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Someone writes to me in favor of arming the populace for national defense, on the ground that terrorists would be reluctant to board any airplane knowing that the entire complement of passengers was armed.

So, of course, would anyone else in his right mind.

Another correspondent offers the old myth that Japan choose to bomb Pearl Harbor rather than to invade our mainland because their leaders knew our people had guns.

Perhaps this same argument will keep the United States out of Afghanistan, though I doubt it.

I bring this up not to launch a new argument with gun advocates. It is understandable that a true believer in any cause will see a national emergency as reason to argue that cause with greater urgency. In the public arena, this can be useful. It can, for example, allow hateful charlatans like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson the opportunity to expose their true feelings for all to behold.

For the most part, there has been a commendable absence of authentic nuttiness on the national airwaves since Sept. 11, although Fox did resort to hauling Jeanne Kirkpatrick in for an interview. (Who knew she was still alive? You decide.)

Then there was Billy Graham’s poor daughter, who really should get out more. She told Brian Gumble the other day that “God was being a perfect gentleman in doing just what we asked Him to do” when He stayed out of our lives and allowed people to attack us on Sept. 11. The heartlessness of it was stunning.

There is probably something to be said for airing all this vacuous puerility, for lancing these boils of unfeeling stupidity and getting the viciousness out of our national system.

Air time is there to be filled, and why not interview people who think like Mariah Carey sings? What’s the alternative? Talking to Edward Said or Noam Chomsky? Finding out what Ralph Nader thinks?

“Intellectual disgrace/Stares from every human face,” said Auden. Still, most people seem to know that now is not the right time to destroy themselves on TV.

However, it’s not what’s being said and done in front of cameras and microphones that troubles me. I don’t have much of a problem with anchor people waving little flags and sobbing. What else can they do? They’ve long forgotten how to report news, ask hard questions or investigate anything of substance. (Can you say “Carlyle Group,” dear anchor?)

What concerns me more is what else might not be getting shown on TV while we watch the twin towers collapse again and yet again.

For example, no one has shown me the truth about what’s going on with Cheney and his health. Are they telling themselves it’s in the interests of national security to keep quiet? Telling themselves that is easy. They do it all the time.

They still haven’t told us the names of the industry insiders who helped Cheney write energy policy, either. (Here, look at this picture of the towers collapsing again. Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain.)

At the old ball park, the singing of the National Anthem and the Seventh Inning Stretch are the two most productive times for pickpockets, who flourish in those moments when the public’s lump-in-the-throat attention is directed elsewhere.

If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, times of national catastrophe are the first choice of the con artist and huckster.

There are people who jack up the price of flags and gasoline. People who show up at the widow’s door with a box of dust and ashes, claiming to have retreived the remains of the lost beloved. Artists who haven’t had a hit in eons competing for the chance to bellow “I’m proud to be an American” at any public event (but not “This Land is Your Land”). There are evangelists who know a golden opportunity for gay-bashing when they see one. Oil companies who would like to seize the moment and drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while other matters weigh on the public mind. You get the feeling they would drill in Arlington National Cemetary if allowed.

Who do petrochemical plants along the Gulf Coast take advantage of hurricanes and tropical storms to emit their most noxious clouds of poison? People hiding in the cellar or joining evacuation routes are somehow less observant than on, say, a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The environment is never in greater peril than when no one is watching. The same can be said for our civil rights. In “a war unlike any other,” says the president, “sometimes we’ll see the fruits of our labors, and sometimes we won’t.”

The president was referring to efforts to track down those who planned and financed the Sept. 11 attacks. “There is no doubt in my mind, no doubt at all, that we will fail,” he told the Labor Department, and the nation, only this morning. Sometimes he (and we) will hear what he says, and sometimes he (and we) won’t. CP

David Vest is a writer, poet and piano player for the Cannonballs. A native of Alabama, he now lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit his webpage for samples of the Cannonballs’ brand of take no prisoners rock & roll and other Vest columns: http://www.mindspring.com/~dcqv

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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