Thursday, January 15, 2004

Mad shrimp disease...
I used to avoid shopping after the burdensome expense of the mid-winter holidays. By the first week of the new year, I was at the bankruptcy point. But this year, I set out to get rid of the few dollars that had resisted the Christmas demands on them.
It was a crazy thing to do.
I drove out my driveway bound for the shopping mall and soon found myself driving behind a big Chevy Suburban. It was burning about four gallons a mile. I noted that the driver was working on her lipstick design while looking at herself in the rearview mirror.
My main focus was on the Chevy’s bumper stickers, which were many. As I sat at a red light and read them, I realized the bumper stickers could be divided into two categories: Jesus/peace and war/guns.
About half the stickers celebrated Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and the other stickers lauded the righteousness of war. The right to bear arms was represented in a subcategory to the war thesis with brief, staccato essays on handguns, the Second Amendment to the Constitution, virtue as portrayed by Charlton Heston and the many joys of a concealed-weapons permit.
The moral and ethical path that the Chevy owner (not the driver, I guess) followed, which led him to the decision to embrace these two concepts (peace and war) simultaneously, was a puzzle to me. It was an enigma I wanted to figure out, if the research did not actually entail my talking to the bumper man.
Peace and war can exist at the same time in the same mind, I know, but how do you get there from here? And the other way around?
Is this Orwell’s doublethink? Doublethink is defined as the power to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accept both of them?
How do you do that?
Eventually, I got to the mall where I encountered a mall clown who was supposed to entertain kids. He was a dead ringer for John Wayne Gacy, the Chicago serial killer and mild-mannered churchgoer, who slaughtered boys and buried them under his house.
Maybe I am not able to understand popular culture. Maybe I am missing something.
Do I have mad cow disease from the hamburger I ate late last year in a nostalgic moment? Can you get the cow madness from other food? Do I have mad shrimp disease?
Who are you calling crazy?

Friday, January 09, 2004

How to be stupid …

Restrained words of approval of the President’s plan to give legal status to foreign workers were heard in our town this week. Perhaps as much as 30 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born. One presumes that not all of them have documentation providing them the right to work in the U.S. The President’s plan would address that issue.
As many as ten million immigrants – including some of our neighbors here – are working in America's underground economy.
I have been to the places where most of the farm workers come from – from Mexico, where living conditions can be extremely primitive, and to Central America, where life is not all roses either. I have a great deal of sympathy for the hopeless struggle of the people there. I am aware, too, that the foreign workers send billions of dollars home to their relatives and that the money is a huge factor in the economies of the home countries.
If plenty of workers are to be admitted to the U.S. legally, will they be allowed to refuse to work for unacceptable wages? Will they be allowed to organize labor unions? Could they object to horrible housing? Will their employers provide for their health care and for their children’s education or will the bosses continue to make local communities pick up those bills? With more legals, will the flood of illegals be stopped?
Moreover, it seems to me, that this new proposal is an admission that the President – who took an oath to protect us and defend us and enforce U.S. law – hasn’t done so when it comes to safeguarding our borders.
I expect you are like me and have imagined that if you were a citizen of a country that offered only more poverty and no hope, you, too, would set out for the United Stares – the land of plenty.
In most ways, I think, the undocumented foreign workers have been good for the U.S., but it they can get in, who’s being kept out? You have to assume that the borders are just as porous when bad guys with suitcase bombs want to come in. Let’s face it, Osama bin Laden, the head Arab bad guy, could walk across the Rio Grande with a bag full of anthrax any day of the week without much fear of being stopped. They’d even give him a driver license in California, wouldn’t they?
How does this new presidential notion keep us safe from terrorists?
Out fat, rich country must respond to genuine human need and desire around the world, but we don’t have to be stupid.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

For our next stunt…

Like you, I have made a New Year’s resolution. I have resolved not to write about the head of our government in the same paragraph with certain other well-known world leaders, past and present.
I don’t think it’s fair, for instance, to lump President Bush together in a paragraph with Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bishop Tutu or Mother Teresa.
At the same time, I will not put him in the same verbal package with Papa Doc Duvalier, Stalin or Atilla the Hun.
Meanwhile, I am just waiting for the next stunt. We all know that the Bush people like stunts.
The capture of Saddam Hussein might have been considered a stunt had it happened next October, just before the election. But it seemed to be a genuine event. It was not a stunt like the "Mission Accomplished" stunt on the aircraft carrier with the president dressed as Tom Cruise. It was not like the stunt turkey hoisted by the President at an airport near Baghdad during his stealth visit there at Thanksgiving.
I have to tell you, I believe that the perp walk event involving Hussein was the real thing and I am glad.
Now that Saddam has been trotted out, the voters are ecstatic. The question is whether the ecstasy will hold. Of course, many Americans believe that Saddam was responsible for the World Trade Center disaster, and if you believe that, you should be double ecstatic.
I tend to go with the original view that a dozen or so Saudi Arabians, working for Osama bin Laden, were responsible.
What’s the next real stunt? I have to guess that the Osama will turn up and be photographed with a medic peering down his throat shortly before the president has to go before the American voters in November.
We haven’t seen Osama in a long time. Is that because he is in the mountains of eastern Pakistan or a detention cell in Maryland? You can be sure, all the president’s men know that a cardboard turkey isn’t going to do it this time. Another clandestine visit with the troops isn’t going to prove the president’s bravery, either. We already know that middle-aged comedians Al Franken and Robin Williams and young women in brief costumes make visits to the war zone all the time.
The president is riding high right now. Saddam’s capture and the good news on the economic front will help him, but American elections are always close and nothing can be taken for granted a year out.
Something big is needed to win. I’ll bet that the stunt of the century is being talked about in the West Wing at this moment.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Our Bobby's two years gone...

Robert Stevens was the first person in the United States in
modern times to die of inhalation anthrax. He lived in Florida and
he was a friend of mine. He worked at American Media, Inc., the supermarket
tabloid publisher. That's where he got mixed up with the anthrax, the
authorities believe.
Maureen Stevens, the widow, and her children apparently
believe lax security at an Army lab that made anthrax caused his death. She
is reported to be trying to hold the government accountable for producing
and mishandling the deadly stuff. Her lawyer said she also hopes to force
the government to press its investigation and provide some answers in the
bewildering case.
Bobby died two years ago.
Anthrax was disseminated in other places, too, mostly in
Washington, D.C. Altogether five people died, and others, including a
colleague of Bob's, became ill.
I wish Bob hadn't died.
Most people guess that his death was somehow related to the
terrorism that resulted in the destruction of the World Trade Center. Some
of the terrorists involved in the New York tragedy resided in Delray Beach,
not far from the AMI offices in Boca Raton.
Those particular terrorists are dead, too, so they can't
tell us whether they murdered my friend. For them and their souls, it
doesn't matter if Bobby's death is added to the nearly 3,000 we know they
killed. They will burn in Muslim hell for all eternity for what we know they
did. At least, I hope so.
I said Bob was murdered and that was the word I meant to
use. His death is a two-year old case of murder. Are the local cops trying
to solve it? Has the FBI learned anything? Is the real murderer still among
us? Does the assassin plan to do it again? Does anybody in law enforcement
care? What's going on?
Bob Stevens was an artist. I know the media keep calling him
a photo editor, but he wasn't really. He had come out of a brief retirement
- he was 63 when he died - because AMI had asked him to fill in on the photo
desk at the company's Sun. I think he was a little bored with retirement.
Before that he had been a graphic artist of great skill and a huge sense of
humor for the whack-o assignments he was given by the sillier of the
Bob was an American, not because of he was born American,
but because he chose to be one of us. He had a better sense of what it means
to be an American than most. He was proud of it, too. He was born in England
about the time a shooting-and-bombing war was going on over there. In
conducting his life, he was the most ethical person I ever saw in action.
A few days after the anthrax took Bobby to heaven, hundreds
of people jammed into a big church in Delray Beach to celebrate his life. A
lot of funny stories were told and some sad ones, too.
At the place where they crank out the tabloids, a sense of
the absurd is essential. Bobby was the master. But he was not just a merry
prankster, he had a big brain on him, too.
I wish he hadn't died....

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