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Stateside with Rosalea: Bizzaroland

Stateside with Rosalea


To hell with the twin towers, where's my laundromat?!! Just half a block down the street was the scummiest, not-workingest collection of washers and driers you ever did see, and now the building's been gutted. Its only virtues were that it was close and that it provided a home for the old guy who shuffled around behind a broom now and then and gave you quarters to put in a second machine when the first one didn't spin. By "home" I mean he had a cot bed in back of the driers. I should have known something was up a couple of weeks back when I saw someone come and rip the toilet out of his little cubby hole out back. Gee - a flushing toilet, a cot, and warmth, that homeless guy was living in the lap of luxury.

I guess he was too old to get recruited by the contractors for airport security who, reportedly in one state at least, go to homeless shelters to get people to work for minimum wage safeguarding the nation's airports. The federal government didn't want to pay for security so the airlines farmed it out to the lowest bidder. And people say the free market doesn't work! In a land where irony and cynicism are officially dead, if one writer in 'Vanity Fair' is to be believed, it is a huge something-or-other-else that the twin pillars of capitalism were leveled by the operation of the competitive market at its purest and most basic. Pay little. Train less.

Now, of course, the airlines are saying they begged the federal government to get involved for years, and NO, they don't see why they should add a security tax on airline tickets to replenish the federal coffers. Golly, don't the feds know the excise tax and fuel tax is crippling them already? More and more, in every facet of life in this great nation, you see the same entrenched belief - THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES. It's a perversion of the idea of individual freedom and enterprise that the United States is founded on. "I can do what I want and not have to put any effort or sacrifice into it. If it's good for me it's good for everyone else too, dammit. I am entitled to boundless blessings without a bud of sweat breaking on my brow." Talk about lillies of the Field Poll - that's corporate America and politicians for you in this bizarre new world.

Since 911 (the US way of writing September 11th, and its emergency phone number), the news has only got more and more bizarre. Crop duster planes used in biological warfare? If what the plane is spreading is so deadly, the pilot would die loading the plane, because the whole point of crop dusters is that the chemicals aren't in any container other than the plane itself. At least the local Fox channel got a crop duster pilot to point that out. But here it is Sunday, Attorney General Ashcroft is on 'Face the Nation' saying "We talked seriously about crop-dusting aircraft", and veteran broadcaster Bob Scheiffer doesn't blink an eye.

Last Thursday I awoke to the news that later in the day the President would be announcing measures to make people feel safe flying again, including armed sky marshalls and giving the military the power to shoot down civilian planes. Great! I can't think of anything that would make me feel more safe on a plane than a cabin bristling with guns and the thought I could be shot out of the air any time. Where is the President buying his advice these days - Fools'R'Us? Or is that who he thinks he's talking to?

Cheney and Ashcroft should fall on their swords for their failure to prevent the events of 911. Ashcroft was warned weeks before that it wasn't safe to fly on commercial airliners - his own FBI insisted that he fly on a chartered plane. Cheney, clutching homeland security as tightly to his bosom as he does energy policy, should also pay for his failure to act on the information he had by resigning. But hey - this is the United States, land of the elected king who appoints cronies to Cabinet posts, and just keeps appointing more of them when things go awry. I bet there is not one country in the world that has a British-style parliamentary democracy - where Cabinet members are responsible to their fellow Cabinet members and to the parties that supported them as candidates for election - which would tolerate the continuation in office of people who so massively failed in their duties. Like I said, in the US there are no consequences, so long as you're powerful enough and have the media in your headlights.

As if the news events of the week weren't bizarre enough I then went to the anti-war rally in San Francisco on Saturday, and experienced real-life bizarre. There's a theme park near LA called Disney's California, where you can experience California without having to actually travel through it or getting a sweat up. That's what the anti-war rally was like - Disney's Protestland. There is no question that to get out on a stunningly beautiful day to a park full of people and puppets and music and inspiring talk to show that you're against scapegoating and bombing and US aggression is an uplifting thing to do. Gee, I even marched with the thousands around three blocks of the Mission District, where some SW Asian shopkeepers had had their windows broken.

But it smacked of protest tourism, and there were so many people with cameras - still and video - that people who'd come as sightseers found themselves becoming the sights. Not that the people and causes who had arranged the rally and march aren't serious and desperately needed, and not that they didn't make a killing by way of donations. The whole shebang was incredibly well organised, as protests usually are, but I wonder how many of the people there will be inspired to become really involved in protest and in redirecting the values this society has. They paid their money and they had a quasi-experience, just like at Disney's California. There's no harm in that, is there? Of course not, or they'd have had their heads cracked open like people in other countries do.

So now it's late Sunday morning and in my search for the unbizarre I am reduced to looking out my window at the annual "How Berkeley Can You Be" parade. It's led this year by the business association for the street I live on, whose peace float has "United We Stand" posters on it, and South Asian women and children on the back. The traditional music they are trying to dance to is drowned out by the marching band behind them, and the teenage girls among them are doing cheerleading moves instead.

On the side of the truck, their poster of Mahatma Gandhi shows him with his eyes closed. I bet he's wishing he was on an art car instead - the Buick of Unconditional Love, perhaps.

Lea Barker


Sunday, 30 September 2001

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