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Lisa Walsh Thomas

A Dark Five-Cent Synthesis

A few decades back, British philosopher Bertrand Russell was riding a train through the English countryside with a companion. From inside the window, the friend noted the fields, where cattle were grazing. "Look at all the black cows," he pointed out to Russell. Russell, ever the cautious one, shook his 
head. 

"No, no," he quickly explained. "Cows, yes. They appear to be cows. And from what we can see, they are all black, on the sides visible to us. But we can't see but one side of each cow, so what makes you think they're black on BOTH sides?" 

While even Bertrand Russell was probably guilty of making an occasional assumption, his point was and is still commodious, if unwieldy. Rarely do we have all the facts. But in practical life, in order to make things work, we must surely accept what is visible to the eye, until such perception is called into question or disputed. 

Life has greater clarity when we take the empirical results of our lives and synthesize them into a reality. Chow down, so to speak. While we went for lifetimes thinking that the country's great need was for a good five-cent cigar, Saul Bellow's Herzog hit the nail on the head forty years ago by concluding that what the country REALLY needs is a good five-cent synthesis. In short, we need to weave together a long, sometimes-startling list of presentations, squeeze it carefully and watch some kind of reality drip through the muck. 

I watch the news or read the paper to find out what's going on in the world, as I rarely have the time and resources to travel to a hot spot and witness it myself. When I later find out that the media has (again) lied to me, the great sucking sound I hear is that of my perceived reality morphing into false assumptions. 

When the Supreme Court told us almost four years ago that George W. Bush was our duly elected president, most of us ducked to avoid the hordes of people who would take to the streets. An assumption as blatantly naive as Peter Pan's late-night flight over London. 

When Colin Powell assured the United Nations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that validated an invasion of the country, we counted on the U.N. to challenge such assertions with vigor. 

Another sucking sound left those of us who had READ reports from Iraqi scientists (and listened to weapons inspector Scott Ritter, all telling us that the weapons did not exist) pissing in the wind while praying for a sandstorm. 

When the U.S. demanded the destruction of Iraq's Al-Samoud missiles and Iraq complied by destroying the only defense it had, we breathed a sigh of relief that Saddam's compliance with US demands for continued weapons inspections and destruction of those that Iraq surrendered voluntarily (the Al-Samoud missiles), would stop the war chants, however much fun everyone was having. The sucking sound of flags bellowing in the sky was replaced by the screams of children dying in what the next hundred years will try to forget, 

'Shock and Awe' upon the civilians of Baghdad. 

When evidence mounted beyond expectation that Blair and Bush had, to put it politely, exaggerated the threat of danger from Iraq in order to invade and control the country with the guarantee that dollars would prevail over euros in oil dealings, did we assume that justice would finally prevail? After all, the kid who spotted the naked emperor was selling "Bush lied" tee shirts on the corner. Did the world hoist him up to their shoulders? Not quite; they told him that Mr. Bush was going to carefully handpick a commission to give him the facts. Karl Rove would be there to guide him. 

Now, my old imaginary friend Ralph Beast tells me this: 

1. The neocons will first try to do it legally. They will use the 200 million Bush will have made campaigning instead of running the country to spread whatever version of "reality" suits their needs and results in a win at the ballot box. 

2. Failing the chance to fool most of the people most of the time, they will turn to the Diebold voting machines. One might suppose that inaccurate voting machines, upon discovery of their flawed nature, would be immediately and ceremonially destroyed. However, when Maryland's 16,000 AccuVote-TS voting machines (no, no paper record of votes cast -- part of the idea) were recently discovered by a state commission to be easily reprogrammable, allowing one "voter" to vote multiple times on the same access card, the loud sucking sound was that of shoulders slumping as "we" were called alarmists. Did we alarmists develop hoarse voices at the discovery that such changes could even be manipulated remotely? Maybe a few. (By the way, Maryland's machines can be opened by any one of 32,000 keys, not that important a discovery in the face of another oddity: one team member picked the lock in "approximately 10 seconds," according the New York Times' editorial "How to Hack an Election, Jan. 31, 2004." 

3. And should an uprising occur where demands for paper trails and voting accountability are made, then... and this is the loopy part, some would assume... well, just try a 'what-if'. What if, on the eve of the election in which a Democratic victory seemed unavoidable, there was a terrorist attack? And what if such attack warranted martial law and the cancellation of elections? After all, some would point out that much of the constitution has already been cancelled in these days of heretofore incomparably abundant executive orders.

As Paul Begala says, "Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool." 

Ralph's probably a stark-raving paranoid conspiracy theorist, probably the type who can't understand that it was sheer coincidence that Paul Wellstone, on the brink of breaking through as our leading liberal hope, happened to have his plane crash that day. Ralph probably tries to make a big deal of that untouched passport found a few yards away from WTO debris, leaving us a few more breadcrumbs in the trail to the terrorists, identified so fast it makes you wish we could put those same hounds on the trail of the wmd. 

But back to common sense, to a clear-headed demand for that famously elusive five-cent synthesis. We need it like we need that bar across the seats of roller coasters. 

So I think of the greatest series of coincidences in U.S. history and how they've all stacked up to add power beyond our comprehension in the hands of a few people. What would Bertrand Russell say? How would he dish it up for Herzog? 

Call for the drumroll and dare to ask it: Do we really, deep in our hearts, think they will relinquish power? 

If we were rich and famous and known to be wise and guarded all roads to the czar and people came in throngs to ask us for the treasured synthesis, might we dare compress it into two words? 

Assume nothing.

Lisa Walsh Thomas is a former journalist, sixties activist, poet and contributing political writer to Liberal Slant, Practical Radical, Online Journal, and   She has a column, "The Raven's Nest" at:   and is the founder of "Mad Grandparents. Her second book, a collection of dissident political essays ("The Girl with Yellow Flowers in her Hair"), is available through