Friday--October 11
, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 394
Dismissed & Cribcrash?

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, October 11--The sky is falling!  At least that's what I think as I watch the television monitors hanging from the ceiling as I work out at my local gym in the East Village.
        Four television monitors hang from the ceiling, making it easy for the "wanna-be-skinnier" crew of mostly young people, and me, the old one, to trundle on the treadmills and bicycles lined like tanks on a "kill-the-fat" battlefield.  

     I go to the gym to work off the fat, and to spark new energy in tired, Geritol-prone bones.   I use the time to scan the news on the monitors--usually, at least one of them has it.   Today, however, I get a full dose of the difference between Vigilance and Complacency.
      On one of the four monitors, Wolf Blitzer is reporting on all the mounting evidence allowing America to go to war with Iraq.   The monitors are silent.  Captions slowly reveal his words, a second or two out of sync, as he reports Congress just rallied behind President Bush, and the Senate looks like it’s also going to endorse unilateral action—if necessary—against Saddam.
      I know it's historic.  It's the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution all over.   It's an authorization, an endorsement by the people's representatives to allow their sons and daughters to be killed in pursuit of the "evil one," the tyrant of the 21st Century.   It's the O.K. Corral.  It's High Noon.  It's the new Nine Eleven, ala 2002.
      The silence from the monitors is carved by the sounds of grunts and gasps, and the smell of sweat permeating the air, and people lined up against the wall waiting for exercise machines.   I glance at the other three screens.
     On one, NBC is reporting the renewal of new Al Qaeda threats against the United States.  NBC flashes video tapes of Osama bin Laden, suggesting he’s alive and ready to pick up where he left off.   Interspersed between these reports, clips of a French super oil tanker, crippled by what authorities suspect is a Terrorist bomb in Yemen, appear.  I secretly wonder if the CIA did it and made it look like Terrorists in a covert attempt to pull France into supporting the Iraqi attack.  I think I've seen too many Agency and Alias television shows.  My distrust for events in prelude to war make me paranoiac.   Even the West Wing has a subplot about the U.S. killing a tyrant and trying to cover it up as an Israeli act. 

      On either side of the monitors shoveling out the news of impending war and rampant Terrorism,  hang  two more television screens.  They reveal something quite different.  They are blasting out the ongoing drama of Dismissed and Cribcrash—two mindless youth-oriented shows aired on MTV.

       Dismissed is a cruel dating game.  Two girls or two guys vie for a date.  If one isn’t liked for whatever reason, he or she is “Dismissed.”   The girls or guys make unsavory comments about the other on camera, a kind of “light Terrorism,” emotionally targeted to wound the others’ ego.   There is a verbal catfight going on as two young women try to win over a guy's vote, and avoid being terminated by a "Dismissed" card.  
       I figure it's one of those brainwash shows that people stare blankly at when they’re about to die, or, perhaps already dead, or, they're exercising.   I flick my eyes from the monitor to the people exercising, measuring who is watching what--the thunder of war or whether the blonde with the big chest or the Eurasian with the cat-eyes will win the date and not get "dismissed."
       When I look back I see the MTV show Dismissed is gone, replaced by another I will call Cribcrash.  I don't know what its real name is, but I see a van pull up in front of a house with a big sign on it--CRIBCRASH--and a bunch of MTV kids pour out with boxes in their arms, rushing into the house to repair it for nesting.
        I assume it is another “waste-your-time-and-mind” show.   I can’t figure out the purpose of the game, for the screen shows the twenty-something crew painting and arranging furniture, making the house ready for their "crash."
        I figure it must be one of the new “reality” programs that young people tune into right after work when they’re loading their gun to kill themselves because “life sucks.”   There can be no other justifiable reason for its presence on the airwaves than to barometer the utter wasteland of human existence the youth belong to, and justify the need for binge drinking to "get away from it all."  

computer motherboard

          I understand the need to escape "reality."  All day I’ve been frustrated because a critical section of my website has been eaten by the Beast of Terror who lurks in my computer's “Motherboard.”

          I’m angry with myself for not backing up everything daily—being "Computer Vigilant."   I feel hypocritical because I shout and scream on these pages to everyone else about protecting the children, and their children's children's children.   My words are my children.  I exposed them to kidnapping by not backing them up.  I was Complacent.   There is no greater Terror for a writer than to think he’s lost all his children, the thousands upon thousands of words he created, mothered, fathered, loved, preened, pampered and then published.   I am trying to sweat my way out of the dark feeling of abandonment and loss, and hoping I can resurrect all the words.   My wife is at home trying to repair the damage while I work out.    I grew so angry at myself I snapped and growled at her and figured it was time to "sweat out my Beast."
          To reduce my frustration, I hoped for a mindless trip to the gym.   But the television monitors anger me, frustrate me.   I see the Eve of Destruction on one monitor, and the mindless Complacency about it on the MTV shows.   The gym provides clickers so whomever wants to change the channel can.   My machine doesn't have one.  I am forced to watch the scene before me--historic news on one set of monitors, emptiness on the others.   
        Demographically, the gym is evenly mixed in the early evening, about half men and women.  In the morning, it’s mostly female.   The average age I guess to be the late 20’s and early 30’s, with some oldies but goodies like myself thrown in.

Marshall McLuhan

         I’m not a big television news hound.  Television news seems to be to be “off the cuff” reporting.  It spins information in my book, making its information a billboard rather than something worth digesting. I think of media guru Marshall McLuhan's statement:  "The Message Is The Massage."   I feel we are all massaged by the news.  Also, I have an aversion to a male reporter who puts on make-up before giving the news.   I figure it's a mask.
       And Wolf Blitzer has never impressed me except for his name.  I admire and respect wolves. They are cunning.  They run in packs, working as teams.  They treasure their young.  Every member of the pack is a mother and father to the pups, willing to risk their lives for their young.   They are Vigilant creatures, bound by family and purpose--dedicated to the future generations by respecting the safety of the present one.
       So I give Wolf partial credit.  But the last part of his name, Blitzer, connotes he is one of Santa’s reindeer disguised as a human being.   Mentally, I position Wolf  somewhere between a vicious animal and a Christmas gift from FAO Schwarz.  His beard doesn’t do much for me either.   I’ve always heard a man who wears one has something to hide.
       Despite my prejudice against Wolf, he's beating the war drums, announcing one of the biggest decisions of the year, or decade, or post-Tonkin Resolution endorsement.  He's telling the people of the nation their representatives have given President Bush a rubber stamp to launch war. 

       But that news seems to garner little attention.  What draws the eyes of those exercising is the two young women, maybe 19 to 23, fighting over this guy who each one hopes will pick her to be his date.  One gives him a big, long slurping kiss and coaxes him to jump into the ocean with his clothes on.   The three ride horses up the beach.  The guy is supposed to pick one of the two girls fawning over him.
      I look at the screen next to where MTV's Dismissed is showing the battle for the date.  It's an NBC news report about the wounded French tanker.  
       I glance again between the four screens.  Wolf is now giving a “sniper update.”  Next to his screen, the two girls are sitting around a fire with a guy.  One of them hands the other girl a “dismissed” card and hauls the guy to a hammock where she cuddles up to him.  On next screen, NBC shows a French official talking about the crippled oil tanker.   Then the screen switches to videos of Osama bin Laden, showing him at a Terrorist training camp, allegedly alive and well, plotting his next attacks on America.
        Cribcrash comes on.   Young people pour out of a van to a house and start painting and furnishing it.   On another screen excerpts from President Bush’s statement from the Oval Office are being replayed.  His mouth moves in silence as the captions ratchet across the lower section of the screen.  He is charging Iraq with more violations to the peace of the world.  He hammers at him to resign or “else.”  He puffs out his chest and tells the world America will take action with or without the world's support if Hussein doesn't meet our demands.

         As the President rattles his swords, the MTV kids in Cribcrash are examining an ottoman someone brought into the room they are painting.  Everyone admires it.   They feel it to make sure it will look and feel good in their new "crib."

      Sweat’s pouring off me as my heart and body tell me I’m warmed up.   But I can’t stop wondering:  “These kids are about to go to war.   The U.S. Congress has just handed President Bush—from Texas—the authorization to go kick Saddam Hussein’s butt.  And, nobody’s changing the channel from Dismissed or Cribcrash.
       Had war become so non-threatening to the youth they didn’t care any more, or, did they no longer believe the threats would change their lives?      
       Didn’t they know that cover of Newsweek was all about smallpox, or that Saddam and Osama are now have their backs against the wall—with nothing to lose and everything to gain by launching whatever "horrors of destruction" they have in storage against us as their last act of defiance?
       It gave me the creeps that MTV has more appeal than Wolf or NBC.   .
       I worry most about Complacency.
       The other evening, for example, when President Bush gave his pre-Congress speech about his position on Iraq, NBC, CBS and ABC didn’t air it.   They pumped out their sitcoms, raked in their advertising, and left the American public wallowing again in a sea of civic Complacency—not unlike the purpose of Dismissed or Cribcrash.
        Terrorism takes many forms—its most elusive and dangerous I believe is Complacency.   What scared me most was no one changed the channel from Dismissed or Cribcrash, and worse, I watched the youths’ eyes and saw they found those programs more eye appealing than Wolf Blitzer or what was happening in Yemen.
        Young people aren’t much interested in politics, I know.  They don’t vote.   They’re busy trying to look good, achieve, make their marks, pay the rent, fall in love and spend their passions upon the earth.   To them, the future is NOW!   Iraq is a million miles away, a place where “others” will fight and die.

        That’s scary.  Because, it’s not true.

        Terrorism attacks the young, the innocent, the unaware, the Complacent.   The sniper in Maryland is shooting the Complacent One.  He’s picking people who are “average.”  He’s not shooting authority figures—cops, firemen, and politicians.  His bullets target the “working stiff,” the man, woman or child just trying to “live life,” to get by one day at a time.   He’s attacking the Silent Majority, as though to teach them a lesson, a foreshadowing of the potential onslaught of Terrorism many expect to blowback in our faces when we attack Iraq.
         The Maryland sniper’s tactics are in no way justified or sanctioned as a means of teaching a lesson.   They are horrible, twisted, retaliations against a mundane society.  They are horrid examples of the ease of killing and Terrorizing thousands with single bullets.  They are, metaphorically,  “shots across the bow” of the Silent Majority-- vicious warnings to take notice, to become Vigilant or “die.”
        As I ground down my speed of walking to cool off,  I wondered if his next target might be someone working out a gym, watching Dismissed or Cribcrash.  
        I wondered about the young people working feverishly to lose that pound or two so they would look good, how they would react to red blotches covering their body from smallpox, or, what priority their looks would have compared with  the shock of seeing their friends in bitter battle, covered with blood, in some sandlot in the Middle East, or, ravaged by some primitive gas that Hussein had waiting that he didn’t use in 1991.
         I wasn’t critical of  youths' Complacency.  But I was of their parents’.
         Children are the sum of their parents’ attitudes and outlooks.   They are their reflection, facets of what they were taught to believe in.
         If the parents of the young people working out around me had been Parents of Vigilance, someone would have changed the channel on Dismissed or Cribcrash.   I kept hoping they would.  
        They didn’t.  And I suspected the reason.
         The passion for Vigilance in America has yet to be fired.   September 11, 2001, was an ignition, but that spark has fizzled.    Far too many think it was a “one-time” event, an anomaly.    There were no follow-up attacks.   There were no other bombings.   Why wouldn’t inexperienced youth simply want to go back to “normal?”

        They did.
        And that’s their parent’s fault.  
        The sniper in Maryland is reminding us all that Terrorism is on the march.   He’s reminding us that the Beast of Terror is just flexing his muscles.  Each bullet he fires is a precursor to a showdown with Terrorism that will make working out at the gym a secondary issue in the lives of our youth.    It will be they, the youth, that fight and die.
        Old people don’t fight wars.  Young people do.
       The blood of their friends, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles will be shed.   Not their mother’s or father’s, or their grandparents’.  
        And, in this conflict, non-combatants will not be safe.  
       Terrorism’s nature is viral.   It can be brought to a nation in a small vial, or through an infected person.   Terrorists don’t need foreign armies to invade America.    They need a rifle and some bullets and a shooting gallery.  They need a few vials of biochemical’s and a horde of people jammed in a location.   They need some fertilizer and nitrates wrapped around their belly at a rock concert.
      I fear Complacency.  
      I fear we might Dismiss Vigilance as our preferred date, and let Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein “crash our crib.”

       If you are a young person, take the Pledge of Vigilance now.   Then grow into being a Parent of Vigilance.  Do it not for yourself, but for your children’s children’s children.
      And, if you are a parent, take the Pledge.   Help protect your children’s right to make you Grandparents of Vigilance, for only when we all, as Citizens of Vigilance, stand up and are counted, will we “dismiss” Terrorism to crash in a “crib” that is far more Complacent than ours.


Go To Oct 10 Story:  The Mind Of A Surgical Sniper

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