Stateside with Rosalea Barker
911 Antidote – 37 Cents From US Post
Ever had one of those moments when you wish the Red Sea would open up and swallow you? Charlton Heston apparently hasn't or he wouldn't have done that cringingly egotistical video this week about how he's got symptoms consistent with the early stages of Alzheimer's. Who on earth - or in heaven - does he think he is? John Ashcroft must've been disappointed, but. He was probably counting on the posse-master of the National Rifle Association to head the 20-day hunting season on people from the Middle East that will run from 11 September until October 1st.
I believe it's even called "A Ben Hur Open Rally and Roundup of Every Nut-brown Traveler" (ABHORRENT), so Mr A must be truly frustrated that CH can't remember where he put the keys to the chariot. As conjoined twains go, the iconic images this week of Heston and Hussein holding their rifles aloft and implicitly intoning "From my cold, dead hands" were enough to give people of every political persuasion a bad case of the Most Vile virus.
But I must not make light of illnesses - o'erweening arrogance in particular. One day the imaginary imp who precedes me everywhere in life might run out of banana skins to strew in my path when my own self-importance gets puffed out of all proportion. It pays to remember that even the best thing since sliced bread ends up as toast some day, as Maurice Bennett's Elvis artwork proves. It and he got the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle's online edition on Friday. What a clever pixie!!
Earlier in the week the Waco Kid was seen bouncing from table to table at his economic forum, but he'd already been undercut by media making fun of the way he's always now posed in front of banners with a catch-phrase on them, like "Corporate Responsibility".
His communications adviser said in a TV interview it was because the substance of the President's message was often ignored by the media. Unfortunately, the remedy has only worsened the illness. At best the ruse makes Mr B look like he has a bad case of Tiger envy - the words being a substitute for Nike's flash. At worst, it looks like a videographic negative of a long-running TV commercial for cell-phones in which corporate types sitting in an airport lounge desperately try to download data to their laptops and have words like "scapegoat" tattooed on their foreheads.
In the video negative, the words invisibly written on Mr Bush's forehead are "File not found". Who needs bad press when you can have a White House communications adviser!
A challenging part of the week for me was to see someone articulate clearly and sensibly why we (the United States) should not go to war in Iraq. It was on Jim Lehrer's 'News Hour' and the challenge was that the person saying the things I agree with, making criticisms I would make, and using "we" to mean the people of the United States is an Arab. To my shock and disappointed surprise that is how I thought of him. An Arab. Not an Arab-American. Not an American. An Arab. An Other. Someone of the same group that hurts ordinary people like me. A group that even now is plotting hideous, shadowy deeds, hinted at in every news bulletin. That was honestly my first reaction.
When I went to London in June, a friend asked me what it was like to be visiting there. "It's like escaping Nazi Germany," I said without thinking, and recounted the anecdotes I've heard from Arab acquaintances here about how their lives have changed - in many small ways - since September 11.
I felt a bit silly, as if I was overstating the case, but now I'm not so sure. It's not just the real-world stimuli of the senses that creates the moral universe in which we live - it's the stimuli of what we imagine is possible. It is a sick, sick government - anywhere in the world - that seeks to disseminate mass paranoia so that people automatically recoil from a group perceived as "other" and mete out their own punishment, or silently accede to cruel and unusual punishment meted out by their government.
Well, some of my best friends are people, and if the price of freedom of thought is eternal vigilance, then vigilant-y I will be.
At least, living in the Bay Area, I have an excellent antidote to the Vilification virus, in the form of KRON4. Right from the first few months since that channel lost its affiliation with network giant NBC, it began winning peer-voted awards.
On Monday its news team did a two-part show on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first part was a documentary, shown before 8pm, and the second part was in its 9pm news bulletin, consisting of a critique of how informative and unbiased the first part had or had not been. In the intervening time it was evaluated by a focus group - chosen at random, they said, although it must have been at random within certain subgroups so that they had a cross-section among just eight people. Not an anonymous wiggling worm reacting to someone else's arguments, but eight people from various walks of life being handed the spoon and asked to critically examine what it was they'd just been fed. Brilliant! (Even if the metaphor isn't.)
The documentary - "Dying for Peace" - showed events leading to the conflicts, the attempts at peace, and had interviews with people like two young Israelis who were working in a cafe where a suicide bomber killed several people.
The map graphic superimposing the area of the conflict over the Bay Area, combined with an explanation of what it would mean for people's daily lives here if San Francisco occupied parts of the East Bay, were particularly effective in making the conflict more than just a news story in some far-off place that we could ignore.
Like the focus group, I found the documentary inexplicably left out some events - like the Wye River Accord - and I too thought that it came across as somewhat pro-Palestinian. But was that largely because of the novelty of seeing dove-ish ordinary Israelis say that they don't hate Palestinians and would like to see the occupation ended, as opposed to the hawk-ish Israelis you normally see on TV defending it?
The next couple of months are going to be very stressful ones for people here in the US. The September 11 Memorial Machine is already beginning to roll, and it threatens to squeeze the very last ounce of humanity-centred perspective out of every one of us. Our one tiny antidote is to buy a 37 cent dose of fun and healing in the form of a stamp being released today, designed by Michael Osborne of San Francisco. In ten colours, and in a style reminiscent of the 70s, it says LOVE.
Dear world, help us remember that, so we can ALL give peace a chance.
Saturday 17 August 2002
Some links (y'all come back now!):
'NewsHour with Jim Lehrer':
Buy the new stamp: