The Fear of Monkeys - The Best E-Zine on the Web for Politically Conscious WritingThe Tantalus Monkey - Issue Twelve
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The Tantalus Monkey, photo from Christian ArtusoThe Tantalus Monkey is an Old World monkey which traditionally ranges from Senegal and Ethiopia to South Africa. More recently, a number of them were carried by slavers to the Caribbean islands, along with enslaved Africans. The monkeys subsequently escaped or were released and became naturalized. The descendents of those populations are found on West Indian islands and even in Florida. The dorsal fur of Chlorocebus monkeys varies by species from pale yellow through grey-green brown to dark brown, while the lower portion and the hair ring around the face is a whitish yellow. Males have a blue scrotum and red penis and weigh from 3.9 to 8 kg while females weigh from 3.4 to 5.3 kg. Their births usually happen at the beginning of the rainy season, when there is sufficient food available. The life expectancy of the green monkeys is 11-13 years in captivity, and about 10-12 years in the wild. They eat leaves, gum, seeds, nuts, grasses, fungi, fruit, berries, flowers, buds, shoots, invertebrates, bird eggs, birds, lizards, rodents, and other vertebrates. Their preferred foods are fruit and flowers, a seasonal resource that is varied to cope with changes in food availability. In tourist areas, they will commonly steal brightly coloured alcoholic drinks left behind by tourists. They use a wide variety of vocalizations; they warn off members of other groups from their territory, and also warn members of their own troop of dangers from predators, using different calls for different predators. Facial expressions and body posturing serve as additional communication tools in a highly complex set of social interactions. Where alliances can be formed for benefit, deception is sometimes used. Although they are not endangered, their numbers are declining due to powerlines, dogs, vehicles, shooting, poisoning, and hunting, both as a food source and as a source of traditional medicines. Added to this, there is an increase in desertification, and loss of habitat due to agriculture and urbanisation. As well, they have been the focus of much scientific research since the 1950s, and they are used to produce vaccines for polio and smallpox, and in studying high blood pressure and AIDS.

   


Fox News: First Impressions and a Potshot or Two

by

Fred Russell

I discovered Fox News pretty much by chance. I had been going through my cable channels looking for a film or ballgame when I saw the Fox logo in the CNN slot. At first I thought that CNN was showing some Fox footage, but it soon became apparent that what I was seeing was Fox itself. It was only the next day that the mystery was solved, when I read that CNN had been dropped by my Israeli cable provider because of the cost and Fox taken on instead. Of course I knew Fox by its reputation as a right wing, pro-Israel news network. Being pro-Israel myself, I had no problem with that, though socially I lean to the left. In any case I had never been a great watcher of news broadcasts. I found CNN as slanted and superficial as any other journalistic enterprise, as well as its coverage of the Middle East in the hands of the usual collection of tourists, from Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett to Walter Rodgers, Brent Sadler and the peripatetic Christiane Amanpour, though I did enjoy watching Jon Stewart occasionally. It struck me as simply beyond belief that someone like Amanpour should think to make a documentary about Israeli and Arab extremists (the first two parts of "God's Warriors") without understanding a word of Hebrew or Arabic. But that's journalism for you.

What can one say about Fox News? I think the changeover was made during the 2008 primary season, and after that we had about a year of health care talk, so the tone in my first two Fox years was one of unremitting shrillness, though in fact a surprising number of their people turned out to be quite personable. I mean people like Shep and Neil and that saucy Megyn gal and her lookalike Martha MacCullum and Bill Hemmer in America's Newsroom and Steve and Gretchen and Brian at Fox & Friends. It's only later on in the day that Fox brings in its heavy hitters: Glenn Beck (since departed) in all his craziness, tough-talking Sean Hannity, no-nonsense Bill O'Reilly, who was clearly born to be a Marine sergeant, though my guess is that like the rest of his gung-ho colleagues over there at Fox, never in his wildest dreams would it have occurred to him to actually put on a uniform and serve his country. This may be unfair to say. He may have had a good reason not to join back when all those "courageous men and women" were going off to Vietnam to defend freedom and democracy. But it seems to me that anyone so committed to the security of America, and so contemptuous of anyone who doubts the expediency of aggressive war to combat the forces of evil, would be the first to volunteer to bear arms. But maybe I'm wrong. In any case I think it would be fair to say that it is generally the weak and the cowardly who worship the strong and the brave. People who serve their country do not get choked up when they talk about other people who serve their country.

Aside from the shrillness, and the biases, I was immediately struck by two things in particular at Fox. The first is its complete lack of interest in the world, unless it is scolding it or has some disaster footage to show. This is old-time isolationism in spades. Unlike CNN, which at least exhibits the kind of curiosity you would expect in a news network and tries to let viewers know what is happening in other countries even when it transpires that certain foreigners are doing things a lot better than Americans, Fox is totally jingoistic, if not xenophobic, and wouldn't dream of letting us see how children are educated in Singapore or the elderly are cared for in Sweden. No, Fox is there to attack Obama and the Democrats, nonstop, around the clock. That is their mission. And if they can find three Canadians who came to the United States for medical treatment, thereby "proving" that American medicine is superior to socialized medicine, so much the better. Of course they neglect to mention the fact that a million and a half Americans go abroad each year for such treatment, which can be three to four times cheaper and just as good in countries ranging from India to Israel. But even in its local coverage, Fox does relatively little real reporting other than following car chases. They are more interested in expressing opinions. Fox can thus best be described as a marathon talk show with hosts replacing one another at regular intervals, as in a relay race or tag team match, with their words spilling into the air like noxious fumes.

The second thing that stands out about Fox News is how callous it is, that is, how un-Christian in its lack of charity and simple humanity. Their people may be prepared to mount the barricades to defend the rights of the unborn but they don't really give a crap what happens to that fetus once it's out of the womb. It is hard to imagine Jesus getting any joy from the messages of Fox News. What? Health care for the poor? Not on my dime, buster. How evangelical! as Nietzsche used to say.

The callousness of Fox News is truly astounding and I am at a loss to understand how they reconcile their professions of faith with their anti-Christian values. Have they somehow uniformly misunderstood the New Testament? Are they all followers of Creflo Dollar? As incredible as it sounds, one of the arguments one hears at Fox is that letting tens of millions of uninsured Americans into the health care system would put a strain on existing facilities and doctors and thereby lower the quality of care for those already in the system. Do they themselves understand the meaning of what they are saying? Do they understand the meaning of anything they say? Fox argues, nearly every day, that the greatness of America lies in the fact that ordinary people or people coming out of poverty can get rich. What Fox does not seem to realize is that this also means, implicitly, that America is not a Christian country. Wealth as a desideratum is the antithesis of Christianity. Saying that the business of America is business, is a gob of spit in the face of Christianity. Fox News likes to say that Obama hates the rich. They give him too much credit. It was Jesus who hated the rich.

Well, then, the pinheads at Fox may say, it is not just rich that ordinary people can become in America, it's whatever they want to be, it's anything: scientists, engineers, scholars, musicians, ballet dancers for Chrissake. But that's the Soviet Union, isn't it? The only difference is that the chances that the gifted sons and daughters of ordinary people in Russia would be elevated to the ranks of the elite in a state-supervised system were far greater than in a country like the United States, where the children of the poor largely have to fend for themselves and are allowed to die in the gutter if that's how their hands play out. All lands are, in fact, lands of opportunity for the ambitious. Saddam Hussein himself came from a family of shepherds, and with a single mom no less. When Fox talks about the freedom that separates America from all other nations, they are of course kidding themselves. I don't see how Americans have more freedom than the British, French, Dutch, Scandinavians, Belgians, Germans, Austrians, Italians and Spanish, or even the Poles and Romanians nowadays. People in Western Europe can say and do whatever they want, their standard of living is not appreciably different from America's, they have plenty of millionaires, better health, welfare and education systems, and they have half the poverty and five times less violent crime. This is not to say that America is not a land of great achievements. It is to say that the America of Fox News does not exist.

On the other hand, Fox has to be commended for its color blindness. For Fox the dividing line is not between black and white but again between wealth and poverty. Rich blacks are their friends, poor blacks are their enemies, as are poor whites, characterized, when Fox lets it all hang out, as lazy, shiftless, deadbeat losers or parasitic welfare moms -- categories that in the world of Fox take in about a third of the American population, i.e., the part hovering around the poverty line. In this sense, vis--vis blacks, they are a little like old-style observant Jews: the problem was never their color, it was that they weren't Jewish.

Of course there is also something in the middle, between wealth and poverty, called, logically enough, the middle class. Here too there is a dividing line for Fox, between the self-employed (the hallowed small businessman) and the salaried with their loathsome labor unions, minimum wage and pension plans, though small businessmen who are not Republicans are also anathema. Bogus Christians and patriots that they are, Fox has not surprisingly singled out an awful lot of their fellow citizens as enemies of the people. Yes, they love America; it's Americans they don't seem to like very much. These are, in no particular order: liberals, progressives, left-wingers, socialists, Democrats, government employees, regulators of every stripe and color, labor unionists, environmentalists, gun controllers, family planners, welfare recipients, gay righters, women's libbers, mainstream journalists, fancy pants intellectuals, bleeding hearts, nervous nellies (or was that Lyndon Johnson?), and movie stars with the wrong opinions, among others. The list is so long that even if the Fox people get it straight, some of their viewers may occasionally become confused about who to hate. Some of them may have liked Robert Redford, for example, until one of Bill O'Reilly's guests told them that he "looked like an elderly woman" because of something he said that Bill and the gang didn't approve of. It made me think of Daryl Hannah in Silver City asking Danny O'Brien what his last name is when she is talking to Richard Dreyfuss on the phone and Danny saying, "Oh, shit," knowing he's in trouble, and Daryl saying into the receiver, "Danny O'Shit."

Fox is also to be commended for airing presidential speeches and Senate hearings. This is a real service. Of course they have to fill their time somehow -- there just isn't 24 hours' worth of news each day -- in truth there isn't even five minutes' worth -- and even Fox's nonstop talkers run out of gas sometimes, so the speeches and hearings are a nice bonus for viewers who like live performances but don't go to the theater. I particularly liked the Senate steroid hearings, starring Roger Clemens. Sotomayor put on a good show too.

I am also surprised by the health advise offered at Fox. As if a Doctor Manny wasn't enough, they also have a Doctor Rosenfeld popping up from time to time, both of them of course called "Doc" in Fox's folksy way, and many, many fillers on the subject. I say this surprises me because when you talk about health, sooner or later you're bound to get to the people who poison our food, namely America's rapacious free enterprisers. Fox naturally skirts the issue, taking only an occasional swipe at regulators or certain megacorps, but not having the balls to come right out and say that the culture, and products, created by America's food industry are destroying the country's health. Apropos of Fox's crusading activities on behalf of free enterprise "efficiency" versus public sector waste and thievery, certain unintended ironies occasionally slip into the diatribes. For example, alongside a very carefully crafted John Stossel "report" attacking unionized public services and extolling the virtues of privatization, you get a filler about still another small business success story -- an Angie's List that was started up "because it's so difficult to find reliable contractors and service companies." But of course.

The fillers also give you music, often from the weird "Imus in the Morning" talk show, where you regularly get wholesome Bubbas doing country and western. Those are Fox's kind of people, and if the wonderful society they created owes the "lazy niggers" a few dollars in back pay for services rendered over a period of 400 years, well, tough shit, as they say. On the whole, culture at Fox does not go beyond pop music, inspirational books and heroic affirmative art modeled on Soviet realism (though Atlas Shrugged with its fuck everyone philosophy seems to be a big favorite over there). Real art, or real culture, must be for sissies and other un-American types. Fox Sports picks up on this, with lots of golf for the rich and lots of football for the weak.

I admit that I have a conflict when I talk about Fox News, as they are the only network I know that takes a consistently pro-Israel stance, aside from Pat Robertson's METV of course. On this I agree with them completely, though I know that the same impulses that led them there have led them to all the other places I do not wish to go. Being isolated, Israel has never been able to pick and choose its friends, even being forced to traffic with South Africa back in the apartheid days, and now being called an apartheid state itself by such ignoramuses as Jimmy the president, who apparently doesn't know what the word means, or is not aware of the fact that the Arab inhabitants of Judea and Samaria are not citizens or residents of Israel but inhabitants of occupied territory and therefore no different in status from the Germans in Occupied Germany after World War II. Don't ask how the Allies would have responded if the defeated Germans had launched terrorist attacks on Allied civilians, within Germany and across its borders.

But I am getting sidetracked. On the whole, it has to be said that in many respects Fox is no worse than any other news network. The cable news channels evolved out of TV's network news, network news out of radio news and radio news out of the daily newspapers. Newsletters and news bulletins like Caesar's Acta Diurna go back to Roman times and continued to exist in one form or another even after regular newspapers began to appear in the early 17th century. From the outset the newspapers were polemical organs which, in addition to noting events, commented on them. From England we are all familiar with Defoe's Review, Steele's Tattler and Steele and Addison's Spectator. Produced for the most part by men of stature, many of these publications are a delight to read, though their victims would not have thought so. In any case they were fairly high-minded and did not creep into people's bedrooms, as would later be the case. More to the point, however, were the early almanacs, which gave people all the information they could possibly need, serving in their various forms, from the Roman fasti to Poor Richard's Almanack, as calendars of coming events like religious festivals and chronicles of past events. The modern almanacs, like Information Please and the World Almanac, also stay out of people's bedrooms and what is more, unlike certain newspapers, really do give you all the news that's fit to print, boiled down to around 25 pages for an entire year in contrast to the kilometers of newsprint and endless hours of empty talk in the media. And the truth is, even these 25 pages are largely irrelevant to the course of history. The verbiage and "images" of the media, in the words of one of Seinfeld's girlfriends, are just so much fluff, or in other words, entertainment disguised as news, and entertainment of the lowest kind, shamelessly exploiting the grief and misery of real people to get its most "powerful" moments. There is nothing wrong with entertainment of course. God knows the American people need plenty of it. However, the deceit practiced by the media has practical consequences as well, aside from the distortion of our perception of the world, for in return for the services they claim to provide they demand a very high price. The services they claim to provide are the safeguarding of democracy and satisfaction of the public's "right to know." The price they demand are two major rights of their own: the invasion of people's privacy and the protection of sources of defamatory or illegally obtained information. Both legislators and law courts have been completely taken in by this deceit and habitually pay lip service to the notion that the press is the watchdog of democracy and thus deserving of the widest latitude. But is it, and what if it is not?

I will say right off that in no way can the press or the media be regarded as a guardian of democracy, for it is precisely in those countries where a free press might be needed that it is not allowed to exist and precisely in those countries where it is not needed that it flourishes. The United States, for example, does not require the press to protect its freedom and democracy, such as it is. The ultimate guardian of freedom and democracy is a country's legal system, which upholds the laws and principles upon which the state is founded and is far better equipped to do so than journalists.

No greater myth exists, for example, than the myth of Woodward and Bernstein as the heroes of Watergate when aside from the publicity factor their reporting was in fact irrelevant to the official investigations that were going over the same ground as they were in a far more timely, thorough and professional manner. The Senate Watergate hearings were not the result of their reporting or dependent on it, but part of these ongoing investigations, nor did any of the evidence that led to the conviction of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean and the others, not to mention Nixon's resignation, derive from this reporting.

The public may have a "right to know," but the media have done very little to satisfy it, other than manufacturing scandals that generally prove to be tempests in a teacup, achieving nothing more than the generation of endless hours of pointless commentary. Exposure to the media has not produced an informed public. It has not made the slightest dent in the public's ignorance. In fact, today's man in the street is neither wiser nor more knowledgeable than a medieval peasant, with only the vaguest notions about the world around him, as Jay Leno and others have shown us over the years. Whatever sense of the world he does have comes from this same band of journalists who rain down on his head a disjointed and superficial body of information presented largely to produce effects. The man in the street may be said to have a great many opinions but very little knowledge, mindlessly repeating the half-truths of "experts" and "analysts" who reflect his own biases and constructing out of them a "credo" of dogmatic views that remain embedded in his mind for an entire lifetime like bricks in a brick wall. In truth, no institution has been as successful as the media in imposing its way of seeing the world on the general public. Taking full advantage of the powerful tools placed at their disposal they have managed to convince this public that on the scene "coverage" and instant analysis of isolated or fortuitous events spiced up with speculation, gossip, innuendo and calumny, and not a little red meat for the voyeurs and the bloodthirsty, is what constitutes "news." What the media have in fact created is a kind of alternate reality where "stories" are selected for their dramatic value and seldom coincide with real historical processes. As for the solemn practitioners of this farcical charade, the opportunity to make waves and exalt oneself in the media is now so great that whereas in the past many of these talentless journalists were in fact frustrated novelists, today these people actually want to be journalists, convinced that journalism is the most rewarding occupation on the face of the earth.

But Fox is not even the Washington Post. It doesn't really investigate anything. Getting things straight takes too much time and effort, so it dredges up whatever incriminating evidence it can from the Internet or the news services and says whatever it feels like saying. Obama a Muslim? We report, you decide. Obama not born in America? We report, you decide. Some of the Fox people of course read books. Glenn Beck reads all the conservative or "libertarian" historians, and plenty more, he assures us, though somehow he has not yet discovered the fact that if anything his great hero, George Washington, the mention of whose name brings tears to his eyes, was a Federalist. That's right, Glenn. First it was Jesus turning out to be a socialist and now it's George going belly up. And not only him: John Adams too, and Alexander Hamilton, and the great jurist John Marshall. That means that Washington and the others were dedicated to establishing the primacy of the Federal government in the young American republic. Yes, Glenn, those goddamned Feds again. Even Jefferson is remembered for such national acts as the Louisiana Purchase and the creation of the national highway through the Cumberland Gap, despite the opposition from people like yourself. It is, however, only when the government spends big to guarantee the minimal conditions of life to the entire American population that Fox goes slightly berserk. That must be its special brand of Christianity talking. No objections, on the other hand, when "incompetent" big government organizes their wars for them or hands out the multibillion dollar defense contracts or creates vast infrastructures so that they can get their junk food into people's faces. No problem there at all. No problem either for Fox-minded freedom lovers in trampling on the Constitution whenever it suits them, as in banning books or denying African Americans their civil rights. On the other hand, when some shmuck with a hard-on wants to kill a whole lot of deer the Constitution suddenly becomes sacred, never mind the 30,000 firearm-related deaths in the United States every year.

In the end, what comes into play at Fox is a crazy mix of straitlaced fundamentalism and aggressive hedonism ("Aint no one gonna tell me not to eat that all-fat burger, y'all hear"). I suppose the defiance and resentment go back to childhood -- the authoritarian father thing, proving that as conservative as they are, they still have liberal diseases.

Nonetheless, Fox's obsession with big government is not entirely comprehensible to me. There is so much more out there, a whole world in fact. But whenever I flip past their channel on the way to a film or a ballgame, that is what they're talking about when they aren't sensationalizing events under one of their marquee News Alert signs. Fox is always complaining, or rather whining, though they try to put on a savvy, superior air whenever they talk about "the Feds." But if the system of free enterprise -- entrepreneurship left to its own devices -- has failed to ensure the well-being of all the American people (and if it hadn't failed there would be no labor unions either, by the way, so it has only itself to blame), someone has to, and that is government. For in all civilized societies, Fox News notwithstanding, there is an implied social contract by which each of us surrenders a measure of his autonomy to ensure everyone's well-being and ultimately our own. In the modern West, where money replaced territory as the greatest source of individual power, a new social contract was required to reflect the transfer of this power from the brawny to the brainy, from the lions to the monkeys as it were, and ensure that financial empires could not be toppled by one's muscle-bound neighbors, who were quite capable physically of throwing the weak-kneed and lily-livered rich out of their homes and seizing their property. In return for disavowing the law of the natural jungle and accepting the law of the human jungle, the big-boned ask for very little: enough food to stay alive, a roof over their heads and medical treatment when they get sick. Is that too much to ask for, or would Glenn and Bill prefer to face an angry mob every time they opened their front door?

To help them out in their war against the poor, now that the Republicans are out of the White House, Fox has elevated a number of the Bush people to the status of culture heroes, using them from time to time to give hell to the Democrats. First and foremost among them is Dick Cheney, whom they like to characterize as a "happy warrior" as he hacks away at their enemies. That Cheney should be happy about anything, if that is really the case, after throwing away 4,000 American lives in Iraq, would say a great deal about his character. After Lebanon, we all remember, Menachem Begin went into a deep depression. And that Fox should think that such a complacent lack of conscience is admirable says a great deal about Fox.

When all is said and done, however, Fox is actually doing a great disservice to its own cause, by shifting the focus of public debate from the practical to the political plane. Vis--vis the bad guys, the issue for Fox is whether America is going to stand tall for freedom and democracy or wimp out and allow the forces of evil to prevail. This is the Vietnam syndrome, masking the real issue, which is not America's will or even its morality but America's capability. Never having served their country, and therefore understanding as much about war as I understand about nuclear physics, Fox's sages will continue to make sarcastic remarks about dovish "pinheads" without ever grasping the fact that the reason for America's failure in Vietnam, and Iraq, was and continues to be its ineptitude, which follows from its complete ignorance of the language, culture, religion, history and politics of the countries it chooses to invade. This is largely irrelevant when you are dropping bombs on people's heads but becomes a real stumbling block when the rules of conventional warfare no longer apply and you find yourself facing guerrillas, insurgents or terrorists fighting out of a deep inner conviction that you are incapable of assessing or even recognizing. What Americans in their arrogance are also incapable of recognizing is that these ragheads are their equals as fighting men in terms of training, discipline and motivation. This ignorance and its corollary, the absence of an effective military and political doctrine geared to the prosecution of irregular wars, despite the fact that the United States has had at least 20 years to recognize that Muslim extremism was going to be the next world threat (and still has fewer than ten Arabic speakers among 35,000 State Department employees!), is what guarantees America's failure in all its overseas adventures. Fox, as I say, is ignorant too, and since its own people know very little about the world does not really expect the country's leaders to know anything either. For Fox, an "expert" in foreign affairs is someone like John McCain, who has gone on a few overseas junkets and spoken to "many" foreign leaders through an interpreter or in pidgin English. I'm with Fox 100% on Sarah Palin, who was probably the most qualified among the two pairs of candidates to serve as president. She at least had governed something in her life, even if she couldn't pass the current events trivia quizzes worked up by media hacks, who may know who the foreign minister of Russia is but sure as hell don't know two words of Russian. It may seem like coming from left field to criticize journalists for not understanding the languages of the countries they report from or comment on, but such ignorance would be unthinkable in a historian, who would be laughed off the stage if he undertook a historical study without knowing the language of the country he was studying, as would a literary scholar writing about Shakespeare without knowing English or a theologian talking about the Bible without knowing Hebrew and Greek. But journalists are of course not historians, or scholars, or political scientists, or novelists or dramatists or film makers for that matter. They are the minor leaguers of the writing trade. That they of all people should be the ones to shape our perception of the world is utterly incredible.

The ignorance and superficiality of journalists are bad enough. Fox News goes them one better, for ultimately Fox News is offensive as well -- offensive to one's sense of decency, offensive to one's humanity, offensive, yes, to liberals and progressives but also to real Christians and men and women of goodwill. It counts among its audience a hard core of niggardly, joyless people, smug and self-righteous, small in accomplishment and resentful of anyone not like themselves. But they had better watch out, because Fox News can turn against them too, just as they've turned against the rest of us. All they have to do is lend someone a helping hand.


Fred Russell is the pen name of an American-born writer living in Israel. His recent satirical writing may be read in Polluto, Third Coast and Static Movement's Speculative Long Fiction anthology.

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