I KNOW WHY JON STEWART LEFT THE DAILY SHOW

Dear Virtual Editor,

I know now why Jon Stewart left the Daily Show. He came to the same place at which I have now arrived. Stewart was at the peak of a brilliant career. He was making big money. At a time when news had become entertainment, he turned entertainment into the most reliable source of news for millions. How could someone walk away from all that?

I am at the peak of an anonymous career. I am not making money. For a valued few hundred subscribers, I have also tried to inject a bit of entertainment into news stories. So it obvious that Stewart and I have much in common, right? That is how I know why he left.

Stewart left because he could not find much humour in the news any more. Neither can I.

 I cannot find any entertainment potential in the U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. The attack killed medical staff, children, and burned patients alive in their beds. (Strange how a ritualized atrocity like the ISIS burning of a Jordanian pilot evokes such horror, while a high-tech killing from above does not.) Why did these people die? The attack was part of a war that the U.S., like all nations that invade Afghanistan, has lost. The location of the hospital was clearly communicated to U.S. forces. The Kabul government statement that the Taliban were in the hospital is probably false and in any event irrelevant. The official U.S. response that there may have been “collateral damage” makes it hard to keep food down, as does U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s “hearts and prayers” condolences.

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 A gag reflex also kicks in when I see the “hearts and prayers” condolences from the zealots of the U.S. gun culture after the latest mass murder in Oregon. (Correction: recent mass murder. By the time of this post, it will not be the latest.) My disgust is only heightened by the fact that I have a dear friend who lives in the area of that shooting; another dear friend was a few buildings away at Virginia Tech; WDBJ Roanoke was my source for local news. President Obama’s response said much of what needed to be said, but not all. Let me finish for him. One who does not commit a murder and is not present aiding and abetting the shooter may nevertheless be guilty of the crime of accessory before the fact by counseling, procuring, or encouraging the act. Those who continue to obstruct even piecemeal measures like an assault weapons ban, or closing the gun show loophole, or limits on compiling of arsenals like the one possessed by the Oregon shooter, about which his mother boasted, come very close to fitting that description. Hard to find any entertainment potential here.

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 I cannot find any entertainment value in the continuing murders of young black men. The Black Lives Matter movement may not always be well led but its rage is understandable given the tepid “All Lives Matter” statements of public figures. Of course all lives matter. Who knows, one day the problem might be protecting the lives of old white men from deadly violence. But today the issue is the killing with impunity of too many young black men in the streets and imprisoning too many of those who survive.

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 Of course, all lives actually do not matter. The lives of families in the Middle East and Afghanistan do not matter to any of the combatants in that tangled mess. Those who cannot flee are killed every day as the U.S. blunders along, employing its weaponry and assembling “coalition partners” in a futile effort to distinguish her allies from her enemies. Why? There are really only two justifications offered and they are simply warmed over versions of excuses for earlier stupid wars. The first is the old “If we don’t stop them there, we’ll have to stop them here” line, repackaged into a “global war on terror”. Never mind that the President was correct in pointing out that gun violence is the far greater threat. In fact, Western countries would be safer if they stopped creating bitter enemies by attacks like the one on the Afghan hospital. The second justification is to point out how evil the enemy is and minimize not only your evil acts but also those of your allies. ISIS and the government of Syria are brutal. So are the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The question of who is worse is one of degree, not kind. The contest is of little concern to the dead and displaced civilians.

And some lives matter too much. If you are not a friend or family member of one who was a casualty on 9/11, it is past time to get over it. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed in revenge for the attack. Cherished freedoms have been surrendered. It is time to start fashioning a post- post 9/11world.

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 I can find no entertainment potential in the tragedy that is the state of Israel. I have heard enough of Benjamin Netanyahu to last a lifetime. His determined effort to scuttle agreements with Iran is one of the least of his errors. Contrary to what you hear too often from him and from western media, the security of Israel is in no danger from external forces. Internally is another matter. Israel has chosen to live by the sword. Perhaps she will prevail. It is a gamble. If she does, however, she will have abandoned the beautiful Jewish faith tradition.

Netanyahu says he wants a Jewish state. If that is true, his will have little connection to Judaism. Little connection at least to the Judaism of Rabbi Hillel, who said that the Golden Rule was the Torah and everything else was just commentary. Little connection to the proportionality principle of Exodus 21:24—no more than an eye for an eye. Right wing Christians who blindly support Israel will also have to forget the message of their guy, Jesus, who told them in Matthew 5:28 to suffer any injury they could bear for the sake of peace. Responding to random rockets by bombing civilians, responding to stones with bullets, destroying homes while families watch, building walls separating communities, enacting apartheid laws. All this may be part of Netanyahu’s vision for a Jewish state. But such a state will constitute repudiation of the faith that has sustained the Jewish people through years of oppression.

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There are a few news items that have provided many these days with entertainment value. First among them is the candidacy of Donald Trump. The comedy is understandable. But after all the jokes about the ridiculous hair and grandstand stunts, we are left with the fact that an arrogant misogynist, xenophobic bully is being taken seriously. That sort of deflates the comedy. Mocking Trump also diverts attention from the voter suppression, corruption, and absence of leadership that characterizes U.S. politics these days.

Canada is not much better. We have an election coming in which a broken system may keep in power a corrupt, secretive government, a willing participant in U.S. international violence, with no regard for the environment. Instead of debating these matters, Canadians are arguing about whether a woman who has qualified for citizenship and whose identity has been confirmed may choose to cover her face at her citizenship ceremony. Unfortunately, it is an “issue” that could decide the election.

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Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 1.11.44 PMAs I was thinking about my shared experience with Jon Stewart, my memory played a trick on me, as memories sometimes do. I thought I clearly recalled Walt Kelly’s Pogo right after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Pogo was in his boat, with his fishing line bobbing in the Okefenokee and reflecting: We have met the enemy and he is us.

But the wondrous internet tells me that Pogo first used that in a 1971 poster for Earth Day. No matter. It fits.

Kelly and Pogo were, of course, paraphrasing Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s report to William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812: We have met the enemy and he is ours. Perry in his war was as wrong as war makers are today. As part of its campaign to recast Canada as a warrior nation, the current government is spending millions to paint Perry’s war as a U.S. defeat and the defining moment of Canadian independence. When it comes to the fight to break the addiction to violence, Pogo was right on.

Thank goodness for John Oliver and Rachel Maddow, who continue to raise serious matters with grace and humour. Jon Stewart is out. For the time being, so am I.

 

 

 

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