Monday, March 27, 2006

“Behind the Concrete Curtain”


Washington, March 27-
Members of the U.S. Senate are scheduled to take up the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control bill this week. The bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives in December, would—among other things—fund the construction of a “Concrete Curtain” to seal off about a third of the border between the U.S. and Mexico “It’s not as much wall as we want,” admitted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), but you have to start somewhere. We can finish it up later.”

House leaders have been studying security measures employed by the now-defunct Soviet Union, and have drawn upon the communist regime’s stratagems for a variety of techniques. Construction of a huge wall to seal off seven hundred miles of the U.S. border is the latest Soviet-era idea to draw support from House Republicans.

“Leave it to the Russians to screw up a good thing!” joked House leader Dennis Hastert. “We’re going to do it right. Can you imagine having something like the Iron Curtain in place and then letting people tear it down? What were they thinking of? I wish Winston Churchill was still around to officially bestow the ‘Concrete Curtain’ name on our project. He’d appreciate it.”

Republicans, who have long derided their opponents as “out of new ideas,” crowed over their latest triumph. “Gated communities, security compounds, bunker embassies, and now walled-off borders—we have a vision for America’s future!” said Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn).

Frist denied charges that the anti-immigrant measure was driven by racism, xenophobia, and paranoia.

“It’s primarily a security issue,” he said, “but it’s partly an economic issue as well. We have millions of educated white native-born English-speakers who are unable to get jobs as tomato pickers, lawn maintenance workers, hod carriers, sod layers, housekeepers, dishwashers, day laborers, and nannies because illegal immigrants are elbowing them aside.

“Hispanics are getting the opportunity to work in a genuine free market economy, without burdensome labor laws, minimum wage requirements, health and safety regulations, and other government red tape,” said Frist. “Why should they be a privileged class? This wall will give real Americans a chance for a change.”

Frist was forced to admit that not one of the estimated twelve million undocumented Hispanic workers currently in the U.S. has been charged with any connection to terrorist activity, but said, “There’s always a chance. What better way to spend billions of dollars than to guard against the possibility that somebody in the next million or two might want to do us harm?”

The bill has provoked an angry backlash in some portions of the country. Residents of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, New York, Michigan, and other states along the northern border have demanded that a parallel wall be built to prevent the influx of Canadians. “They talk funny,” said twelve-year-old Caroline Wenstadt. “Instead of saying ‘about’ the way we do, they pronounce it ‘aboat.’ And they’re always going ‘Eh?’”

“It’s only fair,” agreed Larry Marcum, a long distance truck driver. “If you’re going to wall out Hispanics, you ought to wall out Canadians as well. I see all these cars from Ontario clogging the interstates, headed to Florida for vacations. They cause traffic jams, take up motel beds and restaurant seats that U.S. citizens could be filling, and make lines at gas stations even longer. Plus everybody from Quebec speaks French. If they want to come here, make ‘em pass an English test first.”

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), who says he is concerned about a different kind of inconsistency, is preparing to offer an amendment to the bill, calling for the removal of the Statue of Liberty from New York harbor. The statue is inextricably linked with five lines from Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

“Talk about a mixed message!” said Cornyn. “We all need to get on the same page here. The wall or the statue; one of them has to go.”
© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, March 23, 2006

“High School Civics: First Quiz”

I was sitting in the coffee shop, working on my second cup of starter fluid, when Reg stormed in, red-faced, with steam pouring out of his ears.

“Have you seen this?” he demanded, throwing some sheets of paper down on the table.

“Have a seat, Reg,” I said. “Ask Angie for a couple of ice cubes to cool you down.”

“This is no laughing matter, Ace,” he warned. “Look at this thing. It’s a disgrace!”

“What is it, Reg?” I asked.

“It’s supposed to be the first quiz in my boy’s high school civics class,” he said, “but it’s nothing but a piece of partisan propaganda! Every damned question on there is a deliberate slap at the administration! It’s brainwashing, is what it is! It’s a blatant attempt to portray the president and his administration as undemocratic, and by God I won’t stand for it!”

“My gosh, Reg,” I said. “Let me take a look at the thing. Is it really that bad?”

“It sure as hell is,” he bellowed. “Take a look for yourself.”

* * * *

QUIZ # 1: The Differences Between Democratic and Totalitarian Societies

With the opening chapter of our textbook, we discussed the differences between a democratic society and a totalitarian society. The quiz below contains ten pairs of statements. Write “democratic” in the blank space for the statement in each pair which describes a democratic society, and “totalitarian” in the blank space for the statement in each pair which describes a totalitarian society.

1.A. In a _____________________ society, the free flow of information is essential so people can make informed decisions. Every effort is made to see that the public receives the most complete and most accurate information possible.

1. B. In a ____________________ society, many important decisions are made in secret, and vital information is hidden from the public. The government propagandizes its own citizenry.

2.A. In a _____________________ society, open debate and dissenting views are not only welcome but promoted because everyone is considered valuable, because everyone is entitled to a voice in decisions affecting all, and because testing ideas and opinions ultimately results in wiser decisions.

2.B. In a _____________________ society, people who express views contrary to those held by people in power are attacked as unpatriotic, ridiculed, dismissed from government positions, and effectively denied a voice in the media.

3.A. In a _____________________ society, the right to know the charges against you, to be represented by effective counsel, to be given your day in court in a timely manner, and to have a fair trial before a jury of your peers are all guaranteed to every person accused of a crime.

3.B. In a _____________________ society, certain prisoners can be held indefinitely, imprisoned without being charged with a crime, denied the opportunity to counsel, and denied a chance to defend themselves in an open court.

4.A. In a _____________________ society, prisoners are recognized as human beings, worthy of basic levels of respect and dignity. They are treated humanely and granted fundamental rights, regardless of their crimes.

4.B. In a _____________________ society, certain prisoners are demeaned and degraded. They are treated with contempt, tortured, and brutalized.

5.A. In a _____________________ society, people’s private reading, writing, correspondence, and conversations are their own affair, protected from governmental intrusion except in limited, specified, carefully supervised circumstances.

5.B. In a _____________________ society, people’s private reading, writing, correspondence, and conversations are subject to secret government scrutiny, with little or no control over whose privacy is invaded, or why, or when.

6.A. In a _____________________ society, the right of citizens to assemble and to protest.peacefully is valued and protected.

6.B. In a _____________________ society, citizens are hindered or barred from peaceful protest. Legal obstacles are created to frustrate their protests; they are harassed, intimidated, even arrested when they attempt to make their contrary views known.

7.A. In a _____________________ society, the leader is subject to the rule of law and constrained by the checks and balances of the legislature and judiciary.

7.B. In a _____________________ society, the leader ignores or dismisses inconvenient laws, and is unchecked by the legislature and judiciary.

8.A. In a _____________________ society, every effort is made to extend the right to vote, to remove obstacles to voting, and to ensure that votes are counted accurately.

8.B. In a _____________________ society, the right to vote is curtailed, obstacles are deliberately created to deny certain classes of citizens the right to vote, and voting irregularities may be ignored.

9.A. In a _____________________ society, the state maintains separation of church and state, protecting an individual’s freedom to preach or practice a religion, or to have no religion, while refraining from promoting religion in general or certain religious views in particular.

9.B. In a _____________________ society, the state either suppresses the freedom to worship, or promotes the religious views of those in power.

10.A. In a _____________________ society, decisions on taxation and expenditures are made with the intent of promoting the common good, protecting the weakest citizens, increasing access to opportunity, and rewarding effort and merit rather than birth.

10.B. In a _____________________ society, decisions on taxation and expenditures are made with the intent of promoting the interests of the powerful, protecting their lives of privilege, increasing their share of the nation’s wealth, and passing their wealth and privilege on to their heirs.

FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Based on the distinctions above, the country in which you are
now living would best be characterized as a _____________________ society.

* * * *

“I don’t know, Reg,” I said. “Those look like pretty standard distinctions to me. And I don’t see any reference to political parties, or to specific political decisions there. What makes you think it’s an attack on Mr. Bush and his administration?”

“Because all the ones that are supposed to be identified as ‘totalitarian’ are obvious references to things the president and his people have done to keep us secure, you numbskull!”

“So what are you saying, Reg? That totalitarian societies are safer than democracies? That you’d rather be safe than free? I’m having a hard time following you here.”

“Listen, Ace. The president is just doing his job. And I’m going to see that this loose cannon does his. Or loses it.”

“You could just tell him to switch the definitions in each pair,” I suggested. “Maybe that would give you something you’d be more comfortable with. How did your boy do on the test, by the way?”

His face turned grim. “That’s what really cheeses me off,” he said. “He aced it.”

© Tony Russell, 2006

Monday, March 20, 2006

“The Devil’s Work”

Patty and I were standing outside church after this morning’s service, chatting with the Mitchells. “What have you heard from Sheena?” asked Patty. “Is she doing okay?” (Sheena is the Mitchell’s daughter, a twenty-four year old who is in the Army Reserve and doing her second tour in Iraq.)

“We got a letter from her yesterday,” said Eloise. “She sounded cheerful, but I know she always tries to sound cheerful so we won’t worry. And all that does is make me worry more. I just wish she could come home.”

“The president said yesterday that we have to resist the temptation to pull out of Iraq,” I reminded them. “Have you been tempted?”

She flushed. “The Devil whispered in my ear that we should leave,” she admitted. “But I wouldn’t listen to him.”

“What did he say?” asked Patty.

Eloise looked troubled. “He said that Sheena might … might get killed, and … that it’s all a waste!” she blurted out. “He said that over two thousand of our soldiers have died, and probably a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians, and the situation keeps getting worse and worse, while the president keeps saying it’s getting better and better.”

We all stood awkwardly silent for a minute. “Satan just knows how to worm his way into your heart,” Patty said finally. “He’s getting at you through your love for your daughter and your sympathy for other human beings.”

“I know,” said Eloise unhappily, “but it’s hard. I feel so alone.”

Patty looked uneasy. “The Devil has been tempting me too,” she confessed. “He whispers that we went to war because the president claimed the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction, and because they were linked with al Qaeda’s attack on September 11. The Devil tells me that since there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction, and since there wasn’t any link with al Qaeda, there wasn’t any reason for us to be there in the first place, and so there’s no reason for us to be there now.”

“The devil is tempting you with logic,” Eloise said.

Paul looked at the three of us. “I’ve been tempted too,” he said.

“How does the Devil try to get at you?” I asked.

“He tells me that we’re squandering hundreds of billions of dollars to achieve nothing but death and destruction,” said Paul. “He claims that there are millions of people who will never get the education or the health care or the child care or the housing they could have because we’re just pouring money out like water onto the desert sand.”

“That’s the way the Devil works,” I said. “He knows your weakness. See, he knows you’re vulnerable to being a good steward with money. He plays on that.”

“Well, has he been tempting you?” countered Paul. “Do you have a weakness he’s exploiting?”

I could feel my face turning red. “Okay,” I admitted. “He does come and whisper in my ear once in a while—especially at night, when I’m having trouble sleeping.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Patty, with some surprise. “What does he tell you?”

“I don’t really want to say.”

“Ace, that’s not fair!” said Patty indignantly. “Everybody else admitted they were tempted, and shared what the Devil said to them.”

They all just stared at me. “All right, all right,” I said finally. “But it’s not very nice. He told me that the war was turning us into the very thing we said we were fighting. He said that we not only use brutality and torture, but actually claim that it’s okay. That we’re holding prisoners without charge, even though it’s against the Constitution. That we’re kidnapping people and sending them to secret prisons abroad. That the government is eavesdropping on anyone it wants, even though it’s against the Constitution. That we blow up women and kids and dismiss it as ‘collateral damage.’ That we ignore corruption on a gigantic scale. That we’re betraying everything we ever said we stood for. ”

“Ace!” said Eloise, shocked. “How could you!?”

“It wasn’t me,” I said defensively. “That’s the Devil’s work. I wouldn’t say those things on my own.”

“He just played on your patriotism,” said Paul. “He knew you were vulnerable there.”

“Gosh, the Devil has sure been busy,” said Eloise. “It sounds as if the president spoke out just in time.”

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"If I Were President"

Of Principalities and Powers ~ "If I Were President"

Today's column is a guest piece, and consists of a note from my son Micah and a brief essay by his daughter (my granddaughter) Maureen.

Just thought I'd pass along Maureen's prize-winning essay. Her entire school was asked to write an essay entitled "If I Were President"; Maureen's essay was chosen to represent Confidence Elementary. So here goes Maureen (age 7). I've never been more proud.
P.S. This was written in class without the influence--or even prior knowledge--of Dad.

If I Were President

If I were the President I would stop wars. If some people wanted war they would have to move where there was a different President. I would also throw a celebration since I ended war, because war is a terrible thing. The reason I would do this is because too many people get hurt or killed in war.

Also as President, I would make rich and poor equal. I would do this by making the rich pay taxes that pay the poor money. The poor would use this money for homes, jobs, college, and much more. I would also make the rich give some of their belongings to the poor. That’s what I’d do if I were President.

© Tony Russell, 2006

Monday, March 13, 2006

“A Three-Letter Word”

I was watching the game on TV, while Patty was reading the paper.

“There it is again,” she said.

“There’s what again?” I asked.

“’Misled,’” she said. “Here’s another story where someone is charging that the administration ‘misled’ the public. You see them all the time any more.”

“Now that you mention it, I guess you’re right,” I said. “What’s your point?”

“I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “It just seems as if the reporters are… pussyfooting around something. As if they’re doing anything they can to avoid calling a spade a spade. ”

“You mean like saying that the President’s claim that we had hard proof the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction was … ‘inaccurate’?”

“Um hum,” she nodded. “Or when the administration trumpeted all those feel-good stories about the heroics of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, and it turned out the stories were just … ‘in error.’”

“Or when they claimed that Bush’s tax cuts were going primarily to the middle class and lower-income people, and they were actually going to the wealthy,” I said. “That was just a… ‘discrepancy’?”

“There has to be a better way of putting it,” she said. “I know there’s a word that captures what I’m trying to say. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t think of it.”

“Is it ‘spin’?” I asked. “Like when the President claimed that privatization would save the social security system, and, in fact, it would undermine it?”

“No, that’s not it,” she said, frustrated. “I’m thinking of something like the administration’s claim that they didn’t know the levee in New Orleans had been breached until several days after the fact.”

“Oh, and now Michael Brown is testifying that he notified the President’s staff the very same day, and may even have told the President directly.”

“Right. And the President went on TV and said ‘Nobody could have anticipated’ the damage to New Orleans, and now we have a video of a conference right before the storm where a roomful of experts and government officials is telling him, in detail, how bad it is going to be.”

“So now people are saying the President may have ‘distorted’ what occurred.’”

“Yes,” she said, “that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Where the administration says something that’s clearly contrary to the facts. What’s the word I’m looking for?”

“I don’t know,” I said, yawning, as the Mountaineers missed yet another three-point shot. “But I’m a reporter. We write for a mass audience, so there are a lot of fancy words we don’t use.”

“This isn’t some obscure, Latinate word,” she said. “It’s something short and precise and to the point.”

“Let’s see,” I said. “Are you thinking of something like when the administration put out those figures on the cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, when they knew going in that the figures were wrong, and they gagged a government worker who wanted to supply accurate numbers to Congress?”

“Right,” she said. “They were saying something they knew wasn’t true.”

“Okay,” I said. “’Made a mistake’ doesn’t get at the actual intention to deceive. How about ‘misrepresented’? Or maybe ‘bore false witness.’ Remember when they circulated stories in the Republican primary that John McCain had fathered a black baby? Or when they assembled those military figures to say things they knew were false about John Kerry’s military record?”

“’Misrepresented’ and ‘bore false witness’ get at the idea,” said Patty, “but they’re still just not quite right. I can almost picture the word I want. It’s short. I think it’s a three-letter word. Darn it,” she said in exasperation, “I must be getting Old-timer’s Disease.”

“Well, what did the papers call it when Dick Cheney went around insisting that there was a link between Saddam and 9-11, long after intelligence had determined that was absurd?”

She thought a minute. “I can’t remember for sure,” she said. “I think they just said he was ‘misguided,’ but they may have said he was ‘overzealous.’”

“Listen, Patty,” I said, “the second half just started. Why don’t you fix me a ham sandwich and bring me a beer, and go on up to bed. I’ll just watch a few more minutes and be right up.”

“Ace,” she said, “that’s a lie and you know it.”

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, March 09, 2006

“Bush Reports Contacts with Abramoff”


Washington, Feb. 16 -
Celebrity lobbyist Jack Abramoff met President Bush in almost a dozen different settings over the past five years and was invited to the President’s Crawford, Texas, ranch in the summer of 2003, the President told a reporter in an e-mail last month.

Bush’s claim directly contradicts assertions by Abramoff’s aides that the lobbyist doesn’t know the President and has no recollection of ever having met him, assertions made as Abramoff attempts to distance himself from the numerous scandals and controversies surrounding the administration.

In mentioning the invitation to Texas in 2003, Bush was apparently referring to a private barbecue he hosted for his biggest fundraisers at the Broken Spoke Ranch, down the road from the president's rustic compound near Crawford, on Aug. 9 of that year. About 350 Republicans who had raised at least $50,000 each for Bush were invited, including Abramoff.

In the e-mail, Bush says that Abramoff was a Pioneer who gave at least a hundred thousand dollars to his campaign war chest. “Of course we knew each other!” he asserts. “Do you think any politician doesn’t know and cultivate somebody who drops that kind of change on him? Besides, his name begins with an ‘A’ followed by a ‘B.’ Whenever I looked at a list of big donors, they were arranged alphabetically, and he was the first guy on the list.”

“I don’t know why he’s claiming he doesn’t know who I am. Abramoff has one of the best memories of any lobbyist I have ever met," Bush told Ken Eye of Districian magazine. "The guy saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids. We both have twins, and we used to swap stories about crazy things they’d done. My wife Laura has a picture of herself with Jack’s wife. I picked him as a member of the transition team to launch my administration, for crying out loud."

In the e-mail, Bush scoffs at Abramoff's public statements that he does not recall ever meeting the disgraced eavesdropper and former Texas Rangers owner. "He’s known for his remarkable memory!" Bush wrote. Eye, an editor for Districian, said in an interview that the President was the source of his exclusive report last month that at least five photographs of Abramoff with Bush exist. Bush showed him the pictures, Eye said. Bush has told others he will not release them publicly.

Despite the President’s assertions, Abramoff has maintained that he does not recall ever meeting Bush or posing for pictures with the President at official events or parties. Abramoff’s lobbying firm has refused to release the pictures or detail Bush's contacts with top officials of the firm over the past five years.

Abramoff spokesman Steve McCumbers said yesterday that "what Mr. Abramoff said still stands. Mr. Bush is someone who was involved in launching an illegal war, authorizing illegal wiretapping, and countenancing torture. It’s understandable why he would want his name to be connected with someone of Mr. Abramoff’s stature. However, no such connection exists.”

McCumbers said that the photographs of Bush with Abramoff are no different from thousands Abramoff has taken each year with visitors, clients, government officials, Republican politicians, and even reporters, and that it would not be unusual for the lobbyist to not recall meeting Bush.

No evidence has emerged that Abramoff or his top aides are implicated in illegal wiretapping by Bush and his officials, according to people familiar with the ongoing investigation.

Eye said Bush did not grant him permission to release the contents of their e-mail, and Bush is upset that Eye did. Eye said he has known Bush for years and considers the level of vilification "out of proportion." “It’s not as if he killed somebody,” he argued. Eye later backed off this position when told that over 2,300 U.S. troops and 100,000 Iraqis have now died as a consequence of the illegal invasion of Iraq.

© Tony Russell, 2006

Monday, March 06, 2006

“Presidential Infallibility”


Washington, March 7 –

In a straight party-line vote, the Senate last night passed “The Presidential Infallibility Act,” which reads simply, “The president cannot make a mistake when speaking ex officio [from the Oval Office].” The bill was made retroactive to the beginning of President Bush’s first term. Identical legislation had already passed in the House by a comfortable margin, and the president is expected to sign the bill early today.

Despite the act’s brevity, legal scholars suggest that it may have important constitutional implications. Leon Rowland, dean of the law school at Marshall University, points out that “If the president is infallible, and the legislative and judicial branches remain burdened with human error, they’re obviously not co-equal. The theory of checks and balances goes out the window. Among other things, with this act, Congress has effectively relinquished its power to override a presidential veto.”

Daniel Workman, a constitutional scholar at West Virginia University’s law school, argues, however, that “Given the current state of American government, this law will have little practical effect. It’s fundamentally undemocratic, but then so are holding prisoners without charge, torturing captives, conducting secret free-ranging electronic surveillance, and initiating war on the basis of phony charges.”

“With all three branches of government not only in the hands of a single party, but also under tight party discipline,” says Workman, “there’s nobody left to say ‘no’ to the president. Neither the Congress nor the judiciary—nor even, for that matter, the press—has shown any interest in imposing restraints on his power. Even if he’s not right, there’s nobody to say he’s wrong.”

The act was supported by a legal brief, prepared by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, contending that the bill is simply an acknowledgement of the President’s inherent authority as Commander-in-Chief. The brief provides a detailed historical summary which begins with the divine right of kings, continues through the doctrine of papal infallibility, and concludes with a survey of the explosive growth of executive power in the current administration.

Gonzales previously has argued that the president may ignore the Geneva Conventions. He has also produced memos justifying the torture of U.S. prisoners, and has told Congress that the administration can wiretap without consulting the courts and in violation of federal law. He is considered a leading candidate for the next vacancy on the Supreme Court. Mr. Bush rejects judicial activism, and has repeatedly stated that he will only nominate candidates who are strict constructionists in adhering to the Constitution.

Senate leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn), who led the campaign for the bill’s enactment, hailed its passage. “This provides the definitive explanation for why President Bush was unable a few months ago to recall a single mistake he had made while in office. He has been acting infallibly; it just took us a while to formally recognize that fact.”

Republican leaders noted that the bill resolves such thorny issues as the invasion of Iraq on the basis of its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. “It got to be embarrassing trying to maintain an obvious fiction,” said Mississippi’s Sen. Trent Lott. “It’s a relief to be able to put all of that behind us.”

Since the text makes no reference to the current president by name, it is unclear whether it applies simply to Mr. Bush, so long as he remains in office, or whether all presidents, from this point forward, will enjoy the privilege of being all right, all the time. Sen. Frist, acknowledging the ambiguity, said, “We’ll just have to see how the next election goes, if we have one, and then play it by ear.”

Although the bill is silent about its theological underpinnings, fundamentalist Christians nationwide were openly jubilant that, as the Rev. Jerry Falwell put it, “Congress finally recognized that God has put His hand on this nation and this president in a very special way.” He did not specify where God has placed His hand.

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, March 02, 2006

“Fans Stunned As Game Ends in Theological Disarray”


Cincinnati, December 12 -
Cincinnati fans watched in stunned disbelief as the final seconds ticked off the Bengals’ scoreboard in Sunday night’s playoff game. With only three seconds left on the clock, and Cincinnati kicker Wade Kniceley poised to boot the winning field goal from the Cleveland fourteen yard line, Browns linebacker Z. D. Ford broke through the line untouched and blocked Kniceley’s kick. The ball caromed off Kniceley’s helmet and bounced high in the air. Ford caught the ball without breaking stride, and raced eighty-one yards to clinch the win for Cleveland.

As Ford neared the Cincinnati goal line, he slowed, raised his right hand, and pointed heavenward with his index finger, giving God all the glory for enabling him to make the play and for granting victory to the Browns.

George Winsapp, the Cincinnati holder, had already thrown both arms into the air, with a finger on each hand pointed skyward, in anticipation of the dramatic field goal, and appeared momentarily to be at a loss about what to do with his hands when Ford streaked past him, heading the other way. As recognition hit, he pointed at fullback Darren Billups, who had failed to pick up the blitzing linebacker, and began screaming at Billups in a voice that could be heard in the press box. Billups, in turn, wheeled around and pointed a finger at right tackle Aaron McWhorter, who was beaten badly on the play.

McWhorter, however, was glaring upward, pointing his finger accusingly and screaming, demanding to know why God had abandoned him, and was unaware of Billups’s action. Kniceley, meanwhile, who had been confident in his aim when his foot hit the pigskin, pointed downward in rage, blaming the Evil One for frustrating his team’s hopes and pinning them with the devastating loss.

As Browns fans began to pour onto the field, jumping and screaming in jubilation, several frustrated Bengals players were seen to gesture at them with an upraised middle finger.

Cincinnati fans, meanwhile, who had anticipated seeing both Winsapp and Kniceley point toward heaven in jubilation, found themselves caught up a flurry of unexpected fingering. Their heads spun as credit and blame flew upward, downward, and sideways. Several fans pulled out paperback editions of Good News for Modern Man, searching for guidance in allocating responsibility for the game’s outcome. Many appeared to be attempting to contact their clergy by cellphone.

© Tony Russell, 2006