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Nov 21, 2012

Freedom Fries --- Chapter 1: Lynx news (part 2)

Previously: George W. Bush, retired, is watching a show about his presidency on LYNX news, and is about to develop second thoughts about his achievements. Betty Bartholomeo is the show's anchor,Samuel Fisher is LYNX's founder and CEO.

Meanwhile, back at Prairie Chapel Ranch, Bush swings his gun — not his gun, Hussein’s gun — and Bartholomeo continues: “The President’s ratings soared again, deservedly, to precedented heights, although the liberal media were never able to forgive the president his success, and carped about the alleged absence of weapons of mass destruction, the casualties of Iraqi civilians in the ensuing civil war, the cost of the war, the casualties on the American side, the manipulation of war-supporting intelligence, and the Abu Ghraib prison event, when a few inappropriate pictures of prisoners were leaked to the media in detriment to the security of our troops…”

Betty gives way to a photograph of a figure tiptoeing on top of a tiny box, covered by a soiled bluish sheet ragged at the hem, the arms half-stretched sideways, the open palms turned to the camera, gnarled wires connected to both hands and liaised back to some cabling on the wall, the head covered with a pointed black hood. There is an eerie composition to the photograph; it balances the suggestion of an electrocution with the floppiness of a practical joke.


The retired first couple knows this picture, of course; the entire world knows it, it has served as an icon of resistance against the War in Iraq. Even the mainstream Economist, a supporter of the war, has put it on its cover with the cry: “Resign, Rumsfeld.”

Old news, used news, no reason to get aggravated. Still, Doubya stops swinging his gun as the snapshot appears on the screen. Laura observes the nexus between torture and gun-swinging and makes a mental note.

-“I should have accepted Rummie’s resignation right then,” Doubya says.
-“He didn’t offer any resignation right then.”
-“Well, he was sort of misingenuous. On TV, he said, he did, right?”

He does it again, Laura thinks. “Disingenuous,” she says, “disingenuous, not misingenuous. Disingenuous.”
-“English as first language,” Doubya replies, “a recipe for trouble, especially with former librarians to whom one happens to be married.”

He could have swung his gun again, Laura thinks, which he doesn’t.
-“You’d be no better in Spanish,” she says.
-“Mexican is my strong suit.”

Okay, she thinks. He won. I still love him. She looks out of the window, where the western sky reflects the new mournfulness of Doubya’s eyes.  “Those pictures were mistakenly called torture, although there had been no organ failure, nor death,” Lynx interrupts.

***

Fisher walks back and forth across the breadth of his titanic mezzanine office; outside, the dark, starless sky serves as backdrop of Manhattan’s electric skyline. Betty studies him, then herself.
“Our theme tonight is History’s Justice,” her anchor presence says, “and we should not fail to mention President Bush’s intervention in Afghanistan, where he vigorously and courageously chased, and almost caught Al Qaida head Bin Laden, and countless other terrorists.”
The image of an uncompromising Arabic face with deep-set eyes, hollow cheeks, and a hopeless beard appears on the screen. The readings on the rating screen jerk in excitement.
Fisher lowers the sound again, and intervenes:” The white line … sums it all up for us. We have only one small problem with the meters. The ratings are going south.”
He points to the third screen. Betty already knows. The ratings are down. They are down this week, and this month, and this year. What if I die, she thinks, would it help? Her best performance has been in, yes, 2003, right at the top of the war, the day that American troops toppled Saddam’s statue in downtown Baghdad. She remembers the minute. Fisher may remember it as well. Even Bin Laden appears to remember, the way he stares pensively at her from the screen.
“The ratings are down,” Fisher continues.  And they still fall. It’s not only your fault. Meters tell us. Mostly the administration, of course. There is anger and fear, yes, and disgust, but it isn’t balanced by the joy of a good crisis. It’s all about unemployment and foreclosures. Boring stuff. Macro-economics. Paul Krugman. That sort of thing. Obama is insulting our intelligence every day, why can’t he insult the Sheikh of Djerba, or prime president Putin, or somebody else near a red button? Nothing beats a good crisis when it comes to network TV. Obama isn’t listening.  No, it’s not only your fault.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” Betty has to ask. She has to make a stand now, Fisher has gone too far, and purses her lips in preparation, but the Führer has already turned around and raised the TV sound again.

“A danger to every working American family,” the TV sounds, “these terrorist were subsequently secured in Guantanamo Bay, though the liberal media could never forgive that America was kept safe by enhanced interrogation techniques. But History’s Judgment prevailed.”
Another screen split, this time with an oriental face, roundish, smooth, academic, male.
-“Here we have the author of the enhanced interrogation memos, Professor John Yoo of Berkeley University, who knows more than anybody else about torture”  — the oriental face winces — Professor … if the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?” — the charts chuckled, disgust was especially vibrant, and receptiveness rose.
-“No treaty,” Professor Yoo replies, the face straight again.
- Also no law by Congress?
-“I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.” — the charts loses vibrancy; receptiveness falls.

Bartholomeo changes  tack:  “Well, President Bush did not torture.”
-“Congress has no power to tie the President’s hands in regards to torture as an interrogation technique.”
-“But the president did not torture.”
-“There is a category of behavior not covered by the legal system ...If you were an illegal combatant, you didn’t deserve the protection of the laws of war... They were tried in a military court, and executed,” — receptiveness rises briefly, then falls again.

Batholomeo pleads: “Professor, could you please answer my question? Did the president torture, or did he not?” — receptiveness rises.
-“It’s the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can’t prevent the President from ordering torture,” — receptiveness falls.

Fisher sits down next to Betty and whispers in her ear:”Useless, this Yoo. Never mention Congress. Worse for the ratings than you are.” Betty jolts.
-“Did I hurt your feelings?” Fisher asks, and kisses her on her cheek.
-“Well, President Bush knew how to answer this question,” anchor Betty continues.

Bush himself re-appears on the screen, and, jumping from one clip to the next, changing ties in between, asserts:
-“We do not torture.”
-“We do not torture.”
-“We do not torture.”

***

“History’s Justice was our theme tonight, and President Bush has done well. He did not torture.”

Why does he do this to himself, Ron thinks. He is standing next to his boss who sits in his modest Aeron chair behind his modest desk, obviously transfixed by the screaming Lynx queen. Why does he do this to himself? He could be the happiest billionaire in the world; why this obsession with Bush?

Ron casts a sideway glance at the wall behind the desk. Another oddity. Other hedge fund titans have a Rothko hanging there, or a Francis Bacon. Yet Lukacs, who has practically invented hedge funds, and who, on this metric, ought to have a decaying crocodile lurking there — swimming in a formaldehyde tank with the letters Damien Hirst printed in gold on its decaying snout — George Lukacs has instead opted for a wall of fame. It is covered with too many frames competing for too little space, each showing off an important award. Ron feels guilty because he is in charge of the arrangement, but the awards are coming in so fast, and George wouldn’t hear of any suggestion to move office. Ron casts his eyes upon the ugliest, which has been calligraphed over a blunt raster image of a middling Daytona race car defined by its phallic tailpipe; it reads: American Hedge Fund Award of the Year, category 24 hours. George Lukacs returning plus US$ 1.6 BILLION by shortening Lehman stock on Sept. 21, 2008. Ron remembered the day.

Lukacs must sense Ron’s absentmindedness, since he touches his arm and points to the screen. Ron, in turn, senses Lukacs’ despair. George is transfixed by Lynx the way a washed-up gambler is transfixed by the tables, he thinks.

“Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man,” the Lynx anchor continues, while her image gives way to footage of the axis of evil — Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney, who are taking, yes, that is the word, taking the national anthem. Each with his right hand pressed to the breast, they stand to attention as the star-spangled hymn chases dark clouds across the sky.


“He’s normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way,” Bartholomeo continues in voice overlay. Lukacs, still holding Ron’s arm, starts to tremble. Ron, who thinks himself close to his boss, is feeling the pain. What happens if he collapses? If he dies? If I lose my job? We need to stop this. He points to the remote control on the desk. Lukacs gets Ron’s message, indeed gets hold of the remote, and pushes the off button, but to no avail.

“He speaks the language of business and sports and politics,” Bartholomeo’s voice comments the anthem-playing, breast-pressing, cloud-racing patriotism on her screen.  Lukacs tries other buttons, furiously. The remote is kaput.

“You know him. He’s not exotic,” Bartholomeo persists. Lukacs hands the remote to Ron. Ron tries all sorts of buttons. Nada.

“But if there’s a fire on the block, he’ll run out and help. He’ll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, ‘where’s Sally?’” Lukacs grabs the remote back, hits more buttons. He finally hits the desk with the damned device face down.

“He’s responsible. He’s not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world,” Bartholomeo continues.

“That’s Hitler,” Lukacs yells at the top of his Hungarian accent. “Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world…pure Hitler.” He clutches the damned device again, clasps it firmly, bends his right arm backwards, and throws it with all his hedge fund force at the TV-screen. He does not miss. The set emits the diving pitch of an approaching bombshell, flickers one more time, and dies.


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