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     Volume 4 Issue 36 | March 4 , 2005 |

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Food for Thought

Much Stranger than Fiction!

Farah Ghuznavi

Some days, reading the newspapers, it's hard to escape the thought that we live in a pretty weird world. With alarming frequency, I find the old adage "truth is stranger than fiction", coming to mind…For example, a recent news item featured a somewhat bizarre story about police pooches. It seems that one of the dogs currently working at Manchester Prison is in a life-threatening situation. No, no, this is not due to "downsizing" of the canine population at the prison, or a sudden shortage of dog food! Rather more dramatically, prison authorities have discovered that an underworld "contract" has been taken out on this dog (how do they find out these things?!). And - you may well ask why is that? Because it seems that this is a highly effective police dog, and its abilities are interfering with the drug smuggling practices of inmates in the prison.

As a result, this drug-sniffer dog (who, of course, detects drugs, rather than uses them, just in case anyone is confused about this--the story is weird, but not that weird!) has been targeted for assassination by disgruntled inmates. Unable to do the job themselves, they have apparently hired an external "contract killer" to do it for them. The news item declined to provide the identity of the endangered dog, in order to ensure his/her safety (ie. presumably to protect him/her from us, the newspaper readers, since the criminals already know which dog THEY want to kill!), but we do know that it is one of the six dogs currently working at Manchester Prison. This leads me to wonder how far they are going to take this. Perhaps they plan to place the dog on a witness protection scheme, giving it a new identity in a different prison…?

An even stranger story comes from the US, where some entre preneurial soul has clearly decided to locate the most gullible person in the world. He is offering on the Internet, for sale, an item claimed to be of "great religious significance". He says that over a decade ago, he had made a toasted cheese sandwich (not perhaps in itself an earth-shattering event), but that after he started eating it, he was transfixed to see that the melted cheese had taken the shape of the Virgin Mary! He has kept the sandwich for 10 years (after earlier attempts to share this miracle with the world failed hmmm, how strange…). Over the years, the cheese has not only allegedly retained its freshness, it is waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder!

The "holy image", it has also remained undamaged, and untouched by time (e.g. there is no fungus on it). So, for anyone mad enough to believe this story (is there anybody out there that mad who has not been institutionalised yet?) this treasure is waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder!

That story, most will agree, is the height of absurdity. But I have to say, it doesn't get much better when you look at the serious stuff. My personal favourite has to be a recent quote from Lt Col Gareth Brandl, serving with the US armed forces in Iraq. He assures us (in the context of justifying the wholesale bombing of Fallujah) that "the enemy has a face. He is called Satan. And he lives in Fallujah". Well, that clearly justifies the mass bombing of a city full of civilians. And, of course, those of a nervous disposition must be relieved to know that there is no danger of meeting him in the local supermarket, since his whereabouts have now been established (Satan's, I mean, not Lt Col Brandl's…)

War is hell, of course, and some may wish to argue that those who find themselves in the midst of an ever-worsening conflict (how many suicide bombers in the last fortnight?) undertaken on the basis of false claims (what "weapons of mass destruction"?) and precipitating the very situation it claimed to prevent (Iraq has now been recognised as a key breeding ground for international terrorists, whereas before the war, there were no foreign fighters in the country!), may be in less than full control of their faculties (not that I am sure that this excuses the level of delusion that Lt Col Brandl is clearly suffering from!). It is certainly hard to believe anyone in possession of their faculties would embark on the fiasco that the "liberation" of Iraq is turning out to be!

However, the same excuse ("war-induced sanity fatigue") cannot be used for those safely at home, far away from that conflict, who appear unable to grasp why someone who has been decorated as a war hero ie, John Kerry, just might be stronger on security than someone whose military records are suspiciously difficult to keep track of (and who manages to avoid military service in the country where the conflict is actually taking place!) ie, Bush, during the Vietnam War! No, on the contrary - Kerry was the one attacked for not being a "real hero". I guess he must have been awarded medals by accident?! The results of those smears against Kerry showed up clearly enough in the outcome of the recent US elections, to the despair of much of the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Americans (the many, many sensible ones, whom we must not forget) have attempted to distance themselves after the failed attempt at (legal) regime change within the United States. As they so poignantly reassured us after the elections, at the web site www.sorryeverybody.com--they tried, they really, really did. And in their own words:

"Some of us--hopefully most of us are trying to understand and appreciate the effect our recent election will have on you, the citizens of the rest of the world. As our so-called leaders redouble their efforts to screw you over, please remember that some of us hopefully most of us are truly, truly sorry. And we'll say we're sorry, even on the behalf of the ones who aren't."

So, for those of us (American and non-American) feeling oppressed by the prospect of another four years of the Bush brand of Republicanism, I can only suggest that one try to find some solace in humour. This brings me right back to the main theme of this column because as the famous American newspaper editor, H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) put it, "on some great and glorious day… the White House will be adorned by a downright moron". And just think, we have lived to see that very day!!

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