Friday, August 29, 2008

America the Affable

America the Affable nation is a large, loud, red-faced man of 350 lbs, his Applebee's/Ben-and-Jerry's/McDonald's girth straining against the front of his XXXL Polo shirt, torturing the belt that holds up his khaki pants. He stands at a bar buying drinks for other nations: England, Estonia, Italy, Australia . . . once in a while, Canada cadges a drink. All America wants is to be liked, so he tells jokes:

"You know how you can tell an elephant's been in your fridge?"

Kyrgastan, Turkey and Morocco shake their heads.

"You'll find his footprints in the butter!" America bellows laughter, casting a needy eye at his audience. Seeing their fun flagging for even an instant, America pulls out his gold card again and orders another round of drinks. Except, the bartender comes back and whispers to America that the card has exceeded its limit. Pained, smiling to hide his confusion and embarrassment, America turns to China, sitting far off to the side, and gets a new gold card from him. The bartender gives it a try and its credit limit is good to go -- more drinks are had by all.

Amid the drinking, in between the jokes, America gets serious, speaking about the lone gunman who killed his beloved president, John F. Kennedy, in November 1963. The other nations share glances; a few roll their eyes, silently saying, "Whatever you say!" knowing full well that that the CIA assassinated President Kennedy. So, America bellows another joke: "You know, I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member!" A few of the English speaking nations chuckle, more out of a desire for another drink.

"You know, that 9/11 and those goddamned terrorists," America says in a serious moment. "Diabolical, how those 19 hijackers managed to outwit NORAD!" Canada, England, Germany and France exchange looks, as if to say, "Yeah, right!"

American continues: "The world's a better place without that asshole, Saddam Hussein."

Estonia raises a glass to that.

"All we want to do is bring freedom to the middle east," America says. "Is that so bad?" Tadzykistan would have replied, "No," if he understood what was being said. The countries who do speak English put down their drinks and make their move to get away from America. But America -- affable, if nothing else -- senses his duties as host are momentarily neglected, and promptly orders another round and a pile of appetizers. Who can pass up free drinks and cheese-and-garlic snazzers? No one.

"I've got nothing to hide," America says, his speech slurred by his eighth or ninth Harvey Wallbanger. "So, if the guv'ment's gotta listen to my phone calls or read my mail, I don't care. If it catches even one terrorist, it's worth it!" Belgium finishes his drink and slips away.

"The terrorists are using our freedoms against us!" America says, pounding the bar with his hand. "They hate our freedom, but they use it against us. So, the guv'ment wants to take away some freedom. I say, great! Take it! Cuz, who the hell knows where the next attack's gonna come from?" Canada finishes his drink, but is too ineffectual to leave the bar. Canada stands there, a patient, distracted, quietly disagreeing audience.

"So, if we gotta bomb I-ran," America goes on, "and all its friends and network, then we'll do it! Cuz, it's about freedom, and . . . and . . ."

"Democrazy," Kyrgyzstan offers in broken English, clacking the ice in his empty glass, hoping for another free drink.

"Yes!" America says. "It's about democracy! And if people have the chance to vote, they'll vote for freedom, just like we do in the U.S. of A!"

England and Italy, France and Germany have finished their free drinks. So have Poland and Sweden and Iceland and Denmark. The moment they set their empty glasses on the bar, America senses their desire to leave. Switzerland consults his wrist watch. Germany clears his throat and edges away. The group moves for the door.

"Wait!" America shouts. "We've still got chicken wings and potato skins coming! You can't leave now!"

The nations claim other responsibilities require attention.

"Ah, hell!" America says. He looks at Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, whose drinks -- for some reason -- were never mixed properly by the bartender; they had spent the evening sending drinks back, arguing with the bartender, demanding their drinks be made as ordered.

"But who the hell mixes cranberry juice with Jim Beam?" the bartender says, exasperated.

"Hey," America says, "freedom's all about getting what you want, when you want it. Ever hear that the customer is always right?"

"Sure," the bartender says, "but I'm not going to mix drinks in my bar that'll make people sick."

"If they wanna be sick," America says, "they have the freedom to be sick!"

"Not in my bar!" the bartender says.

"What kinda business are you running here?" America demands.

Having imbibed too many gin-and-tonics -- which the bartender gave him, instead of pineapple juice and sambuca -- Afghanistan punches Pakistan in the face.

"Hang on a second!" the bartender shouts. "There'll be no fighting in here!"

Pakistan grabs Afghanistan by the shirt and head-butts him in the face, breaking his nose. The bartender jumps over the bar and wields a baseball bat. As he tries to break up the fight, Iraq drinks his nineteenth Bloody Caesar. He'd been ordering drinks in a mumbling, heavily accented voice all night; the only word the bartender understood was "blood." He was partially correct -- Iraq was ordering blood and apple juice; the bartender gave him Bloody Caesars.

Iraq grabs a handful of peanuts from a dish on the bar. As he chews them, one slips down his throat, causing him to choke. Amid his choking, he proceeds to puke up the last eighteen Bloody Caesars America bought him. America stands away from the fracas between Pakistan and Afghanistan, looking at Iraq, seeing $223 in drinks vomited down his shirt and pants, the bar and floor. All of the other nations take this opportunity to exit the bar.

The bartender manages to separate Pakistan and Afghanistan, sending each on his wounded way. After surveying the hopeless mess that Iraq made, the bartender goes back around the bar and cashes out America. The bartender slides the gold card through the credit card machine, but with the huge, uneaten orders of chicken wings and potato skins and jalapeno snappers and blooming onion and nachos-with-five-cheeses and pizza poppers and garlic jabbers and grease grabbers, bacon sliders and cheese slammers, along with all of the drinks, has exceeded the gold card's limit. The bartender discreetly advises America about this.

America, red-faced and with no laughter left, goes back to China, who sits off to the side. China hasn't ordered a thing all night. They exchange a few words and China hands America another gold card. America returns to the bar and pays his tab. Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Tasmania linger with hopeful expressions, trying for more free drinks by sheer force of silent will. America looks at them and begins to tell a joke, "A priest, a rabbi and a minister go into a bar . . ." Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Tasmania turn and leave.

Alone at the bar with a drink's receipt long enough to wrap around his immense waist, America picks at the appetizers laid out before him like a redneck wedding banquet. He's in the middle of quaffing one of the potato skins when China approaches. "We leave now," China says in three, militaristic syllables.

"But looka all this food," America says. "There's kids starving in Chin -- in India. I can't leave all this!"

"We leave now!" China says.

America shoves some pepper snazzers and pizza bloaters into his pockets, jams a handful of nachos into his mouth and follows China out of the bar. Outside, China climbs into the back of a rickshaw. "We go!" China barks. America, still chewing his last handful of nachos, lumbers to the front of the rickshaw, bends down and picks up the two pulling handles. He grunts with the effort; feels his drinks and masticated food welling in his throat.

"We go!" China barks.

America starts down the road, pulling the rickshaw, winded after half a dozen steps.


America swallows the last of the nachos. His ulcer pokes at him from the inside-out.

As he passes a gaggle of pretty girls in halters and mini skirts walking down the sidewalk, America sucks in his gut and picks up the pace. He can't wait to get home to his hovel, to his pain relievers and heated pads, to his ointments and analgesics -- to all the remedies that are scientifically tested and government approved to make him feel better.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Das Phelps Phenom

Much as I've been trying to avoid the bloody Olympics, there's no getting away from news of this Phelps porpoise who's won eight gold medals. It's interesting, when Michelle Smith of Ireland was having similar success in the 1996 Games, she was immediately accused of doping -- even though she passed all of the tests. Phelps performs this feat and all anyone talks about is his 12,000 calorie-a-day diet. In the same way it took years for Marion Jones to be caught for her steroid use, I'm sure the same thing will happen to Phelps. But with Iraq going so badly, Afghanistan consistent ugliness on the periphery, everyone should enjoy Phelps' success. But I have no doubt he's merely on some new steroid for which there isn't yet a test.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

In the Neighborhood

Throughout the summer, for reasons I can neither guess nor discern, every weekend night is punctuated by fireworks. Sometimes it's just the anemic pop of neighborhood fireworks going off just after sundown for some kid's birthday. Other times, though, they are the full-on artillery barrage fireworks sounding in the distance; the din of thousands of dollars per explosion. Sometimes leaves me wondering what I'll find of the city Monday morning.

I went for a bike ride with my wife this morning to Tim Horton's for coffee.

As I pumped our bike tires with air, our bland born again Christian next door neighbor was outside with her son. He's an adorable little two year old who's apparently talking and quite animated. I heard him speaking and making some interesting sounds, so I called over, neighborly, to her and said, "Wow, he's talking up a storm!" She gave a wan smile. I then commented to my wife, "Huh, the baby talks more than she does." Since I telephoned her and her husband one night last year, accusing them of being inconsiderate assholes for having their hot tub underneath my bedroom window and waking us up one night splashing and carrying on in the urinal font with friends, this cold fish has been one frigid carp. Her husband pieces together a pretty sturdy living between a tool and die shop and being a pilot-for-hire. As a consequence, he's never home. Can't blame him.

As we rode down our street this morning, we saw the remnants of the Philistines' night last night. The Philistines are a gaggle of harmless, noisy beer-drinking neighbors who have turned their three or four properties into a sort of impromptu collective; a sort of Scientology camp for factory workers and women who shout with men's voices. Every weekend night, they light a bonfire in this one driveway -- why they don't go into the privacy of the backyard, I'll never know, other than to guess that nobody could observe them having their wonderful fun time back there -- stoking up particle board and other assorted scavenged flammable objects in a metal fire pit apparatus. They gather around it like a tribe from ten thousand years ago, doing strange hoofing dances in the orange light, imbibing intoxicants, bellowing laughter over statements that are just not funny.

This morning, the driveway around Philistines' metal fire pit was littered with charred bits of what could have been wood or a human femur, beer cans, I'm sure I saw a few teeth glittering in the sunlight. Over our air conditioner and fan last night I heard a few rumblings from that direction. I had the feeling if I'd gone over there right then I'd have found them devouring the right leg of the mail man.

Further down the street are the Rocket Scientists who didn't quite make it to the space program. Instead, these men-children build, fine-tune and test-fly ultra-mini mini bikes: motorbikes a little bigger than your average coffee maker. Everyone should have a hobby. I don't care how others amuse themselves. My only beef with the Rocket Scientists is they haven't yet perfected an ultra-mini mini bike that doesn't roar like a garbage truck when they do laps around the neighborhood. Seeing these louts on the contraption almost makes up for its wretched roar -- grown men crouched on this toy-like vehicle that goes just fast enough to break a collar bone or flatten a nose if someone took a corner too tightly. Then I conjure the mental image of one them riding it down to the gas station for a fill-up, cradling the ultra-mini mini bike in an arm like a little terrier, as he gently applies the gas pump handle to its wee fuel orifice. The ultra-mini mini bike is probably bathed in the kitchen sink, evenings, and probably has its own blanket-lined box in the garage. When it comes to repairing or calibrating this pet vehicle, I imagine the Rocket Scientists affixing a jewelers' monocle in an eye and working on the thing with watchmakers' tools. Everyone should have a hobby.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Coincidence Theorists

I'm just after watching a program on TVOntario hosted by Steve Paikin, Conspiracy Anyone? Below is an e-mail message I just sent to TVO regarding this program and my opinions about how it handled its subject:

The premise of the TV show Conspiracy Anyone?, about conspiracy theories, was flawed at its base. The host operated from the idea that the official stories of great historical happenings, such as the JFK assassination and the 9/11 attacks, are true, and who are these nuts who believe otherwise.

Why did George W. Bush need 9/11? The U.S. public would never have supported an unprovoked war with Afghanistan. Nor would it have supported the war against Iraq -- and Iraq was absolutely tied to 9/11 by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of that corrupt bunch. Also, look at Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. In moments of great trauma like 9/11, legislation like the PATRIOT Act are rammed through with no opposition. That never would have succeeded without 9/11. Nor would the Total Information Awareness network or George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping of Americans. 9/11 occurred to give America a supposed enemy, it occurred so that constitutional rights could be suppressed, so that Guantanamo Bay could be turned into a concentration camp. 9/11 did just what the attack on Pearl Harbor did -- it brought America's focus to a fine point, a concentrated point of accepting war. If you look at who has benefited more from 9/11 -- George W. Bush or Osama bin Laden -- I think it's very safe to say that George W. Bush benefited greatly. Multimillionaire Osama is living in a cave somewhere. Also, the failing presidency of George W. Bush was buoyed immensely by 9/11. Look how the Republican Party moved the date of its 2004 national convention to very nearly September 11th. The Republican Party took on 9/11 like a celebration, wrapping themselves in the flag, drowning out dissent with the singing of patriotic songs.

There are more people questioning official stories these days because mass media rams these events down our throats. Also, there are people who have the time to ask the tough questions (bloggers and independent journalists, like Barry Zwicker -- regarding 9/11, for instance, why were some of the supposed hijackers said to have been aboard the planes that perpetrated the attacks found alive and well abroad, horrified that their names and pictures were on the FBI's widely disseminated picture line-up; the numerous people (firemen inside the buildings) the head custodian of the Twin Towers, heard bombs exploding in the building; the stand-down of the military; the insane coincidence of five sets of war games occurring on that day. Why aren't reporters asking these tough questions? Access. Look what happened to Helen Thomas in the White House press pool when she asked tough questions of George W. Bush. She was frozen out -- no longer seated up front and granted the first question any longer, but seated in the back and completely shunned. Thomas is a veritable institution in the media, so she could weather such retribution. A lesser known reporter would have probably just lost his job. When Peter Jennings died, it was reported that he was worth $51 million. I posit that Peter Jennings had 51 million reasons not to ask the tough questions. He was extraordinarily successful taking the soft, scripted route, working for the Disney Corporation.

The Internet film Zeitgeist appeals to people because we have come to learn our institutions aren't trustworthy. The host of Conspiracy Anyone? operates from the premise that our institutions are beyond reproach and who are these crazy, marginalized people who'd question the honesty of corporate executives, clergy and greatest of all, politicians. Each institution has been proven time and again not only to be corrupt and self-interested, but often more so than anyone would have guessed or feared: the Gulf of Tonkin fantasy, the pedophile priest scandal, Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Was cover-up and collusion involved in these cases? Yes. It's all proven, painfully proven in the public domain.

The mindset that I feel is much more worthy of examination is that of "coincidence theorists;" those people, like this show's host, who believe that anomalies that prickle the curiosity of onlookers are all just a series of coincidences. Certainly, coincidences occur, but the number of anomalies surrounding the JFK murder, for instance, cannot be credibly chalked-up to coincidence: the speed with which Lee Harvey Oswald was identified and captured, the vast suppression of witnesses, the staggering number of material witnesses who died unnatural deaths (murdered); the disappearance of evidence, i.e. President Kennedy's brain, for god's sake, from the national archives! To believe all of these circumstances are just coincidental is not a credible view of the event.

Yeah, I guess people who ask tough questions are scary to people like this show's host, who earns his living towing the line, maintaining the status quo. The evidence is there. Look at Jim Garrison's book On the Trail of Assassins. Look at the questions Mark Lane raises in Rush to Judgment. Listen to the testimony of first-hand witnesses. . . One of the guests on Conspiracy Anyone just mentioned that the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy was the same size as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Do you know what prodded Jim Garrison to investigate the assassination? He read the Warren Commission Report. He found so many inconsistencies and contradictions and gaping holes in the evidence that he had to look into it. And the more he looked into the matter -- because Lee Harvey Oswald lived in New Orleans mere months before the assassination -- the more strange characters, like David Ferrie, Guy Bannister and Clay Shaw, Garrison uncovered. Most interesting of all was that the deeper Garrison looked into the JFK killing, he soon found himself "dancing with the Central Intelligence Agency" (to quote Garrison), which blocked his way at every turn. Those are not the imaginings of a madman. Those are the experiences of a conservative, rational, sober officer of the court. Garrison was a former FBI agent; hardly given to the ludicrous thinking he's been accused of.

Unfortunately, Conspiracy Anyone? was very superficial, operating from a faulty premise offered up as legitimate. People have every reason in the world to want to believe in their institutions, but have every reason in the world not to. Enron, Watergate, the pedophile priest scandals are just three touchstones that takes the pins out of each. To pretend that these were anomalies is to present oneself as utterly uninformed, utterly blinded by an agenda, or simply seeking to keep one's job, like the host of this program or like Peter Jennings.

Ask Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown & Root, Dow Chemical, McDonnell Douglass, Boeing, Blackwater and the Carlyle Group how much 9/11 and the Vietnam war has hurt or helped them. And who are the major investors in these companies?