Do you live in the City of Sanitary?

By Christopher Cudworth

City of Batavia Sanitary

While walking the dog on a Sunday morning before the newspapers were even delivered and a low sun was casting long shadows on the street, I stopped to let the dog have a sniff of something in the neighbor’s yard and found myself standing directly over a manhole cover. I looked down at the circular metal object and read the words, which said: CITY OF SANITARY BATAVIA.

Of course what the manhole cover was supposed to read was CITY OF BATAVIA, SANITARY

Those two short phrases seem to convey exactly the same thing. But in practice and reality, they might not.

Either way you read the words on the manhole cover, it is intended to convey its function as an access point to the sanitary system under the streets of Batavia, a municipality of approximately 30,000 people in northern Illinois.

But let’s imagine that it is no longer 2012, but is instead the year 2812. Language and culture have changed significantly over the last 8 centuries. English is no longer the primary language on Earth, yet translators are being assigned to study the hardiest artifacts of the past. The manhole cover and its confusing words survived the nuclear holocaust that wiped out most of North America’s population and left an entire continent nearly uninhabitable for more than 800 years due to nuclear radiation poisoning and pursuant destruction of habitation and resources. Such a grim scene, and hard to imagine in a way. But really, the present and the possible future all comes down to the quality of our ability to communicate.

The natural tendency of that English language translator in the future is to read the words on the manhole cover in logical order, as it says: CITY OF SANITARY BATAVIA. The translators therefore struggle to understand the meaning of this lost language, and particularly of the meaning of the words on the manhole cover. Was it intended to convey some message about the place called SANITARY or was it designed to communicate some aspect of a function called BATAVIA?

You see, language is a funny thing. It can be used to improve understanding in rationally liberal way, in full context. Or, it can be used to intentionally constrain meaning in a conservative way, and limit the context. Both have their legitimate applications at times. We know that historians have struggled with this challenge for centuries. That is why we have so many translations of the Bible because ultimately not everyone can agree on what the holy texts are meant to say.

Beyond translation there are issues of interpretation. Should we take the Bible literally or figuratively? Did Jesus actually say the things for which he is credited, or were his quotes and activities reconstructed to line up with a constrained view of the Christian faith as written 80-200 years after his death?

We now know the books of the New Testament are not arranged by chronology, so a judgment has already been made to place the Gospels before the writings of Paul, arguably the first Christian author. In some respects, that forces us into a viewpoint about primacy that some people might now consider conflicted by the arrangement of the books in the New Testament. Yet this prioritization can in some ways be viewed as vital to the history and meaning of Christian faith. Liberals might contend that the Bible should be reordered to reflect its true chronology, while conservatives would likely place their trust in the judgment of the ages.

If something so historically relevant as an entire religious tradition can be dependent on liberal and conservative judgements such as these, then we are certainly at the mercy of many other sources of disagreement over what constitutes accuracy and truth.

The liberal vs. conservative debate

Liberals and conservatives argue over the use of language and its meaning on every front. So let us begin by examine what liberal and conservative language really means.

The liberal use of language is defined as follows:

liberal: favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression.

Liberalism is therefore the pursuit of all possible meanings with respect to the course of comprehension. The ultimate determination of meaning may therefore require considerable study, even consulting with outside sources before full understanding of a word or phrase in context can be ascertained. This is largely the foundation for all academics, science and other forms of inquiry.

By contrast, a conservative pursuit of meaning in a word or phrase is by definition constrained to existing or traditional understandings as a starting point, with the resultant findings to be measured against prior knowledge. To be conservative is therefore defined as follows:

con·serv·a·tive disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc.,or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

The full reach of conservative thought includes the right to limit not only the liberal or contextual understanding of a phrase or idea, but is also known to aggressively limit information deemed likely to change the meaning of and idea, word, phrase or a passage as it has been tested over time. This is judged acceptable in conservative thought because it places its highest values on traditional sources as primary virtues, and established principles as standards or qualifiers against which change must be measured.

This is known as a conservative viewpoint, and in America it bears influence on everything from standards in education to Constitutional interpretation of law by the Supreme Court. Ironically some of the so-called “conservative” interpretations of Constitutional law passed down by a conservatively dominated court have resulted in highly liberal interpretations of issues such as corporate personhood. Such is the confusion of liberalism versus conservatism. This raises the issue of whether our existing understanding of conservative and liberal thought is really accurate at all, a subject we will pursue further in a moment, in context of so-called media bias.

Still, conservatism can be largely defined as a preoccupation with the defense of the original or traditional understanding of an idea while liberalism is in a constant search for multiple or possible meanings.

Principle challenges

The challenge in this game of defining meaning according to conservatives and liberals is how the scope and scale of meaning is allowed to be either constrained or expanded. That is where ideology or intent enters the picture when it comes to defining the meaning of a thing or an idea.

For example, if the image of the manhole cover were cropped (or constrained) to show only the words CITY OF SANITARY we would be left with an entirely different understanding of the object, as show here:


Now the word BATAVIA is invisible. We have lost the complete context of the manhole cover as an object, and are left with, or presented only, that information that supports the idea that the City of Sanitary is an actual place!

Of course it is not. But the conservative or constrained presentation of information is a real phenomenon. It happens every day in the news. Conservatives blame the general media for a ‘liberal bias’ in presenting only news that favors liberal political policies while liberal blame media outlets such as Fox News for serving up news that is highly constrained to a conservative point of view.

We must further consider the definitions of liberal and conservative news to consider who is telling the truth in this situation, and why.

Liberal Media Bias

If only news stories that favor liberal politics are being shown or discussed on so-called ‘liberal media outlets’ that is very different than pursuing a truly liberal understanding of the news. All news, politics and government is democratic and fair only if it is transparent and provides full context for its constituents. The accusation of a “liberal bias” is most difficult to justify, however, if the problem is simply that the general media is indeed providing full information to support a story.

The selective fact that a conservative viewpoint considers the truth an objectionable deterrence to their cause is not, therefore, a truly liberal bias in the media. It is simply reporting the truth and letting the public decide what to think about what they hear. But the claim that the ‘liberal media’ may be choosing news stories that favor liberal politicians or policies can be determined through analysis, and in some cases this has produced contentions with merit.

It is a very subtle argument, however, because like a so-called liberal media bias, the dividing line between truly “conservative news” and conservative opinion are highly difficult to determine. If a plot to bomb an abortion clinic is reported on the general news but an act of eco-terrorism against a chemical company goes unreported by the general media, then that may indicate a choice based on politically liberal objectives. News editors make decisions every day to determine what news to present and report, and the formats of daily news shows allow such narrow space and time to fully present a story that decisions to cut or keep news stories is made every day.

Beaten at their own conservative game? 

But even if liberal media outlets are guilty of biased reporting, that is still a conservative or constraining choice of how to report the news. That is likely what conservatives find so objectionable. For years they have been beaten at their own game.

Which is why news outlets such as Fox News now attempt to level the playing field by appearing to conduct themselves as liberal media outlets, committed to reporting the full truth while in fact they are radically committed to a conservative approach to news reporting, and not by coincidence, favoring a conservative political viewpoint as well.

So there you have it. What appears to be a battle between liberals and conservatives is in fact a protracted fight over an overall conservative approach to reporting and presenting the news. The battle then, is not between liberals and conservatives as is so often presented, but between conservative methods of reporting the news.

Colbert exploits the ruse

That is what makes the comedy of a man like Stephen Colbert so hilarious. Colbert imitates the presentation methods of conservative media outlets while actually espousing and presenting liberal perspectives. The fact that these opinions about the news are force-fed through a faux Fox News filter is what makes the satire so funny. There is nothing Fair or Balanced about Stephen Colbert just as there is nothing Fair and Balanced about Fox News. It’s all just highly charged political information disguised as news.

Fox News, you see, excels at the City of Sanitary method of so-called news reporting. The company as a whole typically receives its marching orders on the choice of appropriate news topics and how to report on them from the very top where Roger Ailes, the chief network executive who built the American outlet for Fox News from the ground up, highly favors political conservatism as the solution to America’s problems.

His “news” staff is cleverly disguised as reporters and anchors when in fact they are positioned with a conservative ideology (and prescribed ‘talking points’) in place to constrain and deliver the information Fox News creates. It controls its messaging on a regular basis by taking a “closeup” look at news stories rather than backing up and providing the whole (and therefore liberal) context of the story. In other words, the difference between what Fox News does is the same as the difference between taking a look at the whole manhole cover that shows City of Batavia Sanitary as opposed to just showing the City of Sanitary image and using that constrained viewpoint as a jumping off point for political commentary.

Sanitized at Fox News

Fox News viewers seldom if ever get to see the entire context of a news story. Instead they are “sanitized” into thinking only about what Fox News presents as truth. It is hard to argue that Fox News is lying, exactly, because that they show on TV often exists as a “fact” just as the manhole cover actually does read City of Sanitary. But this “sanitizing” of the news is a grand deception of sorts, because it disallows context and essentially brainwashes viewers into a clipped understanding of the world and its activities.

Then the Fox News commentators like Sean Hannity further present these constrained, conservative media talking points to generate outrage over issues that have never been fairly presented. This radicalization of the news through constrained reporting and conflagratory discussion is the poison that has undermined true journalism in America.

The goals of sanitized news

Fox News has used its carefully “sanitized” views of patriotism, its jingoistic and flag-waving support for ugly and dangerous wars, its support of torture and covert aggression against nations around the world, and its advocacy for domestic policies and administrations that clearly have failed the nation and risked it very sovereignty in the process.

Insanitization of the news

We must therefore consider whether we should characterize the information presented by conservative news outlets like Fox News as the “insanitization” of news and information. It is literally as if the insane have taken over the media on all fronts. It is no longer possible or profitable for media outlets to engage and invest in liberal news reporting. The news cycle and competition for viewer attention is so tight and self-fulfilling that companies who attempt to present news in its full context are losing out to aggressive competitors like Fox who sound byte everything through the insanitization of the information presented. The American public can no longer even identify or understanding news as it is defined in journalistic terms. The insanitization of news and information has cut attention spans and comprehension among consumers to a bare minimum. Viewers now prefer the City of Sanitary to the City of Batavia Sanitary. “Don’t bother me with the facts,” the public seems to say, “Just tell me what I need to know.”

Screw the fact-checkers = Ignore the truth

In 2012 the Mitt Romney campaign boldly proclaimed that it won’t be constrained by “fact checkers.” This is a precise expression of the insanitization of information.  Think about what politicians like Romney claim they are entitled to do: They are running a campaign where the truth literally does not matter. Yet 40% of Americans will support a candidate who makes no claim to represent the truth? That is insanity. But that is exactly the strategy of the conservative brand of thought. Through sanitization of information and turning the truth against itself, people can be convinced to believe that what you are saying is “more real” than the truth.

Think of the manhole cover. Think of think of the City of Sanitary. Is that where you really want to live?

Sanitization: It’s a religious tradition

This is nothing new, of course, under the sun. Religious groups have for years blindered believers with literal interpretations of scripture and controlled their belief systems with law and practices that even Reformation and revolution have not erased. The result is a society where 50% of Americans still believe in a literal Adam and Eve and refuse to comprehend even the slightest truth in the theory of evolution. This is the insanitization of religion just as politics and news have been distorted and contorted. Conservative religion rather precisely limits its believers understanding to the City of Sanitary level. In fact it likely goes a step further, focusing only on the word SANITARY with claims that true believers must sanitize themselves from recognizing equal rights for gays and women, or associating with environmentalists or tolerating other faiths.

Meanwhile the Muslim faith is engaged in the very same sanitization and insantization of its ideology, producing radical terrorists engaged in a fight to impose Muslim law in otherwise democratic societys and engaging in an ideological fight with Christianity that produced the Crusades.

A walled city under a siege of misinformation and fear

The City of Sanitary is a walled city that behaves as if it is in a state of siege. It promotes and feeds the fears of its dwellers. Indeed, fear and constrained thinking is the main and primary focus of its ideology, for fear is the factor that keeps its audience under control.

The City of Sanitary is therefore the most dangerous enemy of America, which fully depends on the liberalism inherent in its Constitution along with freedom of a press and a truly liberal media committed to full reporting– and not sanitization–of the news as a means to protect and defend America’s most precious freedoms, both liberal and conservative.

Anything else deserves to be shoved down the manhole of history.


san·i·tar·y [san-i-ter-ee]  adjective

1.of or pertaining to health or the conditions affecting health,especially with reference to cleanliness, precautions againstdisease, etc.

2.favorable to health; free from dirt, bacteria, etc.: a sanitarywashroom.

3.providing healthy cleanliness: a sanitary wrapper on allsandwiches.

san·i·tize [san-i-tahyz]  verb (used with object), san·i·tized, san·i·tiz·ing.

1. to free from dirt, germs, etc., as by cleaning or sterilizing. make less offensive by eliminating anythingunwholesome, objectionable, incriminating, etc.: to sanitize adocument before releasing it to the press.

insan·i·tize [san-i-tahyz]  verb (used with object), in·san·i·tized, in·san·i·tiz·ing.

1. to purposely constrain information in a radical way as a means to confuse and obfuscate while claiming to speak the truth propagandize factual information by limiting its context, thereby avoiding the appearance of lying by being able to point to a portion of the information as demonstrable fact lie like a sack of shit and deny that you are lying despite all proof to the contrary, as in presenting your corporate brand as Fair and Balanced when it is anything but.

Do clowns creep you out? Political clowns might be the most dangerous of all

“Clowns freak me out,” a co-worker said as we wandered the floor of a sports carnival at a major exposition center. “I mean, really freak me out. Like, it’s a phobia of mine,” she said, pondering several clowns entertaining small crowds around the hall.

The woman is not alone in her fears, and the segment of society that is afraid of clowns seems to have grown considerably the last 40 years or so, sparked by real life psychopaths including John Wayne Gacy, who dressed in clown suits. His perverse legacy has been carried forward by shock performers such as Insane Clown Posse that have built their careers around killer clown psychology.

No more clowning around

For better or worse, the formerly innocent, charming, child-friendly image of clowns has been forever changed. Now the collective public impulse seems to be that of suspicion and fear toward the whole clown tradition. Perhaps the world finally woke up to what it really might mean to hide behind the visage of a clown, as one too many crazy characters emerged (example: Heath Ledger in the Batman movie The Dark Knight) to safely give clowns a free pass to our post-modern psyches.

Which helps explain why my co-worker was totally freaked when a very large clown––weighing 400 lbs. if he weighed an ounce, wandered up behind us as we stood watching a Jesse White Tumblers performance at the sports carnival. The giant clown was breathing so heavily he made a sound like an industrial bellows, and his makeup was badly smeared by the sweat streaming down his face. I glanced at my co-worker to see if she had already noticed this horrific clown standing behind us, but she seemed blissfully unaware. For the moment.

Not wanting my co-worker to suffer emotional trauma, I turned to her and whispered, “Don’t turn around, but there’s a really giant clown behind us. Let’s walk away.” Of course the first thing she did was turn around, and the look of horror on her face could neither be faked or disguised.It all seemed like business as usual to the giant, heavy-breathing clown, staring straight at us with greasy eyes until he finally gave my co-worker a weird smile. That’s when she bolted.

It took more than half an hour of walking around outside the exposition center to calm her down. Even then I could not offer a satisfactory explanation of how or why the heavy-breathing clown showed up behind us. “These things just happen,” I told her. But I knew it wasn’t true. There are forces in the universe that are inevitable and unswerving, like the cat that climbs into the lap of the one person in the room who truly hates cats. The forces of chance––or calculated––evil seem drawn to fear like an open door. Then fear overwhelms the senses like a giant, heavy-breathing clown who is all appetite and no joke.

Clowns and the human condition

Yes, clowning was once considered an art form. Good clowns and perhaps a few mimes have always transcended the human condition to bring us laughs. But bad clowns play on this presumed innocence and leverage the goodwill of well-intentioned clowns, methodically twisting it to their own vicious aims and needs of sociopaths eager to exploit our trusting natures.

That brings us to our current political climate, where certain bands of politicians and their cronies have been going about behaving like happy clowns in hopes we’ll all laugh along as they rape the nation of its wealth. These clowns excel at mouthing timeworn party lines and cracking wise about abortion and family values and banning gay rights as they tear away the progressive virtues of a free and liberal society, or what it should be. That’s what evil clowns do. They take advantage of others while laughingly creating one sick little sideshow after another to distract us from the real evil of their motives.

This giant creepy clown (both a misanthrope and a misogynist) stands innocently behind the lies of politicians pretending to speak for all Americans. In reality he favors only the interests of a few greedy ringmasters and for-hire carnival barkers like Donald Trump. If we let them have their way, the America that was once a land of opportunity will be laid waste beneath the falling tent of middle class hopes and dreams.

The giant, heavy-breathing clown wants what he wants, and that is everything. Yet a big chunk of America sits dumbstruck inside the cable-driven media tent that is the Fox News Circus, laughing at the Rush Limbaugh Show (Dittos! What a clown!) and wandering naively around the Mitt Romney Hall of Mirrors. Why can’t half of America see that these clowns has been leading the nation to a place that is neither good or wholesome, to a place where real freedom is murdered and consumed, not won and shared? The answer is plain and simple: political narcissists love to see their own shallow ideology reflected back at them by the seemingly happy faces of political clowns predicting happy times.

PAC of elephants

Meanwhile, across America, the PAC elephants have secretly been loosed from their cages to wreak havoc in the countryside, razing little towns by tearing down households and pulling up the trees for a bonfire of political vanities the likes of which we have never seen. And still the rapt audience will laugh and cheer. Look at the pretty flames! The light of liberty!

Backstage, the giant, heavy-breathing clown of neo-conservatism is having a perverse little Tea Party with the ringmasters who conceived it all. These are the same ringmasters who stole the presidential election in the year 2000 (Y2K indeed) through use of a conservative Supreme Court whose partisan clowns later ruled that corporations were the same as people. What a funny joke! Let’s all laugh along!

Once in office, the Bush clown posse and its snarling, fetishistic leader Dick Cheney (Power is All) ignored clear warnings of terrorism, thus allowing America to be attacked. Then they used a cloak of resultant fear (like magicians!) to steal off to Iraq and kill a dictator who had nothing to do with the reasons behind the 9/11 tragedy. We now know the Bush clown posse had literally no plan for the future and no budget set aside for its endeavors. They were all just clowning around, hoping for a good outcome.

Indeed, the Bushies proceeded to cut taxes for the rich while rolling out two new wars that had little ultimate purpose other than to express the might of American exceptionalism and maybe (if we’re lucky…) get our mitts on some oil and other resources. But we fumbled away billions of dollars in lost cash during these ventures, so it is no wonder George W. Bush ultimately quipped that “I no longer think about bin Laden” because he was too busy trying to figure out where all our money had gone. Poof! Into the hands of our frenemies.

Clowns at war

The clownish adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan cost thousands of young men and women their lives while crippling tens of thousands more. But the insane clowns in office seemed intent on obscuring the righteous efforts of these young soldiers when they returned home dead or wounded, even blocking publication of photographs of the caskets containing the fallen as they arrived by transport back home on American soil. What were the clowns trying to hide? Evidence of their cruel folly.

The Bush cabal also set in motion a frightening tour of torture abroad while simultaneously setting up an illegal prison camp back “home” (but not really…) at Gitmo. On the island of Cuba no less––the nearby soil of our supposedly sworn enemies!

It was all a sick little political show, “managed” by clowns who ultimately crashed the economy with their “let clowns be clowns” policies of cutting back fiscal regulation while “shrinking government” (what does that even mean?) as if doing nothing was the best thing our nation could think to do. Of course America paid dearly for this grotesque burlesque of slap-happy ideology, and yet here we are all over again, facing down a giant, heavy-breathing clown as America gears up for itsnational elections.

Tea Party Clowns

It is truly stunning that half of America sees fit to continue believing in the activities of these clowns who nearly killed the country the first time. The Tea Party (Mad Hatters?) in the House of Representatives nearly succeeded in forcing America into default on its debt, yet continue to lay claim a mantle of fiscal responsibility. That is nothing short of a perverse joke and a theater of the absurd. But it can get worse. We could go all Milton Friedman on ourselves and take free market economics literally, without reasonable controls or judicious governance. That is not to say that capitalism or corporations are bad. Far from the truth. But we should pay attention when things go badly, so that instead of repeating or expanding upon our recent mistakes, we should learn from them and take reasonable precautions to govern well, and protect the nation’s wealth. Of course that is difficult to do when men like Mitch McConnell make public oaths that their only concern as political servants in America is to frustrate and defeat the President, Barack Obama. How is that statement not treasonous?

The Tea Party’s efforts to undercut the nation’s fiscal commitments were also fairly treasonous. But those folks believe, like the sad old clown act of using a mop to wipe up the light on an otherwise darkened stage, that the act of looking sentimentally patriotic (oh, those poor old patriots, trying to clean up our economy) is far more important than turning up the lights so everyone can see what’s really going on with corporate welfare, gigantic farm and oil subsidies and unbudgeted wars draining society of its wealth and balance. Instead they blame old people for being old and needing health care, and the poor for not having enough money to feed themselves. The new Orwellian double-speak is to blame the blameless and laugh at those who don’t get what’s funny about it.

Neo-conservative clowns

If the heavy-breathing clown that is the modern day clownglomerate of neo-conservatism is allowed to have its way in the upcoming elections, America will get a real taste repeat austerity craziness on steroids, ushering in the next Clown Kingdom like a new wave of the Roman Empire, only without the parades. Too expensive, you know.

If that happens, those will no longer be clown tears streaming down the face of the heavy-breathing giant, but droplets of sweaty avarice. Because the giant, heavy-breathing clown even wants to ingest your home and family––to keep them safe from the evils of the world, he promises, like a crocodile holding its young between its jagged teeth. But like Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movies, the giant, heavy-breathing clown is no friend to anyone, and he has his prejudices, so don’t expect to save space for any so-called protection of rights for our gay populace, the black or Latino or female members of society, and especially the Muslims.

Clowns of devastation

The giant, heavy-breathing clown is the manifest expression of every nasty instinct America needs to avoid. Discrimination and divisiveness. Denial of responsibility. Devastation of hope. Dangerous fever for war and imperialism. But he demands that you bow down and pray to him, indirectly of course, lest he upset the Christian conservative base. But you will be praying to him one way or the other.

We can hardly tell the folds of flesh on the giant, heavy-breathing clown from the colorful costume he wears, all wrapped up in red, white and blue as he likes to dress. But mostly, he sees red, in the most evil sense of color-blindness. Because that is not only the political shade of his favorite states in America, but also the hue of the blood that will fly in our gladiatorial political arena if the heavy-breathing clown is (or is not) permitted to have his way in America. He’s a jealous type, you know, and not very patient or kind. It almost seems like he can’t wait for the show to begin, does it not?

There are some who claim that the giant, heavy-breathing clown has taken over both political parties, Democrat and Republican. Of course the Democrats behave like Jokers sometimes, and even clowns in their worst moments. But the fact that the nation has generally and legitimately enjoyed its greatest periods of prosperity and recovery under Democratic leadership––including the present time–– while also delivering greater civil rights for every segment of society, deems them far less the evil clown than their counterparts. Truly, we must be on our guard from heavy-breathing clowns on all fronts. But for right now the top priority is to stave off the vicious clown now slobbering on our collective blue and white collars in America.

Scary clown music

Listen. You can hear the the calliope music of the political ads now washing over the countryside as the giant, heavy-breathing clown approaches. Now he’s reached your back door, and whispering through the screen door at night. It sounds like white noise from the TV: “Vote for me and I’ll make it alllllll better. We’ll get government out of your life and you can trust Captains Grover and Karl and the King Koch Brothers to tell us what to do. When it’s all over, we’ll all have a big laugh together, we promise you that.  So let’s all be clowns together, and we’ll grant you a trickle-down share of our sweaty wealth.”

That’s the world they want to create, where we all dress in stars and stripes and run around blessing our good fortune (whether we have it or not) while the political leaders who lay claim to the special providence of God ignore the fact that history proves only fools and clowns can be that arrogant.

So let’s take them for what they are, and leave them in the wake of their own clownish desires. Or else prepare to share your bed, your bank account and even your holy brethren with a giant, heavy-breathing clown. Then you’d better make way for your new, very best friend. He’s breathing down your neck.