"Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and single-handed I can move the world." - Archimedes Martin Jensen makes commentaries on real issues, or at least interesting essays. Banality filter is on.
I pulled up a video clip on David Weinberger's JOHO Weblog just now.
It's a mean-spirited thrashing of President Bush's inability to handle common figures of speech. We enjoyed it immensely.
My wife and friend Michael were looking over my shoulder as I played the clip, and we began offering opinions as to what the president really did say. Are you familiar with this game? "What did he say? No, I think it was ____."
I've christened this game as "Bushfill," the process that goes on in one's head when you try to take W's actual words and create complete sentences and/or ideas. I became aware of the phenomenon as I listened to an audio clip from some key speech on NPR. They played it several times in the morning as I was getting ready and driving to work. I thought about it all day, "What'd he say?" Then I listened again on the way home, and they played it again. "Man, he really did say that!"
This is somewhat encouraging. Because if I do it, hearing the president's words only a few times over the course of a month, then the people who work with him, and talk to him every day, must be grand masters at the game of Bushfill. That, I presume, is how Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld can walk out of the same cabinet meeting and issue completely contrary statements on what the administrations current policy might be.
Here’s the thing. The title of this essay is, “How to Annihilite Terrorism.” Sounds pretty militaristic, especially coming from me, right? But if I was really militaristic, I’d say, “How to Annihilate Terrorists.” See, the “Bomb’em to the Stoneage” crowd thinks that “terrorism” is a thing, like mosquito larvae or microwave ovens.
But terrorism isn’t a thing. It’s a tactic. It’s a tactic used by desperate, disenfranchised people who would rather be selling rugs or herding goats or building hotels.
Okay, that’s a bleeding heart liberal perpetrator-as-victim mentality. So I’ll admit it. Terrorists are irredeemable scum-sucking vipers whose twisted mentalities sprung like a seed from their mothers' wombs without external influence of any kind.
But for some reason, their communities support them.
Maybe it’s because Al Qaeda builds schools, and we bomb them.
No, still too simplistic. Unpatriotic.
So let me put on my patriotic hat, play my fife and beat my drum.
Our way is better. We are ten times more humane, twenty times more generous, seventy times more forgiving than those bigoted zealots. Our system of government, our guarantees of individual liberties, our religious tolerance is superior to their theocratic dictatorship, their self-righteous oppression.
We should cut them off at the knees.
Here is my insidious strategy:
For every fundamentalist, West-hating school they slap together out of mud and straw, we should build two schools and a hospital. Out of brick.
For every suicide bomber family subsidy, we should sponsor three legitimate entrepreneurs.
For every bag of rice, a case of medical supplies; for every AK-47, a half-dozen child-size flak jackets; for every shoulder-mounted missile, a bulldozer and a backhoe.
My cold and calculating approach has a precedent. When the US government wanted to destroy the Indians, they killed all the buffalo. To destroy terrorism, we must heartlessly defile the desperate and hopeless soil in which it thrives.
Okay, I’m not a religious Pepsi drinker. That is, about Pepsi as a brand. But you know, I only drink diet soda, and Diet Coke tastes kinda like rusty bilgewater. And okay, so Allie feels the same way, and we’ve raised the kids so they don’t drink Coke either. They drink Dr. Pepper, or Mountain Dew or Slice.
So today I got a message from a friend. She’s passing along an email that got passed along, that got passed along. You know the routine. And according to the email, Pepsi doesn’t believe in God. Or at least, Pepsi doesn’t believe in under God. So okay, I read the email and it’s like one of those urban mythology chain letters that says how Pepsi is going to come out with a special Commemorative Can that has the flag and the Empire State Building and the Pledge of Allegiance. Only the Pepsi Pledge of Allegiance leaves out the phrase “under God.” Which is to say, they used the text of the original Pledge of Allegiance, rather than the version that congress revised in 1950 to point out how we were different from those godless communists, like if it weren’t for the new Pledge of Allegiance 2.0 nobody could tell the difference.
And the email says I should boycott Pepsi because they don’t want to offend anyone so they took Under God out. And so I’m looking at this urban email, this well-meaning spam and I’m thinking, “Should I pass this along to everyone I know, just like it says?” Well, I’m not really thinking that, of course. Instead I’m thinking, “Do I just delete this like all the other messages I get that have more strangers’ email addresses than actual text, or do I respond?”
I’m feeling ornery, so I respond.
This is what I say:
We were just talking about this at the dinner table the other night.... As you probably know, the Pledge of Allegiance (with the "under God" phrase, which happens to have been added after the original text) is a mandatory part of the school day ritual in most classrooms across the US. I object to this for two reasons:
1 - I believe that religious expression -- even when this expression is to deny the existence of God -- is the supreme province of the individual. Government which impinges on the territory of religion compromises the authenticity of both government and religion.
2 - Even as a believer in God, I have trouble with the phrase "under God" on a personal level. It implies that God is "up there" and I am "down here." That separation is the antithesis of my beliefs and the very name of my chosen denomination: Unity.
So, I'm going to continue to enjoy my Pepsi....
And so now I’m thinking that religion is like email. Everybody should be allowed to say what they want, no matter how repetitive or wrong-headed I, in my ultimate wisdom, know it to be.
And maybe you’re one of those people that can’t tell Coke from Pepsi, or Catholicism from Protestantism, or Free Will Baptistry from Apostolic Bibolatry. But to some of us these are fundamental distinctions. Are you a Pepsi Drinker by drinking Pepsi, or was it predestined? Can those who choose the path of Coca Cola find redemption?
And I’m also thinking that some religions may very well be like this email – not even a true story, but something made up in a marketing office in Atlanta. The apocalyptic Pepsi Can they describe is never even going to arrive, and they know it. But they send it along so you will get the true message: