The Orange Alert Follies

The hilarious inanity of our present delightfully wacky regime (I realize it is also in some ways not so funny, as in Iraq) was highlighted in the last couple of days by the terrorist alert business.

Our local daily ran the Orange Alert declared by Gauleiter Ridge as a six-column head on top of page one on Monday. During the day I got an email heads-up from some news outfit saying that G. Ridge had advised us to leave the worrying to him (evidently he's bucking for ad writer for Greyhound) and not to let the Orange Alert faze any of us. We should not concern ourselves with spying and other preventive measures but leave all terrorism-rooting-out activities to the "proper authorities."

Then on NPR in the evening (I listen to it when I'm driving around town doing errands) I heard President Bush – crème de la crème – urge us all to go about our ordinary business and not be concerned; government experts would be working all through Christmas and New Year's – I believe the reference was to "the holidays," whatever they are collectively speaking – to keep us safe.

Some of what I am calling the delightfulness of this stuff is the sheer comedic charm of, as it were, vaudeville entertainers rushing on stage one after the other, more or less contradicting each other. But the greater part of the fun is contrasting the apparent intention of all this with the impression that must inevitably be left with the "simple citizen." I know about that impression because I am that simple citizen.

And the impression left with me is this. There is a terrible and real danger of a terrorist attack somewhere in this giant land, or perhaps in several places. Nothing new there. But now that we have this Alert is it fair to ask, What places? Don't know. So what to do. Nada. What is anybody going to do? Nada. Change travel plans, if any, to Portland Oregon, Portland Maine, Sioux Falls South Dakota, Houston Texas, New York City? By no means, says the President. Go about your business as if nothing were up. All this is precisely where we were before the Alert went out.

But then why the Orange Alert? Think. So we've got Orange Alert, and I go to Portland, Oregon, and blooey, Madame Muhammadine or somebody blows up the city by some new and highly creative means. As I speed to the afterlife, will I have been better off in any eensy teensy tiny way for having known of Orange Alert? No.

So what was the point of the whole thing? Announcement: Be scared to death. Next Announcement: Don't mind us. Next announcement: For heaven's sake, go right ahead to Portland, Oregon, or wherever; that's your duty as a true-blue, red-blooded Amurrican. And of course I go to Portland and nothing happens, and Akron, Ohio, is leveled in a blast of some kind. All the people in Akron should have cleared out and gone to Portland, but how could they have known?

Orange Alert, Smorange Alert, it's still not chopped liver. It's what's called a divertimento in music. Something light for "the holidays." And it occupies headlines and air time that might otherwise be given over to something that made some sense, like trenchant criticism of what we are bringing to pass in Afghanistan, Iraq and an astonishing number of other exotic places around the globe.

There may in fact be a fine and wicked rationale behind this and other recurring demonstrations of wackiness, but at a certain point, despite one's love for conspiracy theories, the old brain totters, the neurons or whatever they are, tire, the synapses fail to synap to new messages, and one is up on the junk heap with last year's computer.

At that point the simple citizen (I've already told you I am he) settles for some of that good old vintage common sense that hasn't been much use since we left the farm: we see the truth at last and, just as old Jacob Boehme, I think it was, saw the whole world like a gooseberry in the palm of his hand, we see that these people don't have a clue, or if they do they sure aren't saying what it is. Maybe they are making it all up as they go along just to get headlines.

So what should we do? Ignore them as so many wizards behind the curtain, say our prayers, enjoy Christmas dinner, and hoist wassail.

December 23, 2003