AM has interviewed Paul on his nightly show and has spoken fairly positive about him, sharing many of his libertarian views, particularly when it comes to the War on Drugs and taxes, both of which Paul is very much against. Formner host, Art Bell, now retired, went public a few years ago, becoming an all-out member of the Libertarian party.

Conspiracy theorist and New World Order gadfly Alex Jones has claimed to have known Ron Paul for years and even mentioned on Coast to Coat AM that they recently had lunch. Oddly enough, it is Jones whom Paul most reminds one of when Paul talks about the Federal Reserve in the debates, though Paul doesn’t tend to reach such extreme conclusions on the New World Order.

With the race heating up this winter, it’ll be interesting to see where Paul ends up. We’ll keep you informed…

Cover of Limbaugh Letter Displays Ingenuity, Inspiration

Love him or hate him, Rush Limbaugh is an American institution. His self-created media empire includes the most popular talk radio show in the United States, a podcast, website, monthly newsletter, and daily email. Amazingly, this one man show has come to wield the same, if not more influence, than the major networks and cable news outlets whom he disparagingly refers to as the “Drive-By Media”. Though people differ with Limbaugh’s political views in varying degrees, one cannot deny Limbaugh’s incredible achievements, both commercially and intellectually.
Limbaugh’s success is in large part due to his inspired sense of humor, based on what he calls illustrating absurdity. Many of his classic criticisms of the American Left can be seen in Chris Hiers exceptionally brilliant painting on the cover of June’s Limbaugh Letter, a 16-page glossy magazine that is available by subscription from Rush Limbaugh’s website.

The setting of the painting is on a beach with a muscular Rush Limbaugh acting as the lifeguard, looking down with introspective contempt at prominent Democrat politicians portrayed in various forms of baffoonery. Nancy Pelosi, wearing what’s supposed to be a peace sign on her t-shirt but is actually a Mercedes sign, — represents the morally indignant, yet intellectually bankrupt leftist who has good intentions, but really doesn’t have a clue. Hilariously, she is also wearing the American flag in the form of a towel, with the stars and stripes covering her behind, meant to signify the unpatriotic, anti-Americanism that Limbaugh often identifies with the Left.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, kicks sand into the face of the statue of liberty. To add to the callousness of the act, he is looking off in another direction, lacking awareness as he holds a trivial looking conversation with Nancy Pelosi.

In the background in their satellite van lurk the Drive-By Media, which, if looked at closely enough, are spreading a hail of bullets into the water towards the horizon. The beach umbrella on the the right, marked with the logos of the major network and cable news channels, is placed nearby to show the collusion of the so-called “Drive-Bys” with the Democratic Party, a charge Limbaugh often makes of the “liberally-biased” media.

In the foreground, an infantile looking Barack Obama hugs a sand castle replica of the White House, which Hilary Clinton cunningly sculpts with the look of an all knowing matriarch. John Edwards, whom Rush cruelly refers to as “the Breck Girl,” looks on longingly at the power he so desperately craves fall through his hands with an anxious and unsettling smile. Written in the sand nearby is what Limbaugh claims is the Left’s mantra, “Bush Lied,” with two feet nearby absurdly sticking out of the sand.

Last, but not least, is “Algore,” buried up to his neck in the sand, looking smugly at the viewer of the painting, a personification of the stereotypical arrogant liberal, knowing better than everyone else. Symbolically, he is placed directly underneath Limbaugh’s lifeguard chair almost as if he’s plugging the toilet upon which Rush sits.

Whatever your political stripe may be, one has to give credit to Limbaugh for single handedly creating an absurd idiom of the Left. Chris Hiers should also be congratulated for so brilliantly portraying Limbaugh’s humor in visual terms. Of particular quality is the composition, the facial expressions and body language of the portrayed personalities — one is tempted to call him a modern day Hogarth. To say the left has a lot of catching up to do would be an understatement.

“Nothing is True. Nothing is Untrue”: A Look at J.G. Ballard Quotes and Conversations

V. Vale, founder of San Francisco based RE/Search Publications, has recently compiled and published two collections of quotes and conversations with world renowned British novelist J.G. Ballard. Best known for his novels that were adapted into movies, Ballard’s work ranges from the controversial in Crash (directed by David Cronenberg in 1996) to the mainstream in his autobiographic best-seller Empire of the Sun (directed by Steven Spielberg in 1987). Controversy has followed him throughout his career to the point of Nelson Doubleday ordering the pulping of his experimental 1970 novel The Atrocity Exhibition. In many ways, he is the literary companion to William Burroughs, though his novels, for the most part, are more accessible to a mainstream audience. England’s Guardian has called him “one of the few genuine surrealists this country has produced.”

In all of his interviews, conversations and fiction, as in these two collections, Ballard’s main preoccupation is with the present. What distinguishes Ballard’s commentary is his focus on the underlying narratives at work in everyday life, whether he is interpreting a traffic light or 9/11. As a young man, he was a voracious reader of Sigmund Freud and for a while considered becoming a psychoanalyst, studying medicine for 2 years at Cambridge. His output spans half a century and includes over 25 novels and short story collections. The precision, creativity and acuity of his cultural commentary have few parallels, ranking alongside that of American critic Camille Paglia.

Because Ballard’s narrative tone is often speculative in nature, Quotes uses material from both his fiction and non-fiction, while J.G. Ballard Conversations is a collection of rare and recent interviews that elaborate on many of the themes found in Quotes, which range from politics and terrorism to the visual arts, economics and science. As usual, Ballard demonstrates that he is a man who is deeply engaged with the world he lives in as well as the debates of our time. But perhaps more than anything, these books record the thoughts of one of the world’s most exotic intellects.

As a Surrealist, Ballard uses disparate references in new contexts as a means of penetrating to the underlying narratives of society. The following excerpts taken from RE/Search Publications recently released J.G. Ballard Quotes and J.G. Ballard Conversations are an overview of how Ballard sees the world and where it is going:

People seem to enjoy being infantilized. The future before us is a nightmare marriage between Microsoft and the Disney Company, the most juvenile fantasies brought to us by the most advanced communications technology.

In the UK newspaper The Independent, Ballard examines the more subtle aspects of societal control in the 21st century:

No longer will it be Orwell’s vision of a boot stamping on a human face. We’ll have something highly subservient and ingratiating, where the tyranny is imposed for our own good … The New Totalitarians come forward, smiling obsequiously like headwaiters in third-rate Indian restaurants, and assuring us that everything is for our benefit … So one gets this smiling tyranny, which is something my characters rebel against.

A quote from 1997 anticipates the increasing influence of government on peoples’ lives and the paranoid results:

In a sense we’re policing ourselves and that’s the ultimate police state, where people are terrified of challenge.

Of particular interest are Ballard’s reflections on 9/11 and its aftermath. Far from being a rehash on a subject where everything has been said, Ballard offers some unique insights into the nature of the attack as well as of the post-9/11 world in general. When asked his opinion on the event, Ballard is careful to mention that he has been a “lifelong admirer of the U.S.” presenting only “one European’s perspective on it.” Characteristically, he analyzes the events in psychological terms:

11 September, in addition to the enormous human tragedy, was a raid on the collective unconscious of the Western mind.

The psychology of the hijackers themselves is also scrutinized:

What is so disturbing about the 9-11 hijackers is that they had not spent the previous years squatting in the dust of some Afghan hillside with a rusty Kalashnikov. These were highly educated engineers and architects who had spent years sitting around in shopping malls in Hamburg and London, drinking coffee and listening to their muzak.

In an interview, Ballard discussed the emotional reaction of the event and how it has marked a general shift towards the irrational, which he believes has been taking place for several years now:

There’s a sense that, not only the United States in particular, but all over the world there’s a move towards the irrational. You see this in the racist political groupings you find in Eastern Europe now, and in a country like France, for example. Instead of appealing to the reasonableness in men and women, there’s an open appeal to the unreasonable, to the irrational. And it’s devastatingly successful.

This is of particular concern to Ballard, as he believes that it was the appeal to psychopathic strains in the unconscious which enabled the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany:

They worshipped him as you would worship a religious leader—faith alone was enough! Even as the walls came tumbling down and disaster was on all sides in 1945, they still believed … because belief was what had sustained them from the beginning—not reason.

A character in his 2003 novel Millennium People describes how

A titanic battle is about to begin, a Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathies. Everything is on sale now—even the human soul has a barcode.

In Ballard’s 1996 novel Rushing to Paradise another declares:

Science and reason have had their day; their place is in the museum.

From the outset of his career, Ballard has acknowledged the influence of the visual arts on his work, particularly that of the Surrealists. His essay “The Art of Salvador Dali” is arguably the best summation to date of Dali’s work and its relevance. He attended the first Pop art show at the Tate gallery in London in 1956, and viewed the science fiction short story as the literary equivalent to the Pop art painting. Ballard’s expresses his appreciation of the visual arts in a 2003 interview:

I didn’t see exhibitions of Francis Bacon, Max Ernst, Magritte and Dali as displays of paintings. I saw them as among the most radical statements of the imagination ever made, on a par with radical discoveries in neuroscience or nuclear physics.

His commentary on today’s English artists is striking:

I see the young British artists of the past ten years or so from a different perspective. They find themselves in a world totally dominated by advertising, by a corrupt politics carried out as a branch of advertising, and by a reality that is a total fiction controlled by manufacturers, PR firms, and vast entertainment and media corporations. Nothing is real, everything is fake. Bizarrely, most people like it that way. So in their installations and concept works the young artists are rebelling against this all-dominant adman’s media-landscape. They are trying to establish a new truth about what an unmade bed is, what a dead animal is, and so on. Our mistake is to judge them by aesthetic criteria.

The relationship between art and media has long fascinated Ballard. His novel Crash can be viewed as the literary response to Warhol’s Disaster paintings, and there is a general Pop spirit in his work, fusing the Avant-Garde pronouncement with an accessible writing style. Today, he sees the mass media as having fused with Pop art:

The mass media have turned the world into a World of Pop Art. From JFK’s assassination to the war in Iraq, everything is perceived as Pop Art. Nothing is true. Nothing is untrue.

In the tradition of the Surrealists, Ballard believes that it is up to the imagination to remake reality in a way that gives it meaning, and as such, sees this as art’s primary function:

Art exists because reality in neither real nor significant.

So what is Ballard’s prescription for the society he has examined?

One has to immerse oneself in the threatening possibilities offered by modern science and technology, and try to swim to the other end of the pool.

Both books are beautifully bound with the usual high standards associated with RE/Search Publications. V.Vale, a pioneer of self-publishing in the West, began his foray into publishing on a $100 investment from Allan Ginsberg in 1977 while working for City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Vale’s unique library has since provided an anthropologist’s journey and collection through the countercultural movement from Modern Primitives to The Industrial Culture Handbook. In many ways, more than anyone else, Vale has pointed out the web of influence that exists between Punk and New Wave – embodied in bands like Joy Division and Devo – and writers such as William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard. J.G. Ballard Quotes and Conversations as well as the historic back catalog of RE/Search publications are available from Vale’s website.