All This for a Bagel?

It’s amazing what you can get for a buck on the Lower East Side: a toasted bagel with butter, a banana, and an earful of conspiracy theory.

A guy ordering a few slices of American cheese from the deli nearby struck up a conversatin with me out of nowhere.

“Did you see that Al Gore movie? What’s it called?” he said.

An Inconvenient Truth,” I said. “No, I haven’t seen it yet.”

He said he just loved it — “It’s so scary, because it’s all true” — and all but made me promise that I would see it at th earliest opportunity. I assured him I would. And I do plan to.

Then he asked me about another documentary, something called Loose Change, which I had not heard of. Many of my lefty friends have, I’m sure. Probably I’m just not paying enough attentinon.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s great. It explains how 9/11 was entirely set up by the government. It’ll knock your socks off! It goes through point by point and says how it was all set up.”

I was incredulous. Was a New Yorker actually suggesting that 9/11 was a government setup? Aren’t we past all of this five years later?

“It’s very convenient,” he continued, “that the only plane that didn’t make it was the one that was supposed to hit the White House.”

I can understand the frustration with our government. As he put it a moment later: “I tell you, I wish it had hit the White House. I’d like to bomb the White House. Take care of all of ’em at once.”

Nevermind that “all of ’em” don’t all work there.

I can even forgive an off-hand wish to see the neocons — gulp — eliminated. But to honestly believe that 9/11 is an elaborate construction of a government that has shown itself over the course of five and a half years to be, at best, incompetent, you’d have to be crazy or just uneducated. It’s just not in the realm of possibility, from what I can see.

“Thank god for term limits,” is all I could think to say.

There’s a good Wikipedia entry on the movie. In its objective, just-the-facts-ma’am way, it sort of debunks the movie by default. Loose Change sounds like a piece of crap. It was made by three guys with $2,000 and laptop using other people’s footage and logically misleading tactics.

I feel funny linking to a Wikipedia entry when Wikipedia is one of the sources cited by the filmmakers, a source which, as explained in the entry itself, is not entirely reliable enough to back up allegations as serious as those in Loose Change. So, how can it be reliable enough to debunk it, right? Well, it has a lot of reputable annotations. Seems good enough to me.

One of them, Screw Loose Change, is blog with a pretty comprehensive collection of debunkery.

Anyway, after revealing his dreams of decapitating the American government, the guy shifted the conversation to big business and Ken Lay. He mentioned a movie called Enron: Where did your Money Go?, or something, playing at some local cinema, as well as a few others I don’t remember. He went on and on about white collar crime and the persecution of the poor and middle classes… Halliburton… bla bla bla… much of which, in the cases of the big scandals, is probably true.

The shop owner, in a futile attempt to save me, tried to wave him off. “Leave him alone. Leave the pooor guy alone!”

I certainly wasn’t doing anything to save myself. Why am I so nice to strangers? I didn’t want to argue with him, but I didn’t want to indulge him either.

Then he veered over to The Media and of course the insidious desire to lie to the public and cover up all the Truth exposed by these messianic amateur filmmakers. He told me I should listen to WBAI, which is not controlled by corporate sponsorship, if I wanted to know the truth. Maybe it is good, but should I go by this guy’s endorsement?

Meanwhile, my bagel was getting cold.

People who live in the United States — which is not the panacea of democracy it wants to be, but which is obviously better than a great many other places in the world, arguably most — are free to criticize the motivations of government and big business. That’s fine. Hooray for democracy: You can wish George W. Bush dead and not get arrested.

But if you think the dark forces of government and big business are as oppressive and dangerous and ravenous as he seems to believe, if you’re that freaked out about the world, how can you wake up and just go about your work like normal every day? If what he thinks is true is really true, I’d be either terrified to the point of suicide or fighting mad. I wouldn’t be wasting my time in the deli telling some guy who works in the neighborhood to watch some documentaries. I’d be on the next boat out of here.

But, oh… he was so smug. He knew it all. He was so safe and above it, and we were all duped. I suppose just before Bush, Cheney, Condi, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Gonzalez, the executives of the New York Times and Andrew Fastow merge and absorb the ghost of Ken Lay to assume their true form as an unspeakably grotesque leviathan, sent here by unseen forces to destroy the world, this guy and the rest of the Believers will be rescued by a passing fleet of space ships and whisked away to an alien civilization where milk doesn’t go sour and flowers don’t wilt.

Maybe I have more faith in the rest of the world outside of Washington to know better than a few guys with a couple thousand dollars and a laptop what’s going on in America. But maybe I’m just naïve.


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