Sunday, July 29, 2007

What the Hell are You Doing in the Bathroom All This Time?

Good afternoon, Mr. Wochysky. I believe your acquaintances call you Timmy, yes?

I'm sure it is startling to hear an unfamiliar voice at this particular time and place Timmy, but it is critical that you pay close attention to what I'm about to say. Pursuant to certain classified executive orders, we are tasked with gathering information that may be relevant for the identification, pursuit and capture of terrorists, elements of their logistical or financial support networks, or people who have or potentially could someday find themselves in physical proximity to terrorists. Or people that look like terrorists. Or think about terrorism.

Or other people.

Our investigative purview is unlimited where we believe there may be a national security interest. We may, by our own prerogative, require access to financial records, credit histories, foreign and domestic travel itineraries, information about family, friends and business associates, religious and political affiliations, telephone records, email and Web browsing histories, etc. etc.

But what we need to know right now is what in the hell are you doing in the bathroom all this time?

You did the same thing yesterday at about this time, yet afterwards the soap and the sink basin were both dry. The toilet seat emitted no residual warmth. And yet there were 37 fewer sheets of toilet paper on the roll than were there when you entered the bathroom. It just doesn't make sense.


Are you aware that toilet paper, given its propensity to dissolve quickly in water, can be an ideal medium for carrying coded messages? Or that is can be an important ingredient in explosives? No? Well... OK. Just checking. If you do ever become aware of anything like that, we expect you to alert us immediately.

There's no need shout. Speak towards the shampoo dispenser and we can hear you quite clearly.

I'll cut to the chase, Timmy--if that really is your name--we've been observing you since your 14th birthday, almost a year ago. And you, young man, are up to something. On that point our team of analysts is unanimous. We know secretive, conspiratorial behavior when we see it. We see the nervousness, the furtive glances, how withdrawn you've become.

For example, what is in that social studies book that you walk around at school holding in front of you all the time? You might as well tell us, because our cryptologists will figure it soon enough. Why not come clean and make this easy on yourself?

OK, Timmy, if that's the way you want to play it. Let's talk about something else. You sure did spend a lot of time trying to crack the password on the Internet filter that your dad installed, didn't you? I guess "golf" seemed pretty obvious once you got it. Almost as if your father wanted you to be able get past the firewall. Believe me, it's something we're looking into. Incidentally, your dad might not make it home in time to drive you to soccer practice today.

Just a gut feeling.

Let's just stop playing these games Timmy, we know exactly what you did and why you did it. You think we're not aware of the vast network of apparently ordinary Americans who are sending and receiving coded messages via the Web sites you've been visiting? I won't say how far we've gotten in gleaning the plans contained in those squeals, moans and screams. But that "Oh, god! Oh god!" stuff is pretty obvious. No translation required. "Allahu Akhbar," eh Timmy?

You can bet we've already adapted our physical profiling guidelines. And our body search protocols.

You must be pretty mortified right about now, right? Humiliated? To have your sick thought exposed to the world? But we've been watching you. Surely it occurred to you that you were being watched? You suspected your father's new wife was the mole, didn't you? It must have seemed a little suspicious, she being so much younger than your father. We've seen how you watch her when her back is turned, or when she's bending over to get something from the kitchen cabinets. We know you've rifled her underwear drawers when she's not home, looking for evidence of her real identity. But you didn't find anything, did you? And you never will.

Christ, what the hell is going on in there?! It's been like 20 minutes!

What's that?! Did you just ask whether we have a search warrant? Do you realize what we could do to you just for asking that question?! Do you?!

Of course you don't. Frankly, neither do I. The executive order under which we operate is so secret that even we aren't privy to its provisions. Our superiors, whoever they may or may not be, have instituted an iron-clad hot-warm-cold policy to alert us if and when we may be conducting our work in a manner close to the limits of our authority. Or, at least that's our understanding, though we have to date never received any temperature-based feedback regarding our operations.

But so you know, we may or may not be authorized to hold you indefinitely without the right of habeus corpus, to deny you contact with your relatives, to subject you to stress positions, sleep deprivation, or to threaten you with angry dogs, ferrets, or hamsters. We could yank you out of that bathroom and set you up in a 10x10 cinderblock cell at hotel Uzbekistan.

Or not. But if we can, we will certainly insist you wash your hands before we go anywhere.

You'd be surprised at what a hamster can do when it's really irritated.

Against the law?! What an outrageous suggestion! Rest assured, whatever it is we are authorized to do, it is absolutely legal. How can you be sure? Well, we totally swear it is.

What is that?! Are you flushing?! Nice try, Timmy, but I think you've fallen right into our trap. Perhaps you've heard of the TSA program? It stands for Total Sewage Awareness, Timmy. You think you've just destroyed the evidence, but 10 minutes from now we'll be going over that evidence with a fine tooth comb.

What's that? Now you're wising up Timmy. That's right. Just slip it out under the door, and no sudden moves. You're not imagining the sounds of those helicopters. We could turn this bathroom into a crater in the blink of an eye.

What's this!? This is just a girlie magazine! You think this is going to throw us off your track? Do you think we're idiots?! Do you?!

Don't even bother to answer that. It's classified.

Editor's note to the author: We had intended to use this space to congratulate you on your first post in this space, but regrettably we find ourselves apologizing to our readers for the prurient content of the work. For future reference, this is not the kind of thing we are looking for.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

We are Such a Disappointment to Me

You know how when you were a kid you mixed all the colors of your paint kit together, thinking that you would thereby create a new super-color? A color so blinding and powerful that to view it would cause your eyeballs to burst?

We all know what happened. It turned out to be the color of poop.

This is instructive, for Americans are a wildly varied bunch as well, and our government is now, as it almost always is, an accurate reflection of our totality. So what happens when many-hued America looks in the mirror and sees our government looking back at us?

We discover that we look like shit.

Sure, the feedback loop between electorate and elected runs both ways, and the government has great power to mold and manipulate public opinion. But the people are the gale that drives all political vessels, and though politicians may tack into the wind in pursuit of their own specific agenda, you may be sure that they keep their sails full nonetheless.

The thought that our government will always be an honest reflection of our populace does not make me optimistic, for if there is one thing I can't stand, it is people. We are, after all, just critters, crouching in our burrows, defending our territory, redolent of our own effluvia. How could any student of our behavior doubt our purely animal ancestry? When we feel fear, we blindly flail our claws. When told that our consumerist ways are unsustainable, we react by buying even more useless crap and then hording it so that while starving refugees wander the barren post-apocalyptic moonscape of the future planet earth, those with foresight and a portable generator may still watch their giant-screen outdoor television. And when we can obtain an unlimited supply of salty snacks, we turn on E!, tear open the bags and surrender ourselves to obesity with the same sense of relief and euphoria with which one welcomes the onset of hypothermia.

In other animals, wired only for involuntary compliance with the siren call of their instinctual compulsions, this behavior would not be notable. However, despite all evidence to the contrary, it is in fact possible for people to conduct themselves in a manner neither brutish nor dull. Recently, a team of brilliant imaginary researchers examined tens of thousands of cases in which people exhibited apparent integrity or altruism. After eliminating those cases that turned out to be marketing ploys, there remained nearly half a dozen that could only be explained as the product of intelligence catalyzed by niceness. With the results of this study in hand, these same make-believe researchers dressed like scientists and determined that American citizens are even theoretically--theoretically--capable of recognizing the deceptions of our government and corporate-controlled press, throwing the evil warlords out of office, and heralding a new era of wisdom and compassion.

With rainbows and flowers.

Keep in mind though that Einstein also had a theory, a theory that gravity could bend space/time--which turns out to be true--but you and your children and your children's children will be born and die and never once see anything like that happen.

So if it's simply too much to ask for people to behave, how can we proceed? Well, the founding fathers, who was some pretty smart cookies, had thoughts on that subject. The founders hated people almost as much as I do. Out of their great wisdom and incandescent loathing for mankind was born a form of government designed to prevent the inevitably stupid and destructive notions of its citizens from ever being put into action. Its particular genius is the way it evolves over time in apparent response to the changing sensibilities of the electorate, ostensibly allowing each new generation the opportunity to implement favored policies. But this is mere pablum for the naive. In fact, the elegant organism of our government mutates through the decades into forms best adapted to obstruct the hateful, self-injurious instincts of each new crop of greedy rotten degenerates that spring from America's rancid womb.

It's freaking brilliant and it's served us admirably for 200+ years. That's a damn good run for any democracy. Look it up. We are the Babe Ruth of republics.

The truth of what I'm saying is in evidence now, when a President has come along who has managed to circumvent the systemic barriers that ensure we can't get what we think we want. And we got it alright. In spades. With chocolate sauce on top. And we're finding that what we thought we wanted is, in academic terms, "not so good."

Don't tell me that this administration is in fact operated contrary to public opinion. Don't tell me about the President's tailspinning approval ratings, or how 70% of voters think the Iraq war was wrong. Sure, America has peeled her drool-slick face off the bar top, rubbed her bloodshot eyes and is looking around for somebody of whom she can inquire, what exactly happened last night? But the damage is done. We all know the ending to morality tales about a boy who was granted everlasting life, or infinite riches. Once the curse part of experience sets in, you don't get any points for acknowledging your mistake. It's too late. And guess what? It really is our own fault. Even more pathetic, we don't even learn anything from it. We'll get drunk again tonight, pass out, and tomorrow we'll ask the first genie we see to make all that we touch turn to gold.

And it's too damn bad, because we could be more than just critters. And this is why we are such a disappointment to me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Your Brain: Use It or Lose It

I recently called up a good friend of mine who's an ad executive to tell him how stunned I was to unexpectedly experience an "in-tunnel" subway advertisement, an illuminated animation projected on the windows of my speeding coach.

"That's nothing," he replied. "Soon we're going to wire the seats so that the ad plays in your head."

"Kill me now," said I.

"I," he countered, acknowledging the cost of admission in his chosen profession, "am already dead."

But setting aside the prospect of such a consummation of the Orwellian descent already well begun, the exchange got me thinking... about thinking.

The curdled pudding between our ears is perhaps that last virginal territory not directly accessible to marketers and gub'mint spooks. Yes, we are highly subject to the power of suggestion, and we can as a trivial matter be made to cluck like chickens, buy prescription medications for a host of non-existent maladies (chronic dry-eye syndrome, anyone?), or believe that terrorists hate us for our freedoms.

But we still have the option--rarely though we avail ourselves--of actually thinking our own thoughts, and coming to conclusions scandalously inconsistent with what CNN is saying, ingracious to the dear leader who is working so hard to protect us, and which have nothing to offer in their favor but the small fact that they are true.

So let us think. How is it that the debate about the progress of the "surge" has been framed as a mere measure of violence in Iraq? More killing this week--surge failing! Less killing. Surge working! Now, all of us that would see this sorry debacle brought to an expeditious close can be most pleased by the fact that killings of every variety show no sign of abating. Each time a new batch of swarthy, mustachioed caricatures of actual individual humans are blasted into a collection of unattached limbs and torsos, we can relish the satisfaction that we are just that much closer to consensus on withdrawal. And of course, it also means we are Right. Oh, how well we'll sleep tonight!

The MSM tracks the rising chaos in the cradle of civilization while Tony Snow plays hopscotch with smiling children in the one neighborhood of Bahgdad that is not in flames. But think--the visible violence is only an indirect and superficial measure of the state of affairs. Common sense and a little bit of background info--the un-spun facts that the media and the administration let on because it is quite inconceivable to them that you would ever use them to think for yourself--will tell you all you need to know:

1. Every Iraqi knows that we don't have the resources to police their country for much longer.

2. The old power structure is gone. There's a great big pie to be divvied up. Yes it's made with dates and it's got sand in it, but it's a pie all the same. And everybody likes pie.

3. In modern history, Iraq has only been at peace when beneath the suffocating weight of dictatorship.

4. Everyone over the age of nine has a gun.

So even if Bahgdad echoed with the chirping of songbirds and the gleeful shouts of children at play, it wouldn't mean squat without sustainable, enforcable political agreement. That means agreement that meets the needs of at least the three or four most important interest groups in a substantial way.

And friends, we are a long ways away from anything like that.

I'm not trying to be really negative. I'm only sayin'