Flying to Phoenix

September 12, 2004

Flying to Phoenix, a five-hour flight from Newark, entering the dream zone inside the metal capsule. They played the movie "The Day After Tomorrow", the new catastrophe movie from the maker of "Independence Day". It's a scenario of global climate change in which New York is brutally pounded by floods and dumped with snow and ice. I didn't pay the five bucks for the earphones to be able to watch it because the image was tiny and washed out and would hardly have transmitted the proper effect. But I took a peek every now and then and it looked frighteningly plausible. It's pretty close to what scientists are telling us is going to happen in a few years at present rates of global climate change, which is happening even quicker than previously predicted.

Of course the Bush political formula of making all decisions based on the short-term profit requirements of big contributors requires him to say the science is in doubt, we need more research before we make any moves to diminish our consumption of fossil fuels and move toward alternatives. Later, later. As he told Woodward, who cares about the future? We'll all be dead. Maybe sooner than previously thought at this rate. Bush doesn't believe in science, sides with the born-agains who say "creationism" must have equal time in the educational curriculum if teachers dare bring up that indecent concept of evolution.

Down and down and down and down and down and down and down we go. It continues. With ichthyosauruses in leadership positions, the whole human race is headed swiftly toward extinction.

But no need to worry about that. There's the next quarterly statement to consider right now. When the movie was finished and the flight attendants allowed us to open our windowshades again and let non-video reality invade the space, we were 250 miles from Phoenix and I Iooked out my window at what appeared to be the Martian landscape. Red, craggy mountains stared back at me with ancient eyeless vision, their faces deeply lined with ageless rivulets of erosion, standing out in sharp relief in the dark shadows of the late afternoon. It was otherworldly, shocking to see after the last landscape I had seen was that of the Garden State. Then suddenly the mountain landscape was gone and there was a flat basin below in which Phoenix was nestled. When we arrived on the ground at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (also known as Barry Goldwater airport) the sun had already eclipsed behind the horizon, but the sky was still luminescent blue. The flight attendant announced that the temperature in Phoenix was 100 degrees. At dusk. Earlier, I was told, it had been 110.

I saw Friday's USA Today and perused its sad headlines. Powell accused Sudan of genocide, it said, "condemns 'atrocities'" it said. I wonder if the use of quotation marks around the word "atrocities" has anything to do with Powell's shattered credibility after lying to the U.N. and standing for a foreign policy that produced many thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq, not to mention a thousand dead American soldiers and thousands more maimed and shattered.

On page 5, the Associated Press reported that "Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, says the United States is on the brink of defeat in both Iraq and Afghanistan... The Americans in both countries are between two fires. If they continue, thhey bleed to death, and if they withdraw, they lose everything." And as he trades insults with the American leadership, the real life humans on the ground, the pawns in the game, are suffering and dying. He is also quoted as saying the era of security for Americans is over "unless their government stops what he described as crimes againnst Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and 'Palestine'". Another interesting use of quotation marks by USA Today around "Palestine". Even such a small point of punctuation expresses a mountain of history and a political position.

The story about the controversy over new evidence about Bush's military non-service made page 7, with a neutralized headline: "Accusations exchanged over Bush's military record." The Bush camp calls them "old charges" and they are, though true and never acknowledged by them for obvious reasons. Oh well, why should the prince have had to play by the same rules as regular people? The whole idea is absurd.

Saturday morning there was all the 9/11 commemoration, which is spun into political promo for Bush, of course, for some great speech he made that earned him hero status, though an Oscar might have been more appropriate. There was live footage of Rumsfeld at Arlington, and a blonde woman in a dark military uniform singing "Amazing Grace" with a stiff operatic vibrato, a military interpretation of spirituality. And split-screen simultaneous coverage of a ceremony in New York at Ground Zero. The TV news has a way of trivializing even the momentous suffering of the thousands left behind by that tragedy so that it becomes a political commercial for Bush and war squeezed between other commercials, showing momentary glimpses of crying people, reducing shattered lives to sounbites. I flipped the changer to other things, saw a young girl singing on a video on VH-1, cute, voluptuous, with smooth features and all the emotional depth of a child screeching for a piece of candy. Scanning around the TV dial there is no relief, no escape from the corporatized, dehumanized, militarized, commoditized culture. In Phoenix there may be no penetration of the media matrix by any alternative vision, no Air America or Pacifica radio. So many people are never exposed to anything outside of that controlled vision in which the giant corporations are gods to whom we all bow down. With them controlling the cultural messages, America is continuing to evolve into an ever more superficial, materialistic, selfish, greedy, short sighted. The cultural messages reflect a cultural ethos that is all about me, what can you do for me, what can I get, what can I possess, what pleasure can I squeeze out of someone or something. We don't care who we kill when we lash out because we were hurt. Don't bother me with the fact that the thousands of Iraqis who have died from our bombs had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.

And yet when I leave the TV screen and I see the people of America, I see a different picture. The people are not represented by that greedy corporate culture. They are drowned in its messages, but they still possess traits of humanity, they wish to do good for other people. They just don't hear any alternatives to the corporate message.

Tonight CNN is showing a report of a woman who was undecided but just made her decision based on fear of terrorism. Who did she choose? Bush. "I know there are budget deficits, problems with jobs, but I just want to be safe..." And I always wonder, why do they think they are safe under Bush? What has led them to think he will protect them. The worst attack on America happened on his watch. The evidence shows that he ignored explicit warnings before it happened, and when told that it had happened, did absolutely nothing for crucial minutes. When he did move, he fled across the country like a frightened rabbit. He tried to prevent investigations into what happened to allow it to happen. What is it about him that makes people think he makes America safe? Just because he says so? Saying it doesn't make it so.

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