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Son… Do You Like To Watch Gladiator Movies?

by Patrick Russell

 
Image: supak.com

Okay, it’s confession time. We’re assembling this fine new issue of keepgoing around the theme "Fight", and… okay, well here’s the thing. I haven’t been in a fight since I was in approximately the sixth grade. And when I say "in a fight", I mean, in fact, that I got my ass kicked. Now, by "got my ass kicked", I think it’s only fair to put that in the proper context and note that, as far as I remember it, I was basically shoved around for a minute or so between two or three guys who were maybe a month or two older than me yet still about twice my size, and then dumped on the ground and forgotten about once the clarion call "Who wants to play kick ball?" came echoing across the playground like a guardian angel. I’d like to be able to say I stood up to a couple of bullies and held my ground despite overwhelming odds. I’d like to be able to say, "Well, at least I got one good face-saving shot in there." I’d like to be able to come off as having been a miniature Hemingway, slugging it out with a few bruisers and then swaggering off to the cafeteria for a stiff, bracing double shot of private stock chocolate milk and regaling my friends with tales of my own pre-pubescent bravado.


I’d like to, but I can’t. I was roughly the size and weight of a ventriloquist’s dummy back then, and there was simply no getting around the fact that I was not going to be kicking anyone’s ass anytime soon. With junior high school looming large in my future, I fished about for alternatives to full-on fisticuffs which would obviously end up at some point with the greater portion of my anatomy being hosed off of a sidewalk somewhere. I briefly tried the "strength in numbers" approach by encircling myself with a small, hand-picked group of friends. Problem was, they were "hand-picked" more for their interest in Dungeons and Dragons and their willingness to hang out with me in the first place than they were for any real fighting ability. Suffice to say, this created more of a lightning rod effect for hostility than a buffering effect against it. Luckily, I had the speed and nimbleness of a first-class coward and always managed to haul ass out of harm’s way. I found at that point that a good, honest, self-deprecating sense of humor would likely be my only hope to make it through junior high school with a minimum of time spent in traction. "You’re gonna kick MY ass? Wow, that oughtta take all of about two seconds. What the hell is THAT gonna prove?"


Of course, sliding enough answers to a rather large lab partner in science class make him look good on tests certainly tended to keep my ass covered on those occasions when my rapier wit failed me. When all else fails, never underestimate the value of a good bodyguard!


By the time high school rolled around and I started doing school plays and basically being a shameless idiot on stage at any given opportunity, I began to get to the point where I began to get at least a little credit for being an okay sort of a fella, and for whatever reason (probably the fact that I was just cool enough to have a bit of social acceptance but not quite cool enough to actually get chicks and thereby threaten anyone’s manhood) those who dealt in the coin of ass-kickings basically looked elsewhere.


The upshot of which is, I’ve not really had much truck with actual physical fighting throughout most of my life, and so I tend to take a pretty dim view of it (unless it’s in a movie, then I’m laying in an extra supply of Milk Duds and staying for the second showing!). Now, verbal tussles are a whole ‘nother animal, basically because I find that they tend to result in fewer disfiguring injuries and cost a lot less in property damage overall than actual physical brawls. That and I’m not as abysmally bad at arguing as I am at fist-fighting, let’s be blunt here. But actual pummeling of flesh and bone seems to me to be a serious last-resort sort of action. First of all, unless you’re Jackie Chan or Curly Howard, physical fights don’t tend to be imbued with an awful lot of potential comedic value.


Verbal scuffles, however, can be (to use the scientific terminology) fucking hysterical!


A recent example of this in the news was the vast amount of material that came out of the Congressional hearings to expel Ohio representative James "What Toupee?" Traficant. Traficant was a real character. The guy had been a small-town Ohio sheriff who got nailed on various corruption charges back in the early ‘80s. I’m not sure who his legal representation was, but reportedly Traficant saw fit at that time to adopt the Raving Loon defense, by which he made sweeping, theatrical statements to the basic effect that he was being framed, railroaded, hornswoggled, bushwhacked, and otherwise zamfoozled by his enemies, and that by God whatever it was he didn’t do it!


This not only managed to get him out of the jam he’d gotten himself into, but the accompanying local notoriety was enough for him to parlay into a successful political career. After all, where better for a small-time scam artist to flourish than Congress?


Thereafter, it only took Traficant about 20 years to become the second person in history to actually be kicked out of Congress. (The last person to be booted from Congress was ousted during the Civil War!) Yes folks, Traficant got busted for pulling basically the same sorts of scams that he almost got nailed for back in Ohio, and at that point Congress actually expelled him for "ethics violations". Now, this kinda reminds me of Guns N Roses kicking their drummer out of the band for doing too many drugs, but that's as may be. The bottom line is, Traficant was apparently too big a scumbag for CONGRESS!!


Now aside from being the foremost con-artist in Congress (no small feat, mind you!) Traficant always managed to project a, shall we say, "colorful" personality during his tenure. He’d wear vintage ‘70s leisure suits and a possum-like rug on his head that was about as inconspicuous as John Ashcroft’s contempt for the Constitution, and he’d treat his time at the podium as if it were amateur night at Zanies. He seemed to revel in making the most outlandish statements possible at any given moment, often wrapping up his speeches with the immortal phrase, "Beam me up, Scotty!"


It was a cinch, of course, that when Congress decided to eject him permanently in the wake of his indictment (and eventual conviction) on corruption charges, Traficant would not be going softly into that dark night.


The guy was pissed off, of course. He knew he was nailed, and he knew he was going to be kicked out of Congress by a bunch of politicians, many of whom played just as fast and loose with the rules as he did, but who knew how to keep a low profile and not get caught… something which Traficant was clearly incapable of doing himself. So he was pissed, and he showed it. In doing so, Traficant provided the nation with some of his best, most potentially enduring material to date. Into the Congressional Record like a Slurpee down the dashboard of an El Camino went such chestnuts as:


"…I will break out of prison and I'll make a neck tie out of some these bureaucrats."
Now, I don’t know exactly what this means, but I like it! When in doubt, always go with an indecipherable non-sequitur, I always say!


"I would ask the committee not to ask me any questions, because I've got to go to the bathroom. I'm disgusted, busted, can't be trusted."


Rule number 768 of the Congressional Book of Etiquette… when you have to go take a squeege in the middle of proceedings, it’s best to distract the room in order to make your break by launching into an impromptu Jesse Jackson impression and threatening to piss on everyone.
And, of course, the pièce de résistance… what Traficant said about the possibility of his incarceration:


"I will take with me a file, a chisel, a knife, I will try and get some major explosives, try to fight my way out. And then when I get out I will grab a sword like Maximus Meridius Demidius and as a gladiator I will stab people in the crotch."


That’s got to be the most brilliantly psychotic public statement from an outgoing representative that I’ve ever heard! I just get this image of him tunneling out of prison, bursting up out of the ground outside the gates, his toupee even more askew than usual, reaching out and grabbing a sword that happens to be dangling from a nearby bush, as swords are wont to do, and then stalking about the area looking for people to stab in the crotch. I mean, since he’s a gladiator and all.


Ya just gotta love this asshole! I mean, whereas most people in Traficant’s position would have made some dry, face-saving prepared statement, this guy's coming off like Chuckie Manson after sitting through a Rambo marathon... twice! But the beauty of it is, he’s channeling his psychosis into outlandish, ridiculous, fucking hilarious statements. Oh sure, he talks about becoming a gladiator and creeping around looking for unsuspecting crotches to lance with his sword, but he’s not actually out there applying to gladiator schools. It kinda reminds me of Ralphie Wiggum’s classic line "Oh boy, sleep! That’s when I get to be a Viking!"


Lose your shit, dream up some bizarre fantasy world, speak of it as if it were real, enjoy the Thorazine. Seems like a fairly wise rule to be guided by for those who have waved bye-bye to any relative state of sanity.


Could be worse… he could have run for president!


Actually, a wing-nut like Traficant would probably be a healthier choice for president than the war addict we’ve currently got in there. He’d sit in the Oval Office dreaming of life as a scrotum-stabbing gladiator, say bizarre shit at press conferences, spend weekends at Camp David teaching his toupee to fetch sticks… and nobody would get hurt. Contrast this to George W. Bush, who is currently flipping the bird to 99% of the international community and preparing to go to war with Iraq (how original!) based almost solely on a hunch and a grudge… and more grudge than hunch at that. Mean ol’ Saddam made Daddy look bad by not turning the entire country over to the U.S. after the Gulf War, and the Shrublet is gonna make him pay dearly for it. Of course, his stated justification for all this is that Saddam may, at some point in the future, create or obtain "the Bomb", and therefore we need to engage him in a lengthy and costly armed conflict, and after it’s over the U.S. will assist the half dozen or so Iraqis left alive in setting up a "democratic" election (read: the U.S. government chooses somebody and the Iraqis vote for him) and thereby usher in a bright new era for the long-suffering citizens of Iraq. (Long-suffering largely because of externally-imposed trade sanctions, but that’s "nuancing", and our fearless leader has decreed that "nuancing" is un-American and must be avoided at all costs.)


Oh, but wait… Saddam MAY have chemical weapons. How silly of me to forget. Of course, anyone who has any sort of expertise in the matter will tell you that virtually all of Iraq’s chemical weapons facilities were either destroyed in the Gulf War or uncovered and shut down while the U.N. weapons inspectors were still there, and that there has been no evidence from ongoing satellite surveillance that any new plants have begun to function. Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has made it pretty clear that the most Saddam might still have would be mustard gas, but strategic insertion of a more competent personal cooking staff should take care of that.


The thing is, even if Saddam does somehow have weapons of mass destruction at his disposal, he’s not going to use them as long as we hold the threat of massive retaliation over his head. Even a ball-busting chowderhead like Saddam is possessed of a basic survival instinct. Hell, we kept the Soviets at bay for decades before they folded… we can keep Saddam contained as long as we want. The easiest way, however, to assure that he uses whatever weapons he has is to invade Iraq and back him into a corner. If he has nothing left to lose, he will almost certainly use whatever he has.


But Shrubbie is gonna sell this lemon to us if he has to jump through flaming hoops to do it. Actually, the current plan seems to revolve not so much around flaming hoops as it does around re-packaged boogie-men. It’s already sounding like these four year-old "shocking new al Qaeda videos" obtained by CNN are being pointed to by the Bushies as evidence that we must support continued war against anyone who the president decides we must wage war against. Bush’s head cheerleader Ari Fleischer said of the video tapes: "This is a serious reminder of the type of enemy we are up against, and the risks the world faces from people who would use weapons that bring harm to innocents. It vividly illustrates what terrorism means and the threat it poses." The problem with all this alarmism over these tapes, though, is that they really don’t show us anything we don't already know... Benny Lardarse and al Qaeda declared jihad on America a few years back, were probably responsible for the embassy bombings in '98, and trained members to kidnap/hijack/hummus-fart their way into our homes and hearts. It's not new information... merely new, disturbing images of old information designed to provoke an emotional reaction. "Look what they did to those poor doggies! They tested nerve gas on them! Those bastards!" Yeah, yeah… tell it to the Avon lady. It’s despicable, but it’s no different than shit that our own government and our own corporations do every day of the week. Al Qaeda tests nerve gas on animals, we test cosmetics and food additives… and nerve gas… on animals. Let’s at least set our outrage in some sort of context here, eh? Perhaps if al Qaeda had sacrificed some animals for the greater glory of their new foray into the Botox business then we’d be cool with it, eh?


Of course, just as al Qaeda was rhetorically equated to the Taliban when Bush wanted to invade Afghanistan last year, he and his cronies are now trying to conflate al Qaeda with Iraq and Saddam Hussein in order to justify this new invasion. Obviously we’ll hear much from them about these al Qaeda training videos, the urban assault tactics being drilled, the animals being gassed in chemical weapons tests, etc., when it comes time to glass Baghdad. Or, to put it another way… "Look at what this fucking orange did! Quick!! Smash the apples before it’s too late!!"


What may perhaps be the funniest thing about this whole deal is the fact that even Bush’s own father doesn’t seem to support the idea of attacking Iraq. He’s certainly not come out in glowing support of Dumbya’s efforts to embroil us in a repeat of the Gulf War, now has he? More telling still, Poppa Bush’s former national security advisor and ideological siamese twin Brent Scowcroft has come flat out in a Wall Street Journal editorial and said that attacking Iraq at this point, without clear justification and without the support of more than a couple foreign nations (and when I say "a couple", I mean of course, Israel), is an insanely BAD idea. It will be expensive, Scowcroft says, it will be bloody, and most importantly, it will likely weaken our overall international efforts to combat terrorism by not only diverting our attention to Iraq, but also by destroying our credibility in the international community. If Scowcroft is being this blunt, then there is little doubt that his close personal friend Poppa Bush feels pretty much the same. After all, he’s basically saying "Hey pal, your son is acting like a fucking idiot here. Mind if I write a scathing editorial in the Wall Street Journal to that effect?"

Perhaps, as some have begun to point out, Shrubbie may be embarking on this fool’s errand (or, more to the point, sending others on this fool’s errand) to get out from under Daddy’s shadow, figuring he will succeed where his father failed. It would be perhaps the most pathetic reason imaginable to start a war, but hell… this is the same guy whose White House has admitting to releasing terrorism warnings to counter domestic criticism. Pettiness is Dumbya’s bread and butter, and if that means he has to glass an Arab nation and destabilize the entire Middle East merely for the sake of showing his dad who’s who and what’s what, well then why wouldn’t he do it? What are the lives of thousands (if not millions) of Iraqi citizens (as well as an awful lot of
Photo: Reuters

The President's "manhood issues" are NONE OF YOUR GODDAMNED BUSINESS!! Next question!

American soldiers) when our President’s very manhood is at stake? George W. Bush is clearly writhing in the grip of an advanced case of "dick fear" and has no choice BUT to show the world how big his schnutz is! And if this leads to "collateral damage" for a bunch of people whose names he can’t pronounce, well then he’ll have Ari Fleischer draft up a nice letter of condolence to whatever next of kin are left alive. Maybe send it along with a complimentary bag of pretzels.


See, this is why I’d much prefer an honest loon like Jim Traficant in the White House to a fellow like G.W. who cannot admit that he’s pathologically disturbed. Bush loses it and somebody on the other side of the world dies a horrible flaming death. Now, if he were more like Traficant, well… he’d lose it, dress up in a nice banana-colored leisure suit, go before the Washington Press Corps, quote a little Star Trek, threaten to stab a few people in the crotch, and then slink back into the Oval Office and sit there harmlessly bubbling his spit until the Big Nurse came in with his happy pills.


Oh, what weird, dangerous, tragically-interesting times must lie ahead for us as a nation when a mentally unstable, polyester-draped, yet essentially harmless raving mouth-frother like Jim Traficant sounds like a better gamble for us as a national leader than the guy we’ve already got in there? Stay tuned next issue, folks… this shit’s about to get REAL weird!


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Copyright©2002 by Patrick Russell

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