It's Never A Lone Gunman Above The Grassy Knoll
Ruminant With A View
by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
TEANECK, NJ — (OfficialWire) — 12/31/07 -- Elizabeth Boleman- Herring Two articles caught my basilisk eye in November (which now seems so long ago, it could be another century).
On November 26, Time Magazine, one of the plethora of tilted, condensed, Journalism-for Dummies "journals" we publish over this way (and sell for $4.95, which is extortion, pure and simple), ran a story on "The Average American." They called the piece something else, but that's really what it covered: who we (mostly) are; what we (mostly) think; what we (mostly) do.
The statistics confirmed something I've long suspected: despite my passport, annual IRS payments and birth certificate, I am not an American. In fact, I'm so far from the average, that I wonder if I'm even human (something many of my acquaintances have long suspected).
Let me just offer for your delectation some figures. Average Americans are 36.6 years old; only 17 percent of them exercise for over an hour a week-the rest, zip; only half can name a single Gospel and ten percent think Joan of Arc was Noah's wife; most prefer figure skating to NASCAR; most live in the states where they were born (Ignorance and Indifference?); most pray, but do not floss, daily; most huddle for 95 percent of their day indoors where they spend 2-hours online, consume 20 teaspoons of added sugar per diem, and save no money.
The average American family (2.6 members) owns more TVs than it has people, watches 2 hours and 35 minutes of TV a day, uses google and yahoo, predominantly, and spends more time in restaurants than grocery stores.
Nine out of ten of us are moderately or even very satisfied with our work (but not our salaries); priests and firefighters are our happiest citizens. Sixty-six percent of us are overweight or obese. Eighty million of us wake up alone. Our rich are getting richer; but 99.9 percent of us are falling behind.
I got to the end of Time's anything but comprehensive reporting on the great American hoi polloi, and realized I had only one thing in common with the Average U.S. Joe or Jill: sleep disorders. Thirty percent of us have insomnia; 40 percent of us snore; 4 to 5 percent of us talk or walk in our sleep; 85 percent of us have nightmares. That list, hook, line and sinker, applies to me. . .but, as far as everything else is concerned, I might as well hail from Helsinki or the slopes of Hibokhibok (look it up, unless you're one of those who thinks Noah's wife was named Joan, in which case, just forget it).
That was one of the articles that astonished me in November. The other ran in The New York Times, which is a publication lightyears removed from Time in terms of wattage and veracity. It was a very disturbing piece, buried at the foot of the Op/Ed section's page 16, and titled "Pakistan's Collapse, Our Problem."
Composed by Frederick W. Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, and Michael O'Hanlon, of the Brookings Institution, it had a pull-quote (that big-pointed-type thingy in the middle of an article that grabs the reader's attention) that read: "The U.S. might have to send troops to secure nuclear weapons." Over my dead body, I thought, before reading on.
Kagan and O'Hanlon, who are obviously literate fellows (not a lot of figure skating or NASCAR on their schedules) paid to sit around and cogitate about probable international disasters bound to affect "the average American," pretty much outlined, in a third of a page, what we now face in Pakistan, and they didn't even mention the one thing I felt was inevitable: Benazir Bhutto's assassination serving as a key to burgeoning chaos in that country.
They prefaced their piece with, "We do not intend to be fear mongers. . . .," which is the moral equivalent of Lewis Black's opening an HBO Special with, "You will not crack a smile over the next hour." Then, they proceeded to monger fear, and lay out the U.S.'s military-oh yes, all of their options were military-for securing Pakistan's nuclear weapons once the country descends into chaos. The final paragraph of the article-which would be classified as "New Analysis," in the great journalistic scheme of things-read: "The great paradox of the post-cold war world is that we are both safer, day to day, [and anyone who believes that just knows Mrs. Noah was named Joan] and in greater peril than before. There was a time when volatility in places like Pakistan was mostly a humanitarian worry [I can't recall that time; can you?]; today it is as much a threat to our basic security as Soviet tanks once were. We must be militarily and diplomatically prepared to keep ourselves safe in such a world [Oh? And what military would that be, precisely? The housewives and septuagenarians of Neighborhoood Watch-which is about all we've got left? And what diplomats? Condaleeza "Mrs Noah" Rice, perhaps?] Pakistan may be the next big test." Right you were, Kagan and O'Hanlon: right you were.
My husband woke me, gently, out of my always-fitful sleep, this past week to say, "They've assassinated Benazir Bhutto," and the first thing I thought, as the tears began to roll down my face was: "That damned moon roof. She should never have been standing up, while in motion, even, through that damned moon roof." I'd watched footage of her doing just that the week before, an ample woman supporter or family member standing in front of her, and what looked like a large cushion supporting her back. At the point when my husband woke me, I hadn't seen how and where she was killed; I'd just "imagined" it earlier. It would have been so easy, like shooting fish in a barrel, as we say in the South.
I know where I was when Kennedy was shot. I know where I was when Stephen Biko was tortured and killed. I know where I was when Anwar Sadat was assassinated. I know where I was when the last of the Bhutto family willing to return to try to steer Pakistan towards representative democracy (something we really don't have any longer in America, my dears) was silenced.
Benazir said that she was in God's hands, and I pray (an atypical American, I pray and floss) that now she truly is. . .and not the tiny, angry, demented god in which her murderers believe; in which so many of us ( "Average Human Beings" now believe).
I want to close with a quote sent to me by my dear old friend, Former Ambassador Robert Keeley, who supplements my news diet with important readings I would surely otherwise miss.
Here are the closing two paragraphs of a 28 December piece by Rami Khouri, Director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut (an institution that once head-hunted my father for the position of Dean). The piece is titled "Who Killed Benazir Bhutto?" and it bears reading in its entirety.
States Khouri: "I have spent my entire adult life in the Middle East-since the 1970s-watching leaders being assassinated, foreign armies topple governments, local colonels seize power, foreign occupations persist for decades, the rule of law get thrown in the garbage, constitutions being ignored, and, in the end, ordinary people finally deciding they will not remain outside of history, or invisible in their own societies. Instead, they decide to write themselves into the violent and criminal scripts. They kill, as they have been killed. Having been dehumanized in turn, they will embrace inhumanity and brutality.
"Who killed Benazir Bhutto? We all killed her, in east and west, Orient and occident, north and south. We of the globalized beastly generation that transformed political violence from an occasional crime to an ideology and an addiction."
I do not idealize Prime Minister Bhutto. I did not idealize presidents Kennedy or Sadat. Stephen Biko, I firmly believe, was above any reproach: but few politicians are.
But gunning them down, imperfect souls that they are, in cold blood, as they raise their hands to wave, as they go about the business of campaigning, as they move among us like the flawed, average citizens they are and that they represent is a high crime. We need to turn away from the Giants and Patriots' game, from our 230 cans of beer, from our nocturnal nightmares, and face up to the day-lit nightmares we are aiding and abetting far and wide due to ignoring them, or leaving the work of solving them to "others."
We can't leave our life-breaking-or-making decisions, from now on, to Bush, Cheney, Mussharaf, our over-extended National Guard. . .and, no longer, to Benazir Bhutto.
Elizabeth Boleman-Herring publishes www.GreeceTraveler.com. Her pair of memoirs, Greek Unorthodox: Bande à Part & A Farewell To Ikaros, has just been released by Cosmos Publishing at www.GreeceInPrint.com.
Posted 12/31/2007 2:24 AM