Sunday, April 08, 2007

Gore’s Revenge

Byline By M.J. Akbar : Gore’s Revenge

I love America! The New York Times has four pages of sports news and not a single word on cricket. The eastern coast of the United States is the only region in the English-speaking world that can claim to be in more or less the same time zone as the West Indies; over here, you don’t have to keep awake all night to watch India lose. But as far as the World Cup is concerned, we might as well be on another planet. Newspapers do not deign to publish a line of results in small type. What a blessing! One sub-section of an intermittent television channel in New York plays a few Hindi film songs in the morning, interrupting the music only to inform the world about the miraculous ability of Baba Manjhi or Sanjhi to foresee your future for the usual cash compensation, as well as to warn you that every other astrologer in the city is a fraud. But there is no creepy crawler at the bottom of the screen giving running details of the score or, worse, advertisements featuring the unique contralto of the Sachin Squeak. What bliss!

The only intrusion from Mars is the regrettable presence of the BBC, regrettable because BBC has the effrontery to attach World Cup news to its sports section. I see no future for BBC America in America if it continues this head-in-the-sand obstinacy. America plays something called baseball. It is a game played in which the players are required to chew tobacco very slowly before someone behind the bat makes a strange gesture and everyone starts hugging one another. When I checked with an expert, a former government official who has become a fulltime intellectual, during dinner he told me that baseball has been at least partly inspired by an Indian game. Gulli danda? I ask incredulously. He lowers the rim of his spectacles and answers with a meaningful silence. It proves my theory that when government officials grow up to become intellectuals, they become very kind to temporary visitors.

This is what happens when you don’t make Al Gore President of the United States just because of a few chads in Florida. He takes his revenge by changing the climate of the world. Spring has arrived in New York, but instead of fragrant breezes through Central Park, the city is shivering under snow flurries and a wind that was so cold that Canada let it go to America. In the BG Era (Before Gore), sturdy New Yorkers would have called this unseasonal, put on their overcoats and gone off to church on Easter Sunday. But now we have to discuss the litany of a parallel faith, Earth Science, full of measurements of carbon emission and dire predictions that the polar bear will be extinct in fifty years unless of course drought kills us all before that. Progress now is recognition of the evils of progress. Amen.

Al Gore may be able to convert summer into winter, and win an Oscar for being the prophet of gloom, but every serious political pundit believes that he cannot really win the next election for President. Gore himself is in a mood to tease, saying no with such a heavy implied wink that it would take an extinct polar bear to miss the point. However, the pundits would prefer that he save his cash and stay at home. Why? Because he is still too fat to contest. Unless he loses about fifty pounds, he has no hope in this telegenic age. Television puts on ten pounds to your image, and Internet is worse, but that is where elections are won and lost these days. Weight shifts ratings down. The surprise package of this election season, Barack Obama, who stunned the system by raising as much in the first quarter as the Clintons ($25 million) is lean, lithe, lissom. His equivalent on the Republican side, Mitt Romney, might not be able to reach the White House, but he is a perfect candidate for any casting couch which wants a President in a soap opera or polopera. Romney has raised $20 million, largely from his fellow Mormons, but I doubt if he would have survived if his stomach sagged like an obese gunny bag. Looks matter. Rudy Giuliani, the thrice married mayor of New York during 9/11with a thrice married wife, moves with the light step of a man who has known a treadmill on intimate terms. He is the current favourite, having overtaken yesterday’s frontrunner, John McCain. Has McCain slipped because of his expanding jowl? After all, we are still in the cosmetic stage of the campaign. Bill Clinton, who had begun to bloat as President, now looks like Cary Grant with a round nose, having cut down his consumption after his heart attack (barring ice creams, that is). Hillary is a bit stolid on the frame front, but fine. She has fat legs, but never shows them. That is why she always wears pants.

The campaign is about Iraq, and will continue to be so. One day’s news story, on an inside page, is enough to indicate why. This is what appeared in the papers on Good Friday: "Six Americans and four British soldiers were killed in separate attacks around Iraq ... an American helicopter crashed south of Baghdad, wounding four soldiers. Reuters quoted witnesses as saying that they heard heavy gunfire before the crash, suggesting that the helicopter had been shot down... (The British) unit repelled an insurgent attack... Later, the unit was hit west of Basra by a roadside bomb, followed by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades... Iraqi-American security stations in three Baghdad neighbourhoods were attacked in what may have been a coordinated offensive, American military commanders said..." This is after the surge in troops ordered by George Bush, and the "success" of this strategy peddled by the administration and its supporters. If this is success, what could failure look like?

Would Jesus have gone to war in Iraq? Part of the answer may lie in the fact that the question is being asked. Four Easters ago there was conviction, as much in the newsroom as the White House. Doubt is a necessary precondition for peace, or at least reconciliation. The question was posed repeatedly on Saturday morning Easter TV programmes as a resplendent variety of pastors queued up to address dilemmas on war, peace and whether the Church of Poverty had been consumed by the Church of Prosperity. The contemporary heirs of the Church Militant, like Jerry Falwell, are certain that Jesus would have been an excellent commander-in-chief in a holy war between Good Guys and Bad Guys. Others are less sanguine. Two thousand years ago the Romans were the Bad Guys, with some assistance from the Pharisees. Jesus was angry at usurers who cheated the poor and false leaders who misled the innocent; he left war to Caesar. The Sermon on the Mount would probably be too liberal a manifesto for today’s realists. But enough. This is a faith weekend and this column is in serious danger of drifting towards a sermon.

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