After the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, it was enlightening to read news from elsewhere, like the BBC and Pravda. The mirror hasn’t been invented yet to let us “see ourselves as other see us,” but foreign newspapers come pretty close.
Jam Echelon Day, a protest against electronic surveillance, had been scheduled for October 21, 2001. I wondered if it would be called off, but apparently it was still carried out by thousands of people, who sent e-mails with trigger words in the subject lines. According to the organizers of Jam Echelon, the apparatus is so huge it would be impossible to seriously impact it by any amount of toying around. Still, public awareness was increased.
Mr. Cheney and his friends warn that the Middle Eastern bandits want to “take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.” Like solar power, perhaps? I’d like to see them try. The renewable resources folks have been saying for years that with a crop such as, for instance, hemp biomass, we could not only become energy-independent but incidentally save the American farmer, the topsoil, the Alaskan wilderness, and the lives that are bound to be squandered in future petroleum wars. Sound too good to be true? It is, but only because it won’t be allowed to happen. No amount of goodness or truth can overcome America’s addiction to anti-drug hysteria. Any plan as sensible as growing hemp has a snowball’s chance in hell.
Of course the U.S. military is busy training and arming a whole new batch of developing countries and factions – just like we did with Osama and the boys, among many regrettable others. The U.S. military seems to be a slow learner. As a child the first joke I ever heard was, “Why did the moron keep hitting himself on the head with a hammer?” “Because it felt so good when he stopped.” Will we ever stop?
In February, New Scientist reported that less than 1% of the blood donated in response to the 9/11 disaster was actually used. Blood, like other perishable organic products, has an expiration date. It only lasts for so long, and then it is just biohazardous waste. Thousands of pints of donated blood were destroyed – one source says 50,000 units, others say from 4 to 10 times that amount, but even the lowest estimate is appalling.
There are also disturbing reports of warehouses packed to the rafters with donated goods and huge amounts of money undistributed – as recently as September of 2002, a billion dollars is said to be sitting around unused. Incredibly, fund-raising campaigns are still being conducted by well-meaning organizations. On the other hand, the rent for all those warehouses does need to be paid.
A column in Entrepreneur magazine claims that since the attack, American workers don’t care so much about salaries and promotions, what they want is meaning, significance, spiritual values, and to make a difference. Thanks a lot, whoever thought up that theory. What a splendid excuse for employers to scrimp, downsize, cut benefits, and then give themselves raises.
The September attacks were a boon to every government official and career military person with a long-cherished master plan for How Everyone Should Live. By the next day, a number of these plans, some ostensibly benign, others palpably sinister, were brought out for an airing. The President encouraged us to each give 4,000 hours or 2 years to national service. He says voluntary, but some of his buddies want mandatory. It brings back the old days of Mussolini, Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung. If two years of national service is good, fifty years is better. Why not just move to someplace where they’ve already made arrangements for giving your whole life to national service? Or stick around here a while longer and do the same.
One local businessman took the President’s national service exhortation to heart and leaped to answer his nation’s call. To serve the public good, on Friday and Saturday nights he hops in the van emblazoned with the name of his business, parks downtown, and then at bar closing time, he drives inebriated revelers home. (And gives interviews about it.) The fellow Americans he serves in this way are mainly college women less than half his age – a mere coincidence, don’t worry about it.
It’s been said that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. The worst tragedy to hit our country in decades has provided fertile soil for a whole garden of con artists. It didn’t take long for websites to spring up touting fraudulent charities. There’s a proliferation of “advance fee” scam e-mails, elaborate tales of wealthy refugees who need to get money out of belligerent countries and you can help, and get rich into the bargain. The Secret Service gets around 100 calls per diem from victims or potential victims.
In photos of the burning twin towers, many people perceived Satan in the smoke, which is their privilege and right. In fairness, I hope they all grant the same courtesy to those who see Jesus on a tortilla and a human face on Mars.
In November I heard someone say, “I’m not going to talk about the war any more except to God,” a remark that resonated on more than one level. (I believe, by the way, that the true Muslim fundamentalists are the reasonable ones, and the villains we have trouble with are the lunatic fringe, and the whole nation of Islam shouldn’t be judged on the basis of their behavior.) In this conflict, both sides have dragged the Deity into it like never before. Both sides claim to be God’s favorite children. It’s weirdly reminiscent of the Smothers Brothers: “Mom always liked you best.” Given the way humans have been acting lately, it can’t be easy for God to like any of us very much.