Tom Ridge, after seven months on the job as czar of Homeland Security, produced a “terrorist alert color scheme” which no one understood. (Not quite true: everyone understood that it was a remarkably stupid achievement.)
Do you know what color we are under now? Is it red? Green? Yellow? We have to pay attention, people!
In the spirit of Ridge’s initiative, the Rebel Angel column offers its own color scheme, to indicate the prevailing level of insanity.
LIME GREEN. The Attorney-General of the United States, known simply as “General” to the president, can be heard online singing gospel music in that peculiar vocal style of forced, mad jubilation originally introduced into quartet music by unfeeling, ambitious singers who found themselves unable to imitate Black gospel artists with any credibility (unlike, for example, The Statesmen). What Mr. Ashcroft sings is not the gospel music of Mahalia Jackson or even Ralph Stanley. It is sung in the tone of voice one might expect from a man no one has ever seen laugh, who came into office after losing an election to a dead man.
VANILLA VERMILLION. Down South, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, known widely as “the Ten Commandments Judge,” produces verse that can be read online by anyone who can stand to do it. Edgar Poe believed that bad taste, when carried far enough, is prima facie evidence of madness. Judge Roy S. Moore’s most popular piece, “Our American Birthright,” exhibits signs of deep-seated psychological disturbance and could probably be used to keep the author confined in an institution, had it been written in one. (Apologies to Christopher Smart, who wrote brilliantly in Bedlam.)
PURPOSEFUL PURPLE. Richard M. Nixon, meanwhile, of Pell City, is a candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture in the same state where Judge Moore dispenses justice and prosody with equal aplomb. The verse really does make Emmaline Graingerford look like Sappho. You remember Miss Graingerford, surely? You met her in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where she is the author of “Ode to Young Stephen Dowling Bots, Deceased” and the painter of “And Art Thou Gone Yes Thou Art Gone Alas” as well as “And Shall I Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas.”
The quality of Judge Moore’s justice is presumably less entertaining than his verse.
If Richard M. Nixon has produced either poems or recordings, they have yet to surface. His namesake, however, did offer to play a duet at the piano with Duke Ellington, which tells us how much he knew about both music and modesty.
BLINKING YELLOW. In Texas, George W. Bush, with Tony Blair grinning grimly beside him, has announced his triumphant discovery that the violence in the Middle East is Bill Clinton’s fault. “Yes, but whose job is it to stop it?” Blair might have inquired but did not.
DEAD RED. Colin Powell is dispatched to the Middle East, but on the local, with stops in Morocco, Egypt, Syracuse, Paducah and Tucumcari. In Morocco, the king asks Powell bluntly, on camera, what he is doing there and why he isn’t in Jerusalem.
At least Dick Cheney got to take Air Force One when he toured the region, not that it helped.
FADING GRAY. Back home in the American west, while Bush vows to “hunt down the terrorists one by one and bring them to justice,” packs of gray wolves are being pursued like al-Qaeda and killed from the air by government helicopters. If only the al-Qaeda could be made to wear radio collars like the wolves.
CASH GREEN. In the Northwest, the chief of the U. S. Forest Service complains that logging has fallen “far short of projected levels,” rendering the Forest Service “ineffective.” By his reckoning, the U. S. Forest Service should be to the lumber industry more or less what the American Petroleum Institute is to the oil industry. By mine, the Forest Service would deserve to be called “effective” only if it put an end to old growth logging permanently, today.
RAGING BEIGE. If the present is too depressing, try the future, as we contemplate yet another choice between Bush and Beardless, or Edwards with his lawyerly tic, or someone else from the South’s unending supply of Carters and Clintons.
SHEPHERD’S CROOK WHITE. One could write that our two-party political system is corrupt beyond redemption, were it not for the fact that the word “redemption” has religious overtones. And religious overtones, these days, are anything but uplifting or consoling. They are more likely to make us angry and disgusted, given the spectacle of Jerry Falwell’s self-destructive lunacy, Billy Graham’s anti-Semitism (and his son Franklin’s) and the Catholic Church’s massive complicity in both covering up and enabling decades of child sexual abuse. (Are we so scandalized because the perps are priests, or is it because the victims are chiefly male? The thought of little boys as wide-scale victims tempts one to forget that it grows daily more difficult to find women who have not been molested or sexually assaulted as children in this land of family values.)
“Yes, but what about all the ‘good’ priests?” one hears. What about them? one is tempted to respond. How long can they go on perfuming a corpse? How much “good” can anyone accomplish in a privileged position other people are barred from holding on the basis of gender or sexual orientation?
I was a college professor at a women’s college in Virginia for a while. One Sunday morning some of my students, one of whom was Black, went to church. The Black student was told from the pulpit that she wasn’t welcome. The other young women with her got up immediately and left.
It wasn’t rocket science. They weren’t activists, they merely acted. They had no political (or theological) training, but to their enduring credit it never occurred to them to “stay and work for change.”
David Vest writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com