Monday, August 26, 2013

Those Crazy Conspiracy Theories

The routine never varies here, so I was startled when there was a knock, followed immediately by a key turning in the door.  “It’s not time for breakfast yet,” I told Henry, the massive attendant.

“Get dressed anyway,” he told me.  “The Director wants you in his office in fifteen minutes.”

I’m a little slow on the uptake because of the meds.  “What does he want?  Did somebody report me for a violation?  Am I in trouble?”

He just shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Whatever it is, I’ve got half a dozen other patients he wants to see after you, so get a move on.”  And he slammed the door and left.

There wasn’t time to shave or shower--not at the rate I move nowadays--so I just pulled on my clothes, which was a struggle, because I’ve gained twenty pounds since I came here.  I was still combing my hair when Henry returned to escort me to the head man’s office.

To my surprise, the Director, who has always had an air of knowing what reality is, and he’s quite comfortable in it, thank you, looked a bit flustered.  “Charles,” he said, “you need to pack your things.  You’re being released at 10 AM.”

That stunned me.  The wheels in my brain roll through molasses, and it took me a while to process this unexpected turn. “Today?  This morning?  After all this time?  What’s going on?”

He looked decidedly uncomfortable.  “The Board has reviewed your record and decided there’s reason to believe your diagnosis is.. um,,, inappropriate.”

“My paranoia?  Those ‘crazy conspiracy theories’?”

He flinched, then nodded.

“When I thought somebody was listening to my telephone conversations?  And reading my e-mail?”

Another nod.

“And recording my Internet searches?  And tracking where my car went?”

He was looking increasingly awkward--a word I never thought I would apply to someone so self-assured.  Another nod.

“And those new members inside our environmental group chapter that I thought were government informers?”


“And those people taking photos of our Occupy movement at the park?  And my suspicions that feds were gathering info on us and then sharing it with the banks, and the university, and the local police?”

He squirmed.  “Yes.”

“And the secret police--the NSA--lying to Congress about collecting information on millions of U.S. citizens?”

Yet another nod.

“And our government’s snatching people off the street without charges and not telling their families where they are or allowing them any legal representation and then hauling them off to secret sites in chains, with sacks over their heads, and torturing them repeatedly?”

Now he was actually sweating.  “Yes.”

“And the President’s having a list of people to be murdered using little remotely-guided drone aircraft?”

He just stood there, red-faced.

“And those same drones being deployed all over this country to spy on us?”

Once again he said nothing.

“But you’ve told me all along that I’m sick!” I pleaded.  “That I have ‘systematized delusions’ driven by ‘irrational fears and anxieties,’  that I’ve been seeing ‘threats that don’t really exist’!”

He gave a nervous cough.  “That judgment is now inoperative.”


“No longer in effect.”

“I know what it means.  You’re saying all those bizarre things are actually happening?  That I’m not suffering from delusions?”

“Documentation now exists to substantiate all of those occurrences,” he said, his hands beginning to tremble.  “When they’re facts, they’re obviously no longer delusions.”

My hands have been shaking for years now; I recognized the symptoms. “I liked your version of reality better,” I reassured him.  “There was always some comfort in thinking maybe I was crazy.”

“‘Reality’s just another word for someone else is screwed,” he said, with some sadness, then came around the desk, shook my hand, and wished us both good luck.  My time was up.
© Tony Russell, 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

The News We Choose

Blonde TV anchor, reading from TelePrompTer:  “FAX News brings you ‘the news we choose,’ deranged, estranged, and rearranged.  Tonight’s major story:  Sindy Singer back in the headlines again.  We take you to Hollywood, where our top investigative reporter, Ben Gall, has been following the story closely.  Ben, what can you tell us about Sindy’s latest escapade?”

Reporter, wearing a tan topcoat and holding a FAX mike:  “Well, Arlene, fans of starlet Sindy Singer were stunned last night, at precisely 8:23 PM, when the young actress, famous for her highly-publicized drug-and-alcohol-fueled tantrums, fights, arrests, stints in rehab, and relapses, slipped out of the limousine at the premiere of her newest film.  

“Photographers, poised to catch a photo revealing that she was sans undergarment, were left with their mouths agape as her knee-length dress rose only an inch or so above her kneecap.  Even more shocking, as you can see in this accompanying video, her non-transparent dress completely covered  her breasts.  

“Ms. Singer, who appeared not to be intoxicated or under the influence of recreational chemicals of any kind, simply waved to fans, said “Hi,” and walked without assistance into the theater.  She was accompanied by her married co-star, with whom she is rumored not to be having an affair.

“Ms. Singer’s publicity agents were quick to respond to the incident, claiming the failure of her dress to slide below mid-breast and above her hip joints was a ‘wardrobe malfunction of colossal proportions,’ and apologized to the public.  Fans outside the theater, some of whom had been waiting for as long as three hours to see the actress in the flesh--or perhaps just to see her flesh--described themselves as feeling ‘cheated.‘  One disgusted man, who asked to remain anonymous, complained, ‘Like, I went out and bought a new battery for my video camera and everything, and then she pulls a stunt like this.’

“Industry insiders say it’s still too early to tell what impact this shocking incident will have on Ms. Singer’s meteoric career.  In Hollywood, I’m Ben Gall, reporting for FAX News.”

TV anchor:  “Thanks, Ben.  We’ll be providing hourly updates on this breaking story, which is a FAX News exclusive.  The Huffington Post, Yahoo! News, the National Enquirer, and the National Examiner have all been scooped on this one, and are playing catchup.  In other headline news: 

  • Major league baseball will be expanding instant replay in 2014.
  • Today is the birthday of Lee Ann Womack, who won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song with “I Hope You Dance.”  She turns 46.   
  • President Obama failed to break par while golfing with comedian Larry David on Martha’s Vineyard, where the president is enjoying a weeklong vacation.
  • Rihanna flagged down a taxi in New York by baring her midriff.
  • World Wrestling Entertainment star Darren Young announced that he’s gay, claiming that ‘All sports are physical.’

“That’s the news you can use!  You’re on top of the stories your friends will be tweeting about.  Follow my Twitter feed throughout the day for more insights on major world events.

“And finally, today’s ‘Tidbit to Forget.’  The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that the U.S.’s top 40 cities will likely see 150,000 people die from heat stroke and other high-temperature maladies attributable to climate change by the end of this century.  [Smiles perkily]  Isn’t that a bummer for the kids and grandkids!?  [Ad-libs afterthought]  Well, really, for everybody that comes after us.  [Remembers to recover cheerfulness]  In the meantime, get out and enjoy this cool weather while you can!

“Join us again at 11, when we’ll have the latest on the Sindy Singer saga that has the country buzzing, as well as the other ‘news we choose.’  I’m Arlene Adkins, for FAX News.”

© Tony Russell, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Speaking Power to Truth

“What’s the matter, Ace?  You’ve been moping around all evening.”

“Sorry, Patty.  It’s that column on global warming by George Will we ran in the paper a while back.  It’s become a real headache.”

“You mean the one that pooh-poohed the idea that global warming was taking place, and mentioned different scientific studies that backed up his opinion?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.  Turns out that a lot of his facts were cherry-picked, misrepresented, or just plain wrong.  Some of the scientists he cited have gone public with letters saying their conclusions are exactly the opposite of what he’s attributed to them.  The paper has been swamped with letters complaining about the column, asking how something filled with so many errors could get by our fact-checkers.”

“What’s the problem?  Now that the errors have been pointed out, Will can just apologize and issue a retraction.”

“Well, actually there are two problems.  Will didn’t admit to any of the errors or misrepresentations.  Instead of apologizing, he wrote a second column even worse than the first, defending himself.  And since Bob Spinner appointed me the paper’s ombudsman, I have to explain to all our readers how Will’s column made it through our rigorous fact-check process untouched.”

“Well, that’s a good question, isn’t it?  How did that happen?”

“I checked with our checkers.  They just sat there and laughed at the idea that we would question a George Will column.  He’s a big name, he’s rich, he’s a pal of the powerful, and the last time somebody called him on his facts he threw a fit.  If you question anything he says, FOX and talk-radio come swarming after you like yellow-jackets around the barbecue at a picnic in the park.”

“So George Will is exempt from fact-checks?”

“In theory, no; in practice, yes.  It’s that ‘too-big-to-fail’ syndrome.  It’s cropping up everywhere.”

“I think I get it.  As the paper’s ombudsman, you’re stuck.  Your job is to tell the truth, which is that the paper didn’t apply the same standards to him that it does to everybody else.  But that’s obviously not something the paper will let you write while they still sign your paycheck.  So you can speak truth to power, and lose your job, or speak power to truth, and lose your self-respect.”

“That’s about it,” I agreed.

“So what are you going to do?  Are we still going to be able to make house payments and put food on the table?”

[Hands her a sheet of paper, looking uncomfortable.]  “This is what I wrote.”

[Hastily reads it over.]  “You’ve defended the process, selecting only one or two of the errors and offering semi-plausible excuses for how they could have slipped through, while ignoring the rest.”  [Both sigh.]  “Well, I guess we live to eat another day.  How do you feel about it?”

“Like a girl in a too-small bikini.  It reveals more about me than I’d like for the public to see.”

© Tony Russell, 2013

Monday, August 05, 2013

National Infallibility

I ran into Howard downtown as I was heading toward the Farmers Market.  He was unloading some homemade folding wooden frames from the back of his old pickup.  They were seven or eight feet tall, and the tops were covered with black plastic bags.  “Can I give you a hand?” I asked.  “These don’t look like tomatoes.  What are you selling?”

“Hey, thanks Ace,” he said.  “And no, they’re not tomatoes and I’m not selling anything.  I’m giving information away.  Our group is putting up an exhibit on the mall.  If you could help carry these over to the fountain area, I’d appreciate it.  A couple of trips should do it.”

“What’s the exhibit about?” I asked, as I grabbed the first one, which he had leaned against a nearby wall.

“I’m a member of the Freedom Legion,” he said.  “This week is the anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki--Tuesday the 6th for Hiroshima, Friday the 9th for Nagasaki.  We’re putting up an educational exhibit to mark the anniversary.”

“Freedom Legion,”  I said.  “I’m not familiar with the group.  It sounds a little....”

“Yeah, I know,” he sighed, shaking his head.  “The people who are all for shooting other people, or stuffing them in prison, or just shutting them up have already taken the good names.  They’ve pretty much cornered the market on the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ brands.  That kind of irked us.  We thought we’d try to reclaim ‘freedom’ for people who actually believe in some freedoms besides free markets and the freedom to throw your weight around.”

“How does that tie into your exhibit?” I wanted to know.  “Didn’t the Smithsonian run into some kind of controversy over a Hiroshima/Nagasaki exhibit a few years back?”

He looked at me.  “You remember that, huh?” he said.  “Your memory’s pretty good.  It dates back further than you think--1995, for the 50th anniversary of the bombings.  There was a real stink about it at the time.  We see our exhibit as an exercise in genuine freedom--the freedom to say all the things that the Smithsonian planned to say and then didn’t.  It was embarrassing--and kind of frightening--at how quickly they caved in and self-censored when the American Legion and some congress members started screaming about their original plan for the exhibit.”

“I don’t remember the details, Howie.  What did the Smithsonian do?”

  “Well, they’d intended to lay out a range of perspectives on whether the bombing was justified or not, whether Japan was already on the verge of surrender or not, whether racism or the desire to make a point to the Soviet Union figured in the decision to use the bomb, whether killing all those women and children was justified or not--that kind of thing.  When the stalwarts of the military-industrial complex amped up the criticism, the Smithsonian cut out all of the historically-accurate background and removed all the real-life doubts, qualms, ambiguities, and disagreements you might expect from a decision to incinerate two major cities.” 

“So you’re saying they surrendered to a single vision of history demanded by  people who believed in ‘my-country-right-or-wrong’?”

“Oh, unconditionally.  But I think you used a misleading label, Ace,” he said.  “The people who bullied the historians didn’t take a ‘my-country-right-or-wrong’ approach.  Theirs was ‘my-country’s-never-wrong’.”  It came out of an ironclad view of our national infallibility.  They simply couldn’t tolerate any version of history that wasn’t an American self-love fest.”

“That’s pretty harsh, Howie.”

“Not as harsh as killing maybe a quarter of a million civilians by blowing them up, burning them, or dooming them to a lingering death via radiation sickness.  Not as harsh as watching kids die of leukemia.  Not as harsh as refusing to even look back and learn something from all that death and suffering.”

“I don’t know if I want to listen to that kind of stuff, Howie.”

“There you go, Ace.  That’s the attitude I’m talking about.”

“No offense, Howie, but I’d like it better if you were selling tomatoes.”

“Maybe you’d prefer squash.”

© Tony Russell, 2013