Most of us have probably seen these big signs crowning Echo Park’s International Church complex (the former Queen of Angels Hospital), especially if we‘ve sat in traffic along certain stretches of the 101 freeway. Isn’t Los Angeles the dream center of America? we might have mused between lane changes, which isn‘t far from the truth. Ask White House consigliere Karl Rove, who was dispatched here earlier this month to lean on Hollywood’s fantasy merchants to help out with the war effort. Not by making propaganda films that might lose money, it was stressed by Rove and the producers and guild heads with whom he met, but by shipping out first-run movies to bored sailors on aircraft carriers and by producing public-service announcements about the conflict. Low-risk, feel-good stuff.
Americans may need a lot more than patriotic PSAs to be convinced the war is still being fought, or that it ever was a real war. On September 11 a gang of terrorists essentially set off four colossal car bombs in America, and we soon found ourselves raining high-tech destruction on Osama bin Laden‘s protectors. The Taliban were bad guys, but they weren’t the bad guys who‘d destroyed the World Trade Center towers. So while we got swept up by the daily waves of disposable rumors and the cult of the firefighter, most of us never followed an evolving map of battlefronts, gathered material for scrap-metal drives or bit our nails over casualty reports, because there were none — those kind of wars now belong to history and the movies.
Instead, we packed the malls, cineplexes and new-car lots, setting retail-sales records for October in the face of a looming recession, as G.W. Bush, fully aware of this golden historical opportunity, rang the bailout triangle for the airlines and insurance companies. Bush also wrapped the flag around proposed new tax cuts benefiting the rich, along with questionable presidential appointments, his missile-defense-system boondoggle and the pillaging of Alaska’s oil reserves. At the end of the day we might very well pinch ourselves and ask if we spent the entire war dreaming.
The President Has No Clothes
”Whatever you do, don‘t talk about the president’s testicles.“
L.A. novelist Jerry Stahl has been getting this friendly counsel a lot from TV and radio people lately as he prowls the talk-show circuit to promote his newest book, Plainclothes Naked. The advice is specifically meant to prep Stahl (Permanent Midnight) before he goes on the air to discuss his story about two crackheads who come into possession of a nude photograph of George W. Bush — a picture that reveals a pair of smiley faces tattooed on the family baubles.
His book tour has also brought the author face to face with America‘s new homeland security blanket. ”Every single time I’ve been searched at an airport,“ Stahl told the Weekly by phone from Boston. ”At Dulles I was searched by a couple of fat middle-age guys in camouflage fatigues with machine guns slung over their backs. Then I made the mistake of leaving the seating area for a Delta flight to buy a bag of cashews. When I came back I was searched all over again — I guess the power charger on my computer was suspect.“
While in New York, Stahl has seen Ground Zero become a popular weekend tourist destination — kind of like what O.J. Simpson‘s Brentwood home once was, only on a grander scale.
”On the weekends there’s this weird sort of foot traffic with families from Jersey coming in to have their pictures taken in front of The Rubble. They‘ll bring everything but a picnic basket and blanket.“
Stahl did not sound optimistic about the president’s post–911 ambitions:
”The perception is that George Bush Jr. is off the map with these Pharaonic approval ratings. I think he‘s about a month away from designing his own uniform.“
When it comes to getting the background on terrorism, biochemical warfare or military weaponry, nothing comes close to the skinny offered by the Jane‘s Information Group, which publishes about 200 policy, strategy and hardware bibles such as Jane’s Defence Weekly, Jane‘s World Armies and Jane’s Personal Combat Equipment. These titles, which are available in hard copy, CD and online formats, are written by a far-flung array of experts, with a hefty number concentrated in defense-related professions. Until recently, the London-based outfit‘s titles have pretty much been the private oysters of Foggy Bottom wonks, military brass and multinational corporations, but September 11 changed that. Rahul Belani, Jane’s chief technology officer, told the Weekly that immediately following the terrorist attacks, Jane‘s began making more of its articles available without charge on its Web site, www.jane’s.com.
”We could have made a lot of money on these articles,“ Belani says, ”but we felt we should share our analysis of anthrax with the public and to let them know who‘s really behind al Qaeda.“
This has been good news for war junkies and the general public, who won’t find Jane‘s subscription forms spilling from People onto the floor of their dentist’s office. ”We don‘t deal directly with the reading public,“ Belani says in a moment of understatement. That’s because a comprehensive subscription package would cost you $18,000 to $20,000 annually. A mere single subscription to, say, Jane‘s Transport Finance will set you back $1,895 for 24 issues; a subscription to the online version, with weekly updates, goes for $3,075. Belani didn’t say if Jane‘s throws in a pen set or calculator.