Editor’s Note: Written in the summer of 2002, this article deals with some of the events of that “silly season” that struck me as peculiar at the time. Sorry, but there’s nothing here about crop circles or alien abductions. If you want that sort of thing, go see M. Night Shyamalan's film “Signs,” a pretty good movie on a really silly subject. The day after this piece ran, a very nice letter to the editor was published, agreeing with some of the things written here. Overall, the response to this article was favorable, which surprised me, since the piece is just a hodgepodge of things I’d been thinking about at the time and really has no overarching theme.


Isn’t It Ironic

 

Remember the Clinton years … back in the 1990s when we still had prosperity and our pensions? As our president terrorized the citizenry with his libido, former drug czar and self-appointed national conscience Bill Bennett asked, “Where’s our sense of outrage?” Now that the Clinton years are looking like the “good old days,” someone should be asking, “Where’s our sense of irony?”

 

In July 2002, The Stamford Advocate reported on the appointment of Richard C. Breeden to monitor compensation to WorldCom executives. Am I the only one who finds it just a trifle bizarre that Breeden will receive “his customary $800 per hour, plus expenses and staff costs” to “prevent excessive salary, severance and bonus payments” to high-level WorldCom employees?
Nice work if you can get it.

Perhaps our sense of the ironic has been numbed by the surrealism of Washington politicians with huge contributions from Enron in their pockets hectoring Bush pal and Enron CEO “Kenny Boy” Lay about avarice and corruption. Or maybe it’s the prospect of these same legislators — who’ve brought back deficits as far as the eye can see — castigating shady firms like Arthur Andersen about shoddy accounting practices. Or has our sense of the absurd been overwhelmed by the hypocrisy of ex-Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney getting tough on corporate greed, while not a single Enron executive has been indicted? Has the phrase “conflict of interest” lost all meaning?

Isn’t anyone perplexed that our senators — faced with terrorism, bearish stock markets and a shaky economy — decided to show their mettle by voting 99-0 to reaffirm the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance? What’s next, that perennial favorite of patriots and free-speech opponents alike: the Flag-Burning Amendment? Whoops … too late — a bipartisan bill on just that momentous issue passed the House on June 24, and Utah Republican Orrin Hatch has just introduced SJ Res. 14, which also bans flag desecrations. Talk about bravely facing up to a threat that doesn’t actually exist ... can motherhood and apple pie amendments be far behind?

Not to be outdone, the entertainment industry features the weird saga of Michael Jackson, who has accused his record company of racism. Isn’t it just a tad unconvincing when the race card is played by a man who’s spent the gross national product of a third-world country hiring plastic surgeons to remove all traces of ethnicity from his face and to have dermatologists lighten his skin to the point where albinos refer to him as “that pale guy”?

As the King of Pop delivered his diatribe on race relations, even Al Sharpton looked embarrassed to be sharing the podium with him. If it weren’t for the race card, Rev. Al, a pastor without a congregation, would be forced to get a real job; however, even he seemed hard pressed to keep a straight face as the artificially white multimillionaire promoted himself as the poster child for the oppression of African-Americans. Perhaps, if Jackson had accused Sony Corp. of harboring prejudice against people who look like aliens, he might’ve had an easier time passing what shameless lawyers call the “giggle test.”

Meanwhile, at a time when we need more tolerance and brotherhood, rather than less, it’s both peculiar and sad that the Lutheran Church’s Missouri Synod has suspended one of its own pastors for the offense of syncretism (i.e., “praying with pagans”). Shortly after Sept. 11, the Rev. David Benke took part in a service hosted by Rudy Giuliani at which non-Christians also worshipped. It seems passingly strange that a faith based on a savior who prayed with prostitutes and assorted heathen would censure such activities by its clergy.

Of course, similar sentiments were expressed locally by the spiritual morons who objected to the inclusive and tolerant tendencies that led Stamford’s Council of Churches to adopt a logo including symbols of all the major faiths. Apparently, when these local religious fanatics asked themselves the currently trendy question, “What would Jesus do?” they, like the Missouri Lutherans, decided he’d act like the Taliban, who couldn’t abide a statue of the Buddha in their country, or the rulers of Saudi Arabia, who won’t permit a cross inside their borders.

From the local to the international stage, the curtain never comes down in the theater of the absurd. After EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic with 217 passengers aboard, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the cause to be deliberate action by its Egyptian co-pilot. However, the Egyptian government deemed the NTSB’s conclusions offensive, because devout Muslims don’t commit suicide. So, to bolster relations with a “friendly” government that takes billions in U.S. aid, yet won’t even stand with us against Saddam Hussein, our government has muted its support for its own agency’s report.

Did I just wake up in the Bizarro World? Didn’t the events of Sept. 11 suggest that many devout Muslims have no problem flying aircraft into buildings, bodies of water or anywhere else that might cause innocents to be murdered? And don’t pious Hezbollah and Hamas killers routinely stroll into Israel in their Islamically fashionable dynamite vests, with their clergymen’s encouragements still ringing in their ears?

Perhaps the Koran does, in theory, oppose suicide, but this hasn’t prevented the foremost supporters of suicide bombers — our friends, the “moderate” Saudis — from praising them in their government-run media and conducting telethons on their families’ behalf. And their position as the fundamentalist guardians of Islam’s holiest sites hasn’t prevented the Saudis from funding scores of madrassas — Koran-based schools that graduate legions of murderous and suicidal Islamic extremists, both abroad and at home.

And finally, arriving back home, we’re confronted with ultraconservative John Ashcroft’s assertion that terrorism is being funded by Americans who use recreational drugs. Does anybody really believe that high school kids smoking dope are bankrolling Islamic Jihad?

Although clearly not Boy Scouts, the Taliban had actually curtailed Afghanistan’s heroin industry, but, since their ouster, we’ve looked the other way, and the poppy fields are blooming once again. Of course, there are practical political and economic reasons for permitting the Afghans to bring in a bumper crop of opium this fall, but we need to keep our sense of irony when right-wing TV ads start blaming terrorism on the pot smokers. At this juncture, the hypothesis that the drug trade funds terrorists is less clearly established than the fact that the war on terrorism is propping up the heroin trade.

According to a Rand Corporation report now being downplayed by the Bush administration, Saudi Arabia is providing more than just the foot soldiers in al-Qaida’s war on America. In truth, we fund terrorism each time we gas up our 10-mpg SUVs, and another tanker laden with petro dollars heads home to the House of Saud. Mohammed Atta’s ticket on Flight 11 was less likely bought with money from stoners’ payments to their suppliers than from no-lead pumped into Ford Explorers and Lexus mini-tanks.

Ironically, the Bush Administration exhibits more support for the loathsome Saudi regime than for energy conservation. The president has shown little enthusiasm for alternative energy research or for raising corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for vehicles, preferring that Americans shop till they drop in bus-sized gas guzzlers. Of course, this shouldn’t surprise anyone, given that the current administration was bought and paid for by the oil companies and includes so many oilmen — such as the Cheney and Bush families — who’ve made fortunes through their relationships with the Saudis, including the powerful bin-Ladin clan. Perhaps conflict of interest has lost all meaning.

Maybe we’ve lost both our sense of irony and our sense of outrage. But these days, we should at least keep our sense of humor — it might come in handy.


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