Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering September 11

I’d been queasy all afternoon, but on the evening of September 10, 2001 I managed to drag myself out to the ballpark and go 4-for-4 in the last game of the CMF&Z Voodoo Bats’ coed slow-pitch softball season. I was still nauseous the next morning, so I called in sick and planned to rest at home all day.

And I would have, except that Love and Theft, Bob Dylan’s first album of new songs in four years, was being released that day. I drove to Target in West Des Moines to be the first on my block to own it—and as I walked through the electronics section, past the wall of TVs, I saw smoke coming out of the World Trade Center.

A plane had crashed into the building, they said.

That seemed impossible and ridiculous. Was it some idiot who lost control of his small twin-engine? They surely didn’t run flight patterns over the WTC, did they? And even if they did, the odds against a plane going down into such a major landmark had to be astronomical.

I was back home before I heard the real story. Hijackers. Terrorists. And then the truly unbelievable announcement that the first tower had collapsed.

I remember thinking they were mistaken. They said collapsed but they couldn’t have meant collapsed.

But there was the footage. It reminded me of when we used to crush pop cans by standing on them and poking the opposite sides at the same time.

I thought of the people inside, going about their business, feeling safe, never dreaming of any horror such as this. Whoever would have listed “Fear of an airplane being deliberately flown into my building” among his list of fears?

I thought of the people working on the floor the first plane hit, looking out the window at the nose of a jet getting larger and larger. I thought of the people on the jet, in utter shock that this was how it was going to end. I thought of the fanatic at the controls—the superstitious hateful fanatic—and wished there were a hell where he could be told: You were wrong.

The horror has diminished for me: I knew no one in New York at the time, suffered no anguish waiting on a call from a loved one. The horror has diminished but the sense of outrage lives on, and so with nothing political to say in this post I’ll just add my voice to those remembering the victims of September 11.

Barack Obama and Lipstickgate

The willfully ignorant are out in force these days, all upset about Barack Obama and Lipstickgate. They’re wringing their hands, they’re getting their undies in a knot, and if it’ll help draw attention to themselves they’re probably wringing their undies too.

I’m referring of course to the pretend outrage over Obama’s comment about John McCain’s claim to be the candidate of change. Speaking at a rally in Lebanon, Virginia, Obama said:

“You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It’s still gonna stink. We’ve had enough of the same old thing.”

Unfortunately for Obama and fortunately for the willful ignoramuses, Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin had made a joke at the Republican National Convention, noting that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick. Lipstick was thus fresh in the little minds of the sort of kneejerk Republicans who want desperately to believe their party has a corner on gentility, fairness, purity, and goodness. In these tiny minds, Barack Obama was referring to Sarah Palin as a pig.

And the media—too often as willfully ignorant as the rest of these clowns—gave them the voice they needed, as if there were honestly some debate about Obama’s meaning.

Never mind that the phrase “lipstick on a pig” has been in the lexicon for years (and enjoys a resurgence every four years, coincidentally enough). Never mind that McCain used the phrase years ago to refer to Hillary Clinton’s healthcare proposals. Never mind that it’s unfathomable that any presidential candidate in the 21st century would refer to his opponent as a pig—let alone one as gentlemanly as Obama, who had earlier noted that Palin’s family would be off-limits as campaign fodder.

No, these people had to pretend that they believed the unbelievable. Their outrage was manufactured and deceitful, and they know it. But here’s the sad part: They also know they only have to fool enough of the truly ignorant to keep this bullshit alive. So right now there’s a registered voter in Palookaville saying “I can’t vote for a man that calls a woman a pig,” and he’s saying it to two friends, and they’re saying it to two friends, and no matter what goes on between now and election day they’re going to remember something that never happened.

And the willfully ignorant will pat themselves on the back.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

By the Way, Nostradamus Didn't Know Beans Either

Back in high school I read Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth and got all freaked out about it because this Lindsey character’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation indicated pretty clearly that we were living in the end times. That would be the 1970s, if you’re keeping score.

Lindsey had it all figured out. I don’t remember the details, but the Soviet Union figured heavily into it, and the European Economic Community, and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, and of course everybody’s favorite boogeyman, the antichrist. There was rapture this and tribulation that, and I was terrified. I mean, it had to be true, right? They wouldn’t have published it if it weren’t true, right?

I had all the critical-thinking skills of a gnat back then. Hell, I thought The Amityville Horror was a true story because it said “A True Story” right on the cover. Luckily I took a religion class in college and learned that people had been interpreting the Revelation pretty regularly for centuries, and that oddly enough they all found parallels between those biblical prophecies and whatever was going on in the world that day.

But this brings me back to an earlier post, about the co-worker who claims to believe Barack Obama is the antichrist. I still don’t know who this co-worker is, but I’d love to find out so I can ask if he or she is planning to vote for Obama. After all, a key element in any serious interpretation of Revelation is the antichrist’s rise to power. Do the people who make this outlandish Obama/antichrist claim really want to be the ones to thwart biblical prophecy? Aren’t they afraid of crossing up their deity?

Which is it? Do they take the prophecy literally or not? If they do, it sets up a catch-22 Joseph Heller would be proud of:

Co-Worker: I believe Obama is the antichrist.
Runes: Really. So you’re going to vote for him and help bring about the end times.
Co-Worker: No! I can’t vote for Obama—he’s the antichrist!
Runes: So you don’t believe the prophecy.
Co-Worker: Wrong. I do believe the prophecy, but that doesn’t mean I want it to happen in my lifetime.
Runes: So you think somewhere down the road, the antichrist will come to power.
Co-Worker: Exactly.
Runes: Therefore, it’s not Obama—so you can vote for him.
Co-Worker: I can’t vote for Obama.
Runes: Why not?
Co-Worker: He’s a Democrat/liberal/socialist/Muslim/ terrorist/African-American. And inexperienced.