And the Winner Is . . . .
IT’S THE DAY AFTER the election.
Problem is, deadlines being what they are, at this writing I don't know who the next president is. They said it was going to be close.
Was it? Let's attempt to consider what might be going on in the inner circle of each candidate, supposing each had won.
IF GEORGE W. BUSH WON:
Phone calls are flooding into President-Elect George W.'s office from all the CEO's of the country's major corporations. George
W.'s eyebrows are in danger of darting off his head, so vivid are his attempts to appear wry and knowledgeable. "We won!" Corporate J. Bigwig's voice pops into the receiver. He's as excited as a Miss
America contestant. "Now you can just be good and keep your mouth shut about all that 'com-PAY-shun' nonsense, so we can reap all the rewards of our victory! "OUR victory?" George W. Asks meekly.
"I thought it was MY victory." "Sure, sure, kid," Bigwig laughs. "Ron Reagan said the same thing! Cute. Really cute. Now, here's our draft of your first speech to America - the one about
across-the-board tax cuts for the country's major corporations. . . ." "But I thought everyone was getting their taxes cut," George W. says. "Isn't that what you fellows wanted me to say
before?" Brief pause. "Uh, well, I can see this is going to take some work --- they said you weren't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but we didn't think you were another Dan Quayle, for crying out
loud," Bigwig says. "You remember him, don't you? The guy we hooked your old man up with?" "We used to play golf together," George W. says proudly. "And then we'd go out for a few beers
. . . ." "Don't even go there," Bigwig warns. "You just dress sharp and be on time for things, and we'll take care of the rest. Just try to keep your hands off that little red button in the oval
office, and try to memorize the names of world leaders in that little book we placed on your end table there." George W. takes the book. "NET UN YAHOO!" George W. giggles. "Sounds like a football
team mascot, doesn't it?" There's an enormous sigh on the other end of the receiver. "Oh, brother," Bigwig says.
IF AL GORE WON:
Al G. is sitting in his bathrobe near the sliding glass door of a patio overlooking some tall Tennessee pines in front of a bowl of
Grape Nuts. "You did it podnah!" It's Al G.'s old boss, Bill C. on the phone. "Air Force One stays in the family!" There is a pause, as Tipper G. checks a battery pack in Al G's chest. "Hold
on, Bill," she says into the receiver. "I have to change his battery." There is another brief pause as Bill intones in a somber voice, "You're going to have to stay up on that better, Tip,
even when y'all are both sitting around at home. People are gonna find out that he really is the GORE 2000 model that all bumper stickers talk about." "I will, Bill - here he is." Al G. jerks back
into animated movement, very similar to a living thing. He plants a big smooch on Tipper G., and she recoils slightly.
"I thought we had that kink worked out," she mutters to herself and hits a few buttons. Al G. gives her a grandmotherly peck
on the cheek. "That's the stuff," Tipper G. says. "Very presidential." Al G. picks up the phone. "Hey, Buddy!" Bill C. says. "You're in! Mi casa es su casa - literally - come
January 20th." Al G. looks intently straight ahead. "I will say this . . . ." he begins in a flat monotone. "Education is the birthright of every child in America. . . ." Tipper G. comes
over and whaps Al G. on the back of his head. "Come on," She says. "It's Bill." "Oh," Al. G Responds. "I thought you said Will - as in George Will.." Tipper motions for
Al G. to get with the program a little bit. Using a remote control, she brings a smile on Al G.'s face. "Hey, do I get to come to the inaugural ball?" Bill says. "I think I'll be free that night.
Since Hillary lost in New York, we'll be able to sell that drafty old place up there and get that double wide in the Ozarks I always dreamed of." "Yes, we'll party heavily," Al G. deadpans, as Tipper
hits the laugh-out-loud button on her remote, causing his head to begin shaking.
AND IN THE END:
Either scenario, we'll all get through it. And then, when things start to get rough; when the bull rampaging on Wall street get mauled
by the thick, heavy paws of the biggest, ugliest bear ever, people will begin to long for Bill Clinton, and wonder where all the jobs and peaceful prosperity went. And it will take a while for the realization to
take hold. But eventually it will. It will become clear to everyone one day that from 1992 to 2000, the country was run by one of the greatest presidents of all time. ~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Big Tobacco Inhales
THE OLD MAN had changed.
He was once strong and walked faster than anybody in the world. Now he was propped up on a hospital bed, looking small and frail. His
arms were narrow, the muscle all gone. His legs sticking out from under the sheets were as pale and translucent as a marble statue. On his face, he was taking in pure oxygen through a mask, but even with that, he
could barely breathe. His chest convulsed with every attempt to take air in, and he would grimace whenever he tried to take a deep breath. His lungs were filling up with fluid regularly by then.
Once in a while a nurse would come in and ask the people surrounding his bed to leave the room so she could insert a tube down his
throat and attempt to suction the yellowish fluid from his lungs. The sound of his agony when that happened was singularly horrifying. Everyone stood in the hallway, heads bowed in silence. Occasionally, someone
would sob. He wanted to refuse the suctioning treatments, but the sensation of not being able to breathe was worse in its own way. His eyes, which were once shiny and full of fun and life were dull and glazed over
from the pain medication he was on. The old man was clearly dying.
When his son walked into the room, the old man lifted the mask. It took nearly all his effort. What he said, in a voice that was a
barely audible rasp, told the story of why he was here. It was bitterly ironic, which was exactly like him: gallows humor, his stock in trade. What he said was this: "Anybody care for a cigarette?"
Within a few days, the old man was dead -- and I guess he wasn't that old, come to think of it. He was 65: the age when you're supposed
to retire, the fabled gateway to the "golden years." He didn't get any of those. Cigarettes robbed him of that chance. On his death certificate, the cause was listed as "Lung cancer from cigarette
Big tobacco companies have been in the news a lot lately. They're trying to put topspin on all those nasty stories that are coming out
about the knowledge they’ve had all along about the addictive properties of nicotine, and how they consciously went about the grim business of adding extra nicotine and Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH, a
known carcinogenic) to their product to give it more "kick" and to ensure loyalty among their customers. Their internally run tests showed them that what they produced was killing people, but they (to use
the parlance of the era) "clammed up" about it. Sales were brisk, people were being employed, it all had to be good for America.
As ridiculous as it seems now, advertisements used to feature American sports heroes touting cigarettes as "a healthy way to
relax." We know better now, but the alarming thing is -- more teenagers than ever are starting to smoke. Since I am the father of an impressionable teenage daughter, this concerns me. The peer pressure is
tremendous -- just the way Big Tobacco likes it. Who needs Joe Camel when you've got networks of friends working as little platoons of marketing soldiers out there, Zippo lighters at the ready?
The urge, of course is to take kids to terminal cancer wards, give them a little glimpse of the future. But would looking at the
gape-mouthed patients hooked up to breathing machines have any impact on an age group that figures it's immortal? How much could they relate to what they are seeing? They certainly could never picture this kind of
sad indignity ever coming their way, because their lung cancer is still decades away.
Decades pass quickly. You can't tell them that, either, of course.
In some lobbying literature, big tobacco companies claim to be "battling for their very life."
But somehow I get the feeling they're not battling as hard as my Dad did for his.
They're still here. He's all gone.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Here’s Some Money Now, But Don’t Expect Any When You’re 65
“Every time I try to dance,
The world steps on my toes.”
- Annie Ross
“Keep your retirement and your
So-called social security,
Big city turn me loose and set me free.”
- Merle Haggard
That little tax check that George Bush gave out to the American citizenry recently was the equivalent of a man in an expensive suit
giving a dollar bill to an aggressive beggar: forked over with the nervous, smiling hope that the beggar will not instead demand the whole wallet.
And now that the checks have been distributed and Americans are now able to purchase a few tanks of gasoline with all that money, the
bad news comes leaking out of the White House like corporate sewage into an unprotected lake about tapping into social security funds to buy bigger and better missiles.
And the stink of the deal can be smelled for miles. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that in the eight months since Bush
took office, the entire country has been sliding toward the abyss, and a few hundred bucks will do little to assuage the damage.
I noticed a “Bush-Cheney” bumper sticker recently on the back of a Ford Expedition that someone had attempted to scrape off, itself
a telling commentary.
What an insult to think that people would be brightened up about the relatively meager check, especially when you read the fine print
on the deal and discover that according to the new tax charts, many people will be paying more than two hundred dollars more per month than they used to for (ironically enough) social security and withholding.
Within a few months, Uncle Sam will get back every dime he magnanimously distributed.
Meanwhile, those new tax charts are incredibly favorable to big business. According to “In These Times” writer David Moberg,
certain industries such as oil (no big surprise there), electronics, and motor vehicles will benefit most, cutting their taxes by 42 to 65 percent. Another tax escape route permits corporations to write off stock
options for employees (mainly top-dog executives) as business expenses for tax purposes, even though they are not counted as expenses when calculating profits. The result? Last year neither Microsoft nor Cisco
Systems, two of the wealthiest corporations in the country, paid any federal income tax. As Bill Gates and H. Laurence (CEO of Amoco) wipe off their greasy chins and fold their napkins on their plates, middle-class
American taxpayers are picking up the tab and calculating the tip.
How much longer can Big Business and Wall Street expect to be pulled around in their golden rickshaws by the average American worker?
In the end, a lot of backs are going to be sore and these golden parachute executives are going to find themselves up-ended in the mud of corporate revolt, as they slash thousands from their payrolls while decrying
the diminishing loyalty of the American worker
©Mark Andel 2001
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"Ira started drinking hard,
And jail was often his home.
They'd let him raise the flag and lower it
Like you'd throw a dog a bone."
- "Ira Hayes" by Oliver LaFarge
"What happened? We were winning when I left."
- Viet Nam Veteran bumper sticker
IRA HAYES, THE SUBJECT of the above quote, was a Pima Indian and a United States Marine, who had the curious distinction of being
photographed helping raise the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, which became one of the most celebrated victorious poses of World War II, eventually being cast in bronze as a Washington D.C. war monument. Hayes couldn't
fathom the fame that came his way later, and he started to drink heavily. One night he drowned by passing out dead drunk in a ditch, utterly alone. The symbol was lauded and remembered, the man eventually ignored
Now that another Memorial Day has come and gone, another day of soldiers "taking their fortitude out of moth balls and parading it
around the streets of our cities," as Frank Morgan's Wizard of Oz remarked, it must be difficult for young people to appreciate the sacrifices that service men have made and continue to make for their country.
This is one of the first generations that grew up knowing nothing but peace. Desert Storm and Kuwait and Baghdad were something to be
sure, but it seems that they were fought largely by remote control, doesn't it? There were no dog soldiers tramping around in the mud, watching their buddies get blown to bits next to them. There was no year-long
struggle, and no nightly body count on the evening news.
Imagine the young soldiers coming back from Viet Nam after serving a full year in East Hell, confused, shell-shocked, and all of
nineteen years of age, being spat upon by people their age as they got off a plane. Where were the parades? Where was the glory? When a soldier is hunkering down in the blackness of night with nothing but a tin of
dry crackers, covered in foreign soil and hearing blazing bits of hot metal whizzing near his helmet, it must be difficult to think about the abstract concepts of glory and honor and country.
And yet many do. Many have.
We need to think about them a little bit and thank them whenever we get the chance.
I heard a simple, terribly moving speech this Memorial Day by a small-town mayor. He thought it might be a good idea to put some
flowers on a soldier's grave - any soldier, not just a blood relative. And further, to look for a soldier's grave that didn't have any flowers, the places "where someone might have forgotten their soldiers, or
perhaps already joined them in death."
It seemed like a good idea, an idea that doesn't even need to happen just on Memorial Day itself.
Whenever I see a soldier in uniform these days, I can't help but notice that they are, by and large, smooth-faced,
pink-eared teenagers. Teenagers helped win World War II, for crying out loud. If you take a look at the MTV generation these days, it's frightening to think what may happen next time around. Yet some will
answer when muster is called.
And there will be a next time, won't there? Politicians and Wall Street and Big Business all like war too much for it not to happen.
Recalling the Lyndon Johnson remark to his cohorts, "Just get me elected and you can have your damn war" still sends a chill up my neck.
Recently the brother of my father-in-law came to visit him at the Lakeside V.A. hospital. Billy Jack Horton and Tommy Horton served on
the U.S.S. Toledo in the Korean War, and they told all the old stories once again, one last time. Billy's voice is a rasp now, and he can barely breathe.
The corridors at the V.A. are full of soldier boys grown old now, their days of having a jaunty cigarette dangling from their mouths
gone forever. The names came back to Billy Jack and Tommy, the stories of ports of call, ship-board fights, card games, loading big guns and being made partially deaf by one of them. They were brothers who decided
to serve their country together. And now Billy's getting ready to say good-bye.
And one day in the future, when my wife and I visit this old soldier's resting place, I will seek out another soldier's grave, and I
will hang an ivy garland there. ~
©Mark Andel 2001
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MANY YEARS AGO, office workers across America would take advantage of the newly invented photocopying machine to make copies of
cartoons to share with fellow employees. Among some of the early classics were three rounded figures rolling around laughing above a caption that read, "YOU WANT IT WHEN?" This tapped into the unrealistic
demands of management, and was an anonymous (and therefore safe) rebel yell against the establishment. Another favorite featured two vultures sitting on a branch, with one saying to the other, "Patience,
hell. I'm going to kill something." This one plugged into the mentality of the dissatisfied office worker who felt stalled in his career and helpless to make things happen.
Nearly fifty years later, people are still circulating bits of so-called office humor around to each other, only their reach is global
now, thanks to the Internet and e-mail, and the barrage is more constant and unrelenting.
There are some true gems available for the downloading, but more often than not, the song remains the same, and can be
THE HEART-WARMING STORY:
These e-mails are big Jack Canfields full of Chicken Soup for the Soul strained through hyper text protocols everywhere, with oodles of noodles and meaty chunks about about kids, dogs, old people, and "getting back to what's important." They relate a feel-good story designed to "make your day" and make you feel wonderful about the human race, or to make you think about finding the nearest exit ramp out of the rat race.
These have come about because of an overwhelming and probably universal dissatisfaction with the banality of the way most of us
spend our lives, jabbering on cell phones and getting dressed up to board a train to go sit in a cubicle somewhere, for which we get a piece of paper every two weeks or so which we sign and put into a bank so we can
write out other pieces of paper to send to people who want and expect us to continue this practice every month. The poet Gary Snyder calls it, 'trading all our precious time for things." The heart-warming
story, when copied and sent to someone's mailing list, is a way for the sender to appear tuned into the dilemmas of a modern, up-and-at-'em life, and the receiver of said e-mails is probably too busy trading
his precious time for things to download it, giving it a passing glance before hitting the delete button.
When you look at a volume called "Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul," you have to wonder a little bit about what
future generations will make of this one. What's next? "Chicken Soup for the Sequel Whore's Soul?"
There are many of these, such as "Why a Dog is Better Than a Wife," "Why a Chocolate Sundae is Better Than a Husband," and "Why Beer is Better than a Husband or Wife." You name it, there's probably a tongue-in-cheek list for it, slowly making its way to your e-mail box now.
THE "BEST OF" JOKES:
These are, admittedly, my favorites. They cull some of the best material from top comedians and writers and present it in litany fashion. There's Letterman's Top Ten Lists, Henny Youngman's one-liners, Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might Be a Redneck If . . . ." and the best Rodney Dangerfield one-liners, which is one that I have sent around to people. I remember Rodney playing on Sullivan years ago, and hearing the high-pitched chuffing laughter of my Dad, relating to the "I get no respect" patois. Rodney was great. Rodney is great. These e-mails stand in sharp contrast to:
THE LONG DRAWN-OUT JOKES:
Sometimes the punch line just isn't worth it. The long joke forces a laugh at a predictable place, which can be deadening. If you have ever been through listening to a joke that goes on forever, you can relate to this type of e-mailed joke. What's good is you don't have to fake smile through it while reading it.
THE POLITICAL LAMBASTING:
Perhaps the most dangerous and inflammatory of all the new "office humor" pieces, since they have the power to make you re-evaluate friendships in some cases. There has been a good long-standing reason to avoid politics as a subject in polite conversation, and passing along something extremely right wing or left wing should come with a warning on the label: "know your audience." I just got an e-mail second-hand that said, "Thank you Bill Clinton for making Richard Nixon look honest." I felt like spraying air freshener into the hard drive.
That being said, I love e-mail. What a great invention! Write a response to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe I'll send you some
Dangerfield stuff when I can.
You want it when? ~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Practical Jokes and Prison Cells
“Seems we’ve lost the way to find
All the good times we found before.
We used to laugh a lot,
Things aren’t funny anymore.”
- Merle Haggard
At the height of the anthrax scare last week, the unopened package left on my porch threw off a scary, insidious vibe. It rattled me a
little. Prior to that, the scariest thing I had ever gotten delivered was the thick Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope with the drawing of crazy old Ed McMahon on it. And now there was this to deal with.
I was watching CNN and counting the number of times the word “anthrax” was being said by one anxious newscaster after another
(around a dozen times per minute) when I heard the mailman out there, dropping the kraft-wrapped package on top of the mailbox like a summons. The label was nicely typed, but there was no return address. Bad sign.
When people are afraid of their own mail, we know that the American way of life has changed dramatically. One of the stated goals of
bin Laden’s terrorist manifesto is to make sure that Americans never again enjoy the sense of security they once knew. On that particular front in this ill-defined war, the Taliban is clearly winning, and we are
all at a loss as to what it means when Tom Ridge, our portly Chief of Homeland Security with the Fred Flintstone haircut, goes on television and deadpans, “Americans need to continue to be Americans.”
I hadn’t really been planning to behave as anything other than that, although I did turn Japanese for a while in the Eighties.
Perhaps the most upsetting aspect of this new anthrax threat is the horrifying thought that it might have come from someone totally
unconnected to bin Laden or the Taliban. We like it so much better when our enemy has a face and an identity. We are utterly defenseless against random kooks out there who decide to wreak havoc because the world
didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to or who get the urge to do terrible things just to see what would happen next.
Since the anthrax situation arose, there have been several reports of people sending envelopes of baby powder and cornstarch to people
with cryptic notes attached. Some have been doing it as misguided and twisted practical jokes and some have been doing it out of hatred and revenge, such as the woman who sent flowers to the finance manager of a car
dealership over the weekend with an envelope filled with talcum powder and a note saying that it was anthrax and not to mistake it for that packet of powdery stuff that the florist includes to keep the flower
Practical jokes can be very funny. But this is not funny at all.
Anyone who gets it in their head to mail an envelope of powder in order to freak out a friend or ex-boss of theirs should be punished
as though the contents of the envelope did contain the deadly powder. In these days of copycat crimes and the hypnotic power of nonstop televised news, we don’t need to lightly hand slap the perpetrators while
basking them in the bright arc lights of the all-consuming media. We need for them to go quietly to jail for a good long while. The same goes for the people who try to strike genuine fear into someone like a finance
manager at a car dealership. Try calling the better business bureau instead. Or try looking more closely at your contract before you sign it next time.
It is difficult to know how or when this nation will be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. We are told that it may take
twenty years or so to eliminate the threat of terrorism. I’m thinking that it will take much longer, and that it might ultimately be something that we will just deal with intensely for a while and then forget
about, like we all seem to have done with nuclear bomb attacks. We know the scourge is out there, even as we know that the grim reaper awaits us all, but let’s enjoy the Bears season anyway, and let’s plan our
Thanksgiving celebrations and hope that we don’t accelerate this war effort too much and wind up turning our home planet into something like the moon: a great big ashtray.
Given the hundred of thousands of landmines in Afghanistan, stepping up a ground war would only serve to rip apart a lot of
twenty-year-old kids, and force the government to ship the pieces home to their parents just in time for the holidays.
It’s an ugly business any way you look at it.
But those who would make it uglier by attacking fellow Americans because of some private agenda or in order to create a stir should not
go unpunished, and should certainly not be rewarded with attention.
I approached the package on the porch gingerly, and tore a corner of it. The contents slid out at my feet. My Book-of-the-Month club
selection. I was glad to see it.
We all need diversions now.
And who doesn’t love a mystery?
©Mark Andel 2001
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The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
THE DEBATE HAS gone on for some time about the merits of SAT tests for evaluating someone’s academic qualifications for
college, and it seems to me that talk about “handicapping” scores to ensure higher scores for minorities represents a supreme insult to them and the worst kind of attack on their heritage.
As a nation, we have worked so hard against segregation. Why would we now offer a series of separate exams to minorities to make
sure they are equally represented in colleges and universities? It reeks of lowering the bar to be more accommodating – what George Bush has called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Of course I can’t
presume to speak for minorities, but I believe that I would take one long hard look at that imperious hand offered to me by the White establishment and decline it wholeheartedly and unequivocally. “I can make it
just fine on my own merits,” would be my stern reply.
I taught English at Wright College as an adjunct lecturer for three years, and I can state with certainty that the capacity to
gather and register the information offered and to complete the assigned work had nothing to do with the hue of what poet Theodore Roethke would call a student’s “epidermal dress.” Can you imagine a teacher
doling out assignments for course work and assigning easier tasks for the African American students in class? It’s absurd and outrageous to contemplate, but that’s precisely what some of the SAT debaters are
Some students have personal difficulties, of course, and sometimes those difficulties prevent full devotion to the topic at hand.
For example, if you are a part-time waitress with two small children at home and you have to decide whether to finish reading Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in the library or to get home and feed your two kids before
6:00 p.m. because that’s when the sitter has sadistically decided to bill you double for the next hour, well, that is the stuff of life – and many students (especially in city colleges) go through the struggle
every day. God bless them – whatever color they are. And if you are a high-school-age person involved in a hectic family situation, well, perhaps that accounts for some problems at school.
Does the SAT committee make allowances for family difficulties when they come up with their arcane list of multiple choice
questions? Do they throw in questions like, “You have a paper due the next day on the function of fog in Eugene O’Neil’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ and you’re on the Lake-Dan Ryan el and you need
to reach Angelo’s Pizza before 5:00 p.m. with your ten coupons for a free small cheese, and you also need to reach a currency exchange on Irving Park Road before they close at 5:00 p.m. Do you: (A) Pick up the
pizza first and then go to the currency exchange and then apologize for the soggy crust when you have to microwave the pizzas when you get home and try to read the play in bed later; (B) Call the sitter and explain
that you got tied up in traffic and squeeze in some library time doing research on Eugene O’Neil’s east coast life experiences relating to fog horns and pick up a Zagnut and Mountain Dew out of the college’s
vending machines for your dinner and hope that the sitter remembers to take the meatballs out of the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee because your son Brian doesn’t like them; or (C) Pick up the Books-On-Tape version of ‘Long
Day’s Journey’ read by Jason Robards and listen to it in the car on the way to the currency exchange, and phone your friend Lucia to have her pick up the pizzas for you and join you for dinner and then offer the
coupons to her as a gift for being such a dear (?)
What I’m driving at, I suppose, is that based on my experience, the issues faced by students and the families of prospective
college students are strictly socioeconomic and not race-related in the least. People with the luxury of spending as much time as they wish at the library are blessed. I’m convinced that all those old guys you see
at the library now are the ones who were under the gun when they were college students and never got to hang out there too much.
I recall studying for my two-day Master’s exam at DePaul University and my 20-year-old wife was having what she thought were
contractions. Our daughter’s due date was two months into the future. I spent many nights studying in a nursery under the watchful gaze of Care Bears on the wallpaper near shelves painted in a color called
“kumquat.” That night I was torn between boning up on Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” and going to the ER. The contractions subsided. I passed the DePaul test, but on my young wife’s “husband
test” I didn’t fare as well.
The very idea that African Americans need an academic boost when competing with Euro-Americans should be regarded as an affront.
What all young people competing to get into college need are stable homes and time to hit the books without distraction and dysfunction. Any racially driven determination by the SAT committee is an insult.
But then, I’m surprised that the new breed of physical powerhouse women still use “Ladies Tees” at golf courses, which also
seems rather imperious. I suppose the shorter tees make it easier for them to collect on their Nassau side bets with the men – which makes that also a socioeconomic issue.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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The Deeper Value of the Confederacy
"He was veteran proud, tried and true,
He'd fight till his heart was black and blue."
- David Allen Coe
ON MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY, twenty-some thousand people marched on the Capital of South Carolina to protest the
waving of the Confederate Flag above the courthouse. None of the protesters necessarily felt that the state of South Carolina had been mistreating them in any way or that there were any equal rights issues boiling
over that required someone to remove the hot lid and stir things up. But that flag up there peeved them, and they wanted it taken down.
Everyone knows what the flag looks like. As flags go, it's a smart, snappy design: a red background and two blue crosses forming an
"X" with white stars on the blue banners. The flag says, "rebel," and "The Confederacy" to many of the lawmakers in Columbia, and to many residents of South Carolina, it says,
It's difficult to look at the flag and not feel emotion of some kind. Some flags do that to you: the Nazi swastika, the Union
Jack of Great Britain, the Jolly Roger, and Old Glory herself. Flags are meant to stir souls. When the cause is abhorrent, the emotion is strong indeed. It's no secret why flags are carried so fervently into battle,
and that the soldier carrying the flag is being accorded a great honor, even though it's akin to painting on a ten-foot target and disarming yourself.
My parents lived in Nashville, Tennessee for a good long time. My brother has lived outside of Knoxville, Tennessee for twenty years. I
lived near the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee for a while myself, writing a little column down there called "Easy Mark" for a little newspaper. My brother's accent is pure Southern, and so are the accents of
his wife and kids. His wife's family owned the land there where many Southern boys carried the family name of Eldridge into the Civil War and right into their graves. When the Eldridge family looks at the
Confederate flag, what comes to their minds are the boys who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for everything that the South meant to them. It was a fledgling country to them, a whole country broken
off from the Union, and they fought to keep it alive, fought with all they had.
Keeping the Confederate flag around makes them all very proud of their heritage, and keeps alive the thought that over a hundred years
ago, before the Union itself was even a hundred years old, there was a chance for them to start their own country, a country based on their ideals. It was not a joke to them, and the stakes were unbelievably high.
Many Southerners feel that giving up all remnants of their proud past would be like admitting to being ashamed of who they were and relegating their relatives to a closet that nobody speaks of, a shameful legacy of
bigotry and misguided notions.
But there is something deeper and more meaningful to the Confederacy, and the issue of slavery was not the only reason the Civil War
It's important to remember that. It's doubtful slavery would have lasted much longer than it did anyway, with or without a war. The
South is a distinct state of mind and way of life, and it is such a vastly different way of life that it merits the thought of being separated from the North and all of its cell phones and hurried, harried ways.
When I worked there, I would use an afternoon to grab a Moon Pie and an Orange Ne-Hi and sit on a bench in the square of Dandridge, the
small town where I lived. People would say hello and ask me how long I thought the heat would hold up. Little kids always called adults "Sir" and "Ma'am." I would arrive at work with a beer in my
hand and my editor would say to me, "Hey! Get me one!" And there was an honored sign in the square which spoke of the "Battle of Dandridge." Once a year, an old Southern gentleman by the name of
Cleve Smith would tell the tale of Battle to the folks who assembled to listen, dressed in Confederate gray wool. By the time Cleve got to the end of his story, his eyes were moist. If you asked Cleve what the
Confederate flag means to him, you'd get an earful all right.
It's okay that the South is different, but with the K-Marting of America, all places are starting to look the same. And yet, there's a
deep reverence to the place, a sensation that this is indeed hallowed ground. Men fought and died for what they believed in here. My brother's house is on an old road where a brigade of Southern soldiers once
marched toward their deaths. One early morning there, as the fog enshrouded the hills, my brother said that if you peered into the fog like you really meant it, you could almost make out the Johnny Reb hats and hear
the jangle of spurred boots in the distance. The hair stood up on my neck. The buried dead are close to Southerners, much closer than they are to Northerners.
The Confederate flag honors those dead boys. It should remain.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Pretzel Attacks President: Terrorism Ruled Out
Imagine losing a President to a pretzel.
It could have happened, conceivably, especially if the pretzel in question that President Bush choked on while watching the
Baltimore-Miami playoff game on television Sunday afternoon alone in his room was one of those thick Rold Gold rods or a big no-salt Bavarian Baldie. You munch one of those the wrong way and you could suffer a rare
form of malted barley inhalation complications that could be deadly.
Early reports neglected to say whether the pretzel in question was of the soft variety found on skewers under glass at Target stores
and K-Marts and carnivals, but Bush strikes me as more of a hard pretzel guy, who eats ‘em straight out of the cellophane bag. The image of President Bush eating pretzels while watching a football game on
television strikes me as strangely comforting. Of all the things he could be doing as President, he is pretty much electing to do what most of us do on the weekend: eat junk and watch the game. It’s fun. It’s
cheap. His wife was talking on the phone in the other room at the time Bush lost consciousness for a few seconds. How everyday normal Americana is that?
Reports indicated that when the President revived himself and rubbed the knot on his head where he hit the coffee table, his dog was
“looking at him funny,” another wholly believable concept. Dogs have a way of cocking their heads and looking worrisome if their human guardian’s behavior is the slightest bit out of the ordinary. A heroic
spin would have been if the dog licked his face in order to bring him to, but frankly that’s a little too “Lassie.”
The actor and former English professor Denis Leary does a comedy routine about the human tendency to joke about death when it occurs in
strange, serendipitous ways. Leary imagines a poodle falling from a window of a New York skyscraper, accidentally killing a blameless and hapless person walking by. The family is just as grief-stricken as if the man
had suffered a coronary, but the media get hold of the story, and it becomes the capper news item: the one they use to send the audience away laughing. The man becomes known as “Poodle Guy,” and people e-mail
the story to each other with a little note that says, “Thought this was pretty funny.”
If the Bush events turned tragic, imagine the videotape that would have emerged of bin Laden sitting around with his cronies, laughing
and congratulating each other about the great American President succumbing to a fragment of a pretzel. Some sick soul would hatch a plan to mail fragments of Bavarian baldies to their enemies in the Senate and
House. The country would be put on highest of high alerts, and scholars on CNN would begin discussing Hitler, the terrorist deluxe, in connection to his Bavarian homeland, the birthplace of the evil pretzel.
The search for meaning would be formidable, circular, and nonsensical.
Which is pretty much how it has been for several months anyway as far as recent discussions of world events are concerned.
On a more serious note, however, people do choke to death or suffer ignominious deaths every day, and the numbers are pretty
astonishing. According to the National Safety Council, twice as many people choke to death every year than are killed by accidental gun handling, roughly one per one-hundred thousand people. Car accidents kill
around seventeen people out of 100,000 every year.
If you have ever been in the presence of someone actively choking, it is a truly frightening thing to witness. It begins with a look of
complete and utter surprise. And then the fingers clutch at the throat before the arms begin flailing and the face turns a shade of light violet. And then comes the solemn nod when asked if choking is indeed
occurring before the quick and clumsy attempt at a passable Heimlich maneuver.
Incidentally, there’s a web site that gives a play-by-play on how to do the Heimlich the right way, complete with illustrations
at www.learn2.com. It might be worth a look.
It occurred to me that it’s too bad President Bush gave up drinking.
Washing pretzels down is the reason they invented beer.
©Mark Andel 2002
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Video Games or Military Training Simulators?
DAVE GROSSMAN IS a military officer and professor at West Point. His job is to teach young men to kill.
The problem in World War II, according to Mr. Grossman, was getting soldiers to shoot their weapons in the heat of battle. A study
indicated that only about fifteen percent of soldiers in combat at the time discharged their weapons, and action needed to be taken to improve a soldier’s willingness to send burning metal fragments through the
vital organs of complete strangers, thus ending their lives.
The military came up with a way to make the killing more efficient, to raise the “firing rate,” which is the percentage of soldiers
who would actually fire their gun when confronted. It entailed simulations. The goal, according to Mr. Grossman, was to depersonalize the target, to teach quick response without thought, to teach soldiers
reflexively to squeeze their triggers to dispose of the target immediately in front of them. And before thinking too hard about questions of life and death, soldiers were trained to prepare for the next target, to
clear their minds immediately and let God sort ‘em out.
And video games were born. Simulations based on the arcade favorite of shooting pop-up targets with BB guns to win cheap stuffed
animals were enacted to train marines on their way to Viet Nam. Targets were depersonalized completely. Soldiers would shoot one silhouette of a sinister enemy likeness, and another would pop up, demanding to be
disposed of. Points were accumulated based on “kills,” and the American competitive spirit was kicked into high gear. The shooting gallery simulations were suddenly “fun,” and the result? An improvement to
ninety-five percent of soldiers firing directly at the enemy in Viet Nam.
Many of today’s video games, so well-loved by teenagers, games such as the James Bond “Goldeneye 007” and “Doom” are combat
training at its purest, most-perfected form. Mr. Grossman calls them “operant conditioning firing ranges with pop-up targets and immediate feedback, just like those used to train soldiers in modern armies.” And
that’s not all.
Mr. Grossman adds: “We are reaching that stage of desensitization at which the inflicting of pain and suffering has become a source
of entertainment; vicarious pleasure rather than revulsion. We are learning to kill, and we are learning to like it.”
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were pretty good at “Doom.” Mike Carneal, the 14-year-old kid who shot into a prayer group in
Kentucky killing three people, was known for his video game expertise. Carneal never fired an actual pistol until that day, but on that day, he fired it eight times, hitting eight people, wounding three mortally.
That’s much more efficient shooting than most police officers can muster, probably because they don’t practice as much as Carneal did.
In video games shooters are rewarded. There are voice-over congratulatory remarks, and if kill ratios are especially high, shooters are
given extra “lives,” in case an enemy happens to hit them. That means they can press a button, and the game is on again, right where they fell. They spring back up, fully armed and ready to do battle, killing
every moving thing in their path.
In real life, there is no button to press to bring anyone back. No one springs up after they fall. No one wins.
Video games involving shooting at “live” targets are not games at all. They are military training devices, and there’s a
generation of little killers out there, becoming expertly desensitized, slouching toward another American town to be born.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Who Wants To Vote
For a Multi-Millionaire?
NOW THAT DARVA CONGER, the woman who competed to marry the troubled rich man with the Flintstones name "Rick Rockwell" has
had her fifteen minutes and her write-up in the Enquirer (Darva was a Teenage Wild Child!) another kind of fascination with big bucks is taking hold. It has to do with upcoming elections, and the ability of
candidates to spend multi-millions in advertising to land them a job that pays what an average corporation pays its middle managers.
George W. Bush burned through bushels of cash already, spending $60 million out of a $70 million war chest, and as they used to say in
the greed-is-good Eighties, when Dad was running things, "The night is still young." They also used to say this: "There's plenty more where that came from." And there is. Lobbyists and Big
Business will spend freely when it comes to putting someone in the White House that they feel will protect their interests. It doesn't much matter who it is -- as long as they can be molded like Play-Do. George W.
probably looked long and hard at Dad's choice of running mate back then, and said to himself, "I'm at least as bright as that muffin-head from Indiana. Maybe I have a chance after all!"
The cash situation is pretty much out of control. Shawn Donnelly is a candidate for some relatively obscure congressional office, and
she spent $1.9 million of her grandpa's Donnelly Publishing money to get elected. There must be nothing like the feeling of getting elected to something. It must be ten times better than a hot fudge sundae. Look at
Steve Forbes, another guy who has thrown millions and millions of dollars into the ring only to throw in the towel later when it became clear that no matter how badly he wanted to be President, we wanted just as
badly for him to be quiet and go back to his cherry-paneled New York office. If Forbes simply offered $500 cash per vote, it might have been another matter. And then after he was elected, he and his Big Business
Republican buddies could have taken it all back from the sucker working class with tax increases. You could almost see them all lighting cigars with thousand dollar bills afterwards, and of course, Steve Forbes
would be the one choking on the smoke and saying, "My Goodness."
The question we have to ask is, if someone is that frivolous with their war chest money, how fiscally responsible would they be with
our money? For president, I'd want someone who accounted for every dollar, and who scrutinized every purchase with a keen, appraising eye. Someone who would say, "Do we really need that F-15 missile now, or can
it wait a few weeks?" Someone very much like my wife, who actually was an accountant in a previous life about ten years ago before the Internet bug bit her.
Of course, the Presidential race is more of a popularity contest than anything else these days, and it has been that way ever since
Nixon debated Kennedy. There was Nixon, upper lip sweating, big dark circles under his eyes from trying to bone up on issues late into the night before, with a stammering delivery that spelled doom because across
the podium was the ultra-cool John Kennedy, looking like he had just stepped off the 18th green and was awaiting his first scotch and soda.
Americans want the cool guy every time, someone who embodies the physically fit but super-chic meat-eaters that everyone who gets
behind the wheel of an SUV believes they are - and that includes a lot of voters.
Accountant types can grab a number and get in line behind Mr. Paul Tsongas over there. We want John Wayne! The Duke for President! Or
at least a baseball team owner! Ain't that America, by golly?
What is happening, of course, is very un-American. And that is, the process of choosing a qualified individual who can win the race is
being tainted by all the big money. Voters instinctively get behind a horse they think can win the race, and the person of modest means, no matter how talented he or she may be, will never be given a fair shake
again. Do you believe that Abe Lincoln would stand a chance these days? A default royalty and elite class is being created, and our presidents will, of necessity, be chosen from that genetic pool of rich men, by
rich men, and for rich men.
George W. has become the heir apparent to another George who once ruled this green and pleasant land. Maybe after a while, we'll be
served up George the Third as a candidate. When that happened in England, Americans revolted.
What's next? Taxation without representation?
Or maybe Rick Rockwell for President. ~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Will Pregnant Chads Give Birth to a New President?
I HAVE TO CONFESS: the first time I heard the phrase "Pregnant Chad" I
thought it was the latest Billy Crystal movie.
Would that it were. It would have been a lot easier to ignore that way.
Billy Crystal movies have become sort of "brands" in a way --- much like Robin Williams movies. If I have to endure that
mopey, saccharine expression on Robin's face as he confronts a "difficult life issue" one more time, I'm asking for a recount on his Best Actor Oscar for "Good Will Hunting."
But about these pregnant chads? These are those ballots that have votes partially cast on them in that when they were poked at by those
little old ladies in Florida, the paper didn't come all the way out, but merely indented the place on the ballot that said Gore-Lieberman.
The issue at hand being dealt with down there last week by frighteningly irate placard-carrying Republicans is whether or not these
votes should be counted. At issue also is the "Hanging Chad," which is not the Oprah Book Club Selection of the Month, but which is the portion of the ballot which did not detach completely, even though it
is clear that someone attempted to poke it all the way out. Why these shouldn't be counted is beyond me. After all, people weren't using ratchet reamers and power tools to vote, were they? You figure a poke is equal
to a vote.
Where I voted, chads were moot. You just colored in a box next to the guys you wanted to win, like using crayons in kindergarten. And
in my county, people spoiling their ballots were among the lowest in the nation. Never mind the fact that I just voted for Irish-sounding names like I usually do when it came to the County Coroner position and
things like that. Although there was a guy running for State Representative I shook hands with on the train platform and decided not to vote for him because of it. When he gripped my hand, I felt this vibe that he
was potentially evil, plus he had faked-up pictures of his family on his brochure. I hate that stuff.
When I consider the voters in Florida, I can't help visualizing older folks entering the booths with some difficulty, eyes straining to
see the names, veined fingers shaking, white heads muddled by morning prescriptions, as they undertook the valiant attempt to vote. And this group will vote every election, because that's the reason they fought on
all those battlefields all over the world. No punk in a striped tie should be able to tell them that they screwed up, and that their vote is no good now because they didn't press hard enough.
Their effort should be counted --- but looking on the other side of the chad, it is incumbent on voters to tell the people at the
polling place whether they got confused when they stabbed at the Pat Buchanan spot on the ballot.
Perhaps they were simply so enraged at seeing his name on a ballot that they unconsciously took the equivalent of a voodoo doll motion
toward the name.
"Take that, you smarmy Right-Wing so-and-so!" (So-and-so is a favorite expression among aging Floridians - I took an exit
poll. Plus, they adore Billy Crystal and Robin Williams.)
If the voodoo scenario holds any water, chances are those Buchanan chads fell all the way out.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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