February 13, 2002
We're living in a comic book world, where American superheroes confront an "Axis of Evil," and the Evil One (Lex Luthor?) is defeated but lives to fight another day. I hear that comics have fallen on hard times, and that today's sophisticated kids just can't be bothered (too much like reading), but, really, if it wasn't for my early infatuation with the world of DC Comics Superman especially the post-9/11 world would seem completely inexplicable. I remember one story-line that had Superman trapped in "Bizarro World" another dimension, existing alongside our own, in which everything was weirdly skewed, perversely inverted: a parody of our own. As preparation for the world of 2002, I couldn't have had a better education, for what else are we to make of this story of the airline passenger facing 20 years for using the lavatory without permission .?
Richard Bizarro, who got up out of his seat to take a whiz, has become "the first person arrested under a new flight regulation adopted for the Olympics," Fox News reports. Bizarrely, he faces "up to 20 years in prison on charges of interfering with a flight crew." On a Delta airlines flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, Mr. Bizarro got out of his seat 25 minutes before landing, in violation of the 30-minute rule newly imposed on Salt Lake City flights by the Federal Aviation Administration as a precautionary measure during the Olympics. (The same rule is permanently in effect for all travelers to the Imperial City).
For this he's facing 20 years? Ah, but urination without authorization is just the beginning of his crimes: according to one of the witches disguised as flight attendants, Bizarro not only "ignored her orders" but also "stared at her for about a minute before returning to his seat." The Fox News story also ominously adds that Bizarro is "6-foot-2 and 220 pounds" another crime, along with unauthorized staring, in the Bizarro World we're living in. Goodness gracious me, I'll be surprised if he doesn't get life without possibility of parole!
Oh, but here's my favorite part:
"Because of the incident, air marshals aboard the plane ordered all passengers to put their hands on their heads for the rest of the flight."
If this seems utterly inexplicable to you, then you don't understand the central organizing (or is that disorganizing) principle of Bizarro World. As the link above explains, this is:
"A planet where alarm clocks dictate when to go to sleep, ugliness is beautiful and the world's greatest hero is a chalk- faced duplicate of Superman."
In the normal world that is, the world prior to 9/11 airlines competed for business, each one claiming to treat their customers like royalty. In the Bizarro World we landed in after 9/11, however, the airlines are competing to see which one is the meanest, and, from what I can see, the competition is positively cutthroat.
The FBI claims that "the incident [what incident?] was seen by two of three undercover air marshals on board One of the agents said he saw Bizarro give what appeared to be a 'thumbs up' to another passenger as he returned to his seat, prompting the marshals to take control of the cabin." Aha! Unauthorized hand signals! Give that man another 20 years!
Bizarro, for his part, told the Salt Lake Tribune that he thought the sky marshals were hijackers. When three men, "old enough to be his grandchildren," started yelling and demanding that everyone put their hands on their heads, "I believed I was witnessing a hijacking of our airplane," he said. Bizarro, in spite of his name, just doesn't get it: everything's changed, you dolt! Up is down. Down is up. Ugly is beautiful, and vice-versa. Sky marshals act like hijackers makes sense to me .
"Bizarro, a frequent traveler, said he had never heard the restriction announced before," the Salt Lake Tribune reports, "and no one stopped him when he stood up." But of course, you ninny! When someone's committing a felony, the idea is not to stop them but to let them go ahead.
The Tribune continues: "When he exited the restroom, Bizarro said he was confronted by a flight attendant, whose comments he interpreted as rudeness." In a world where rudeness is interpreted as a display of the most exquisite manners, an old-fashioned guy like Richard Bizarro just doesn't stand a chance. Federal prosecutors zealously pursuing this case "say he intimidated the attendant with his stares and his size." A contrite yet somewhat baffled Bizarro says "I now know she was just doing her job," but still denies being able to do anything about his height and weight. He is also at a loss as to the mysterious hand signals, and the appearance, demeanor, and actions of the sky marshals. According to him,
"The three air marshals looked young enough to be his grandchildren and may have had fake badges. One marshal was wearing a baseball cap backward, he added. 'They did not give the appearance they were law enforcement officers and I did not pay them the proper respect,' Bizarro said."
But it all makes perfect sense: cops naturally look and act like young punks if you're living in Bizarro World. Mr. Bizarro describes his experience as "surreal" but, of course, the surreal is the normal in our post-9/11 universe. What would really be odd, at this point, is even the slightest hint of normality. But try as one might, you won't find it in the headlines. Here, for example, is a story about the race to get dibs on the now famous phrase: "Let's Roll!"
The 9/11 hero, Todd Beamer, has a foundation set up in his name which is now battling for first dibs on the phrase that is the modern version of "We have not yet begun to fight!" over the trademark, that is. Associated Press reports:
"The foundation is competing against various companies and individuals who want to sell everything from T-shirts to mud flaps emblazoned with what has become a catch phrase for American courage.
"The race could eventually lead to a legal battle over whether someone can actually claim exclusive use over such a commonly used expression."
It used to be that language was the one thing we all had in common. Not anymore. Now, anyone can trademark any combination of words like claiming an internet address and forbid everyone else from using them. Gee, I think I'll apply for exclusive rights to "bill past due," "remit immediately," and all possible variations thereof that should hold off my creditors for awhile.
Several others got in line ahead of the Beamer Foundation: Iman Abdallah, of Newark, New Jersey, was first (hmmmmm .), closely followed by at least a dozen others, including Jack L. Williams, of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, who got in ahead of the Beamer people by two full days and is disdainful of threats from the foundation's legal team: "I don't care what your name is, it's first in, first swim," says Williams, a contractor. "It's all about good old American capitalism."
Williams is another one who just doesn't get it: the rules are now inverted, and it's first in, but you don't even get wet. Just ask Microsoft, which is being dragged into court again for the high crime of being first on the market with a useful product selling at a reasonable price. And as for good old American capitalism: in a world where airlines get money from the government to torture their passengers, there ain't no such thing anymore. In the twisted logic of the post-9/11 Bizarro World, the idea is to drive passengers away, and lose money but only a lucky few will be allowed to go out of business. The rest will see their misery and that of their customers prolonged by an endless stream of government subsidies and other bail-out measures.
The AP piece cites Tom Holt, a Boston-based patent attorney, who finds it hard to believe that trademarking "Let's roll!" is going to survive a legal challenge:
"You can't seek to appropriate for your own use words plucked out of the dictionary. While the words `Let's roll' have taken on a very profound significance, I don't think trademark protection will be given to that phrase."
I wouldn't be so sure about that. While certain people, such as Mr. Bizarro, above, and perhaps Mr. Holt himself, seem immune to the effects of the big post-9/11 change, in which ordinary logic has been turned on its head, the Bizarro-ization process seems well advanced to me.
Indeed, it seems to be spreading overseas, the latest manifestation showing up in Britain, with Maggie Thatcher's latest "Advice to a Superpower":
With these words from Milton's Areopagitica, the Iron Lady starts out a very odd narrative, at the end of which it seems clear that she has mistaken America for Britain at the height of its imperial glory. For the Americans have not had a good rest from the job of global policeman since the end of the last world war: rather, it is John Bull who has been soundly dozing, while the lost remnants of his former Empire heartily protest their abandonment.
Yet, to Lady Thatcher, Milton's words "perfectly describe America today." But then, again, she never seems to have grasped the basic idea of the American Revolution, which split the English-speaking world into separate nations. Now, "after the horror of Sept. 11," she avers, "America will never be the same again." Indeed, if her description of the former colonies is true, then we seem to have slipped into a time-warp, or an alternate universe in which the American Revolution never happened. The US, she writes,
"Has proved to itself and to others that it is in truth (not just in name) the only global superpower, indeed a power that enjoys a level of superiority over its actual or potential rivals unmatched by any other nation in modern times. Consequently, the world outside America should never be the same either."
All roads must lead to Rome; surely this is the hallmark of the imperial style. At the sight of such an imposing hegemon, the great and glorious Global Superpower, one is moved to shout: "Hail Caesar!" Or, perhaps, "Rule Britannia!" America, like Britannia, rules the waves, and waives the rules! "There may be new challenges to "American dominance," says Thatcher, but technology will somehow magically give us the wisdom and the means to "ensure stability and peace" on a world scale.
Again, this sounds more like Britain at the apex of its imperial glory, rather than the US, but then again, Lady Thatcher seems to have fallen into yet another time-warp. According to her, "the best parallel" of today's terrorist threat
"Is with early Communism. Islamic extremism today, like Bolshevism in the past, is an armed doctrine. It is an aggressive ideology promoted by fanatical, well-armed devotees. And, like Communism, it requires an all-embracing long-term strategy to defeat it."
She might have added: and, like Communism, it has thoroughly penetrated nearly every aspect of society with a home-grown fifth column acting under orders from abroad. Again, however, this describes Britain, and not really the US: immigration from primarily Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, has flooded that country in recent years, to the point where Al Qaeda was operating semi-openly, recruiting British citizens to fight for Osama bin Laden. In Britain's own war on terrorism, a substantial minority of foreign-born citizens can said to be sympathetic to the other side. In spite of a campaign to impugn the patriotism of our own Arab-Muslim minority much smaller, proportionately, than in Britain a President with an Arab-American among his personal bodyguards has, rightly and vigorously, defended them against charges of disloyalty.
With perfect Bizarro-illogic, Lady Thatcher compares a medievalist pre-Enlightenment religious doctrine with atheistic Marxism, the apotheosis of Enlightenment rationalism, militant materialism, and the worship of Progress and finds them identical. The "liberation" of women, the abolition of the family, the end of "patriarchy," the eradication of religion all these announced goals of Marx and his heirs are anathema to the mullahs of every Islamic sect. In spirit and style, the appeal of bin Laden is more like the Christian Coalition our own brand of fundamentalists than the ideology that inspired, say, Kim Philby and his friends.
What's really odd about Thatcher's brand of "advice" is that she offers it almost as if she were a retired US President, rather than a former Prime Minister of Great Britain. Her commanding, strangely fatherly tone is hard to fathom otherwise as she details the three necessary phases of this "all-embracing long-term strategy." The first phase, in Afghanistan, was all well and good, but we must get on with it "in Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere." Phase three means going after "rogue states" namely, Syria, Iran (both "enemies of Western values"), Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and especially Iraq. In her aspect as Commander-in-chief, the Iron Lady lays out her strategy:
"Again, solving this problem will demand the best available intelligence. It will require, as in Aghanistan, the mobilization of internal resistance. It will probably also involve a massive use of force."
American force, that is. Looks like she has it all figured out. So why wait for President Bush to make a decision, when Lady Thatcher seems to have already done so? Indeed, given the parameters she sets out, there isn't going to be much discussion about it, either, because "How and when, not whether, to remove [Saddam Hussein] are the only important questions." The Iron Lady has spoken.
She ends her peroration exhorting America "to strengthen its resolve against rogue regimes and upgrade its defenses," and declaring: "The good news is that America has a president who can offer the leadership necessary to do so." Yeah, but why don't we just bypass him, and instead heed the voice of a woman whose transatlantic advice is proffered in a tone so regal that it has the ring of a royal command? Maggie I, uncrowned Queen of the Anglosphere, says we "must" invade the Middle East at once so, hop to it, Georgie boy! What're you waiting for? Don't you know that, by the sheer force of the 9/11 explosion, the American Revolution has been repealed and reversed?
There is some dispute as to whether the British really did play "The World Turned Upside Down" during the surrender at the Battle of Yorktown, as tradition would have it. But certainly, in the view of Maggie Thatcher, September 11 turned it "right" side up again.
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