Americans feeling the chill wind of anxiety as autumn approaches
Bush is about to stage a coup. The mice are turning into robots. All is not well in the land of the free, says John Dillon
I declare to God that I did not invent this. I found it in the Sky Mall magazine on my recent flight back from Atlanta, Georgia, after a two-week visit to the United States.
"Don't Leave Your Cat Home and Bored -- Leave a 'Programmable Mouse' in the House!
"Most of us work 40 hours a week, leaving our house cats alone in empty, quiet homes, leading to separation anxiety, laziness or behavior [sic] problems (for the cat). Our new automatic programmable cat toy plays with your cat when you're away!
"Its programmable timer activates the toy at set intervals, arousing a cat's hunting instincts and encouraging playful activity. It can also be activated with the push of the red button, either by a human or by the cat.
"Upon activation the toy emits small animal sounds to signal to the cat that the mouse is coming out. The cat will try to keep the mouse from getting away, but after a few tries the mouse goes away until the next sound signals his return."
This marvellous device is available for a mere $79.95, plus postage and packaging. Admittedly, in the next few years, if current trends persist, there are likely to be rather fewer of us working 40 hours a week, but this will nonetheless prove a most welcome diversion for both man and beast.
One could even take to playing with it oneself, with the cat pushing the buttons.
It is a well-known statistic that much more money is expended on pets in the US than on aid to the Third World. Now I personally don't have much of a problem with that. After all, what has the Third World ever done for us? But it does perhaps point up an order of priorities that Americans may have to think about over the next few years.
Because the American way of life is plainly facing something of a crisis. Compared with any previous visit I have made to my erstwhile homeland in the last 25 years, I find the public mood, so far as one can judge it from the media and from personal contacts, noticeably downbeat, not to say badly rattled.
Publicly, the emphasis is on energy saving and environmental protection -- people are being urged to turn off electrical appliances, turn up their air conditioning, get onto bicycles; but so far few have abandoned their beloved SUVs (though ads for models with lower fuel consumption abound).
There is much talk of the squeeze being put on the middle class -- even of the death of the middle class. As in the last days of the Roman Empire, you are either very, very rich (and pay hardly any taxes), or you are scrabbling to make ends meet. The American Dream is becoming a mirage.
It is said that the approval rating of George W is running nationally at 23 per cent, while only 13 per cent feel that America is set on the right course.
Well, I can tell you that in my little circle (admittedly, of the liberal, academic persuasion, but good Americans all,
and lovers of their country) the figures are approximately zero per cent and zero per cent. And that is not a comfortable state to be in.
After all, if you think about it, many of us in this country might have had some reservations about Bertie, and there are many Italians who have little use for Berlusconi, or French for Sarkozy, but at least our countries do not embarrass us. That is what seems to me to be the case with very many decent Americans.
Again and again, over the few jars, among participants at the conference I was attending, the subject came back to the election, now only about five months away, and the prospects for mayhem in the autumn.
There is a feeling that Bush might even face indictment for some of his more free-wheeling acts. Someone heard a rumour that the Bush family had been engaged in buying a large hacienda in Paraguay, but that the deal fell through when Paraguay signed an extradition treaty with the US. Looks like it may have to be Albania after all for Dubya! They love him there.
These are relatively light-hearted speculations. But darker forebodings were being aired. There is a real fear, among my acquaintances, that, if things begin to look bad, the Bushes may actually stage some form of coup. This could involve a staged "atrocity", to be blamed on either Bin Laden or the Iranians, which might even include a pre-emptive strike on Iran, or the assassination of Obama, if the polls look too ominous.
It does seem as if the president, by declaring a state of emergency, has the power to postpone or cancel an election, "in the national interest". All he needs is some sort of "event" suitable to the declaring of a "red alert" (the alert was actually orange as I left Atlanta, but nothing untoward occurred); and Middle America, as opposed to the liberal establishment of either east or west coasts, is almost infinitely gullible, nourished as it is on a diet of Fox News.
All this may seem profoundly silly, if not hysterical, but it is sad to report that these are the sort of speculations that are going the rounds when otherwise well-balanced liberal intellectuals get together these days.
Let us hope that we can get through these few months without any of this coming to pass, and that we can all face into a very different future under the leadership of President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, I might send off for that programmable mouse. I could do with a bit of diversion.