Betty Elders' RedBird Cafe'
The RedBird RidgeRunner ~ Editor's Chair
 The Backsteps'
Special Book Section:

"A Hillbilly Draws in the Dirt"
© 2003 B. Elders / All rights reserved.

Part I
"Frogs in the Pot"

I have learned more than a few interesting things living out here in the Hill Country this past year and a half, things that I might never have learned in my prior urban landscape.  I have learned that my ears can actually ache from intense quiet.  I have learned that the sky is an altogether different shade of blue out here.  I have at last seen the Milky Way, even with our porch lights on.  I have learned about wells, water quality and septic systems, rose gardening, vegetable gardening, vineyards, and scrub cedar.  I have learned to cope with the reality of livestock out here, both friendly and not-so-friendly.  And I have come to love the lyrical wisdom of old country sayings, of verbal traditions passed down through the centuries from one generation of survivors to the next. Those, as it were, no doubt in many cases, shared around an old campfire.

For example, "One should not thump a free watermelon."

I have even learned how to design and dig a functional fire pit (see last editorial).  I have also learned that a compost heap should never contain scraps of meat (and NOT to throw that meat over the fence to the critters; only vegetables).  Once, during a yearly inspection, our septic service men told my husband that we should occasionally toss some road kill into the tank just to get our bacteria going.  (Actually they were more specific than that, but I just couldn't bring myself to repeat what they really shared.)  And recently I was informed that it is possible to boil a live frog without it realizing it was being cooked.  One need merely place one's frog in a pot of cool water, then begin raising the heat slowly.  Legend has it, the frog will adapt comfortably to small increases in temperature, so that as the water gradually warms, the frog gets lulled into a trance-like state in the pot, and is boiled without resistance.

I don't have any desire to cook a frog, especially a live one.  It seems cruel.  At least in The Great Northeast, lobsters are thrown into already boiling water and die quickly.  That seems less cruel.

But it made me think.

There's a scene I remember in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her friends are lured into the pretty poppy fields near Oz where they are dusted with opium and fall asleep.  The wicked witch of the west is pulling out all the stops trying to prevent them from reaching Oz.

I have recently begun to wonder if we, the American people, have been likewise lulled into a deep slumber -- not from poppy dust, but by a more subtle means -- the mind numbing repetition of graphic visual images and commentary, confounding and often conflicting official statements -- while simultaneously being cautioned and reassured that all is well.

We have absorbed so much information about so many things so fast, offered with conflicting conclusions, that when we try to determine who or what is responsible for it all, we become overwhelmed with the data and confused about its meaning.  Sometimes we shut down.  We feel emotionally paralyzed.   Unable to even talk about how we feel.   In this state we instinctively opt to follow the first reassuring voice we hear, rather than have to make a decision ourselves regarding what it all means.  And we look at how others are responding.  We think, "Surely they must know what to do..."

Our critical thinking has become impaired.

Psychologists call this condition -- this response to too much input -- cognitive dissonance.

In the 19th century, Russian physiologist, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov discovered that dogs conditioned to respond reflexively to the sound of a buzzer for food, could also be trained to respond to the sound of a bell, and could even be trained to respond to additional aural stimuli.  But he found that when multiples of such stimuli occurred simultaneously, those same conditioned dogs instead became confused, and withdrew from reality [1].

Could this be happening to us?

The mind numbing events of 9/11 created widespread anxiety and fear.  But many aspects of the details of those events have remained muddy, and we have been discouraged from asking too many questions.  Rampant patriotism feels exclusive.  And those charged with answering questions appear increasingly perturbed with our need to question.   Many Americans seem to have just accepted what they've been told regarding current events  The rest of us are losing the desire to ask any more questions, or, really, to even receive any more information.  For months we have been subjected to replays of terrifying images, graphic details, stories of both heroism and unspeakable horror, eye-witness reports, endless eulogies, and related personal accounts.  We have been made to repeatedly relive horror, grief, and disgust.  We have been told to remain alert while we are offered reassuring messages that everything is under control.   Yet we continue to hear intimations of imminent future biological and nuclear threats. Clear and present danger.   And as our confusion and fear increases, we grow proportionately angrier at public enemy #1, Osama bin Laden.

And the messages continue to conflict:

"Stay alert, but don't panic."
"Tell your children not to be afraid.  Tell your children they are loved."
"Be on high alert. Another terrorist attack may be imminent!"
"Be vigilant, but return to normal."
"Report any suspicious activity to your local authorities."
"Take a vacation; our airlines are suffering."
"Make no mistake, we WILL find Osama bin Laden; the evildoers will pay!"
"We are shifting our focus AWAY from bin Laden....."
Reality is not distinct and clear.  Our nation seems more confused than any other time I recall since Desert Storm, the Viet Nam War, or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In a recent interview, author James Bamford [2] talks about the Cuban Missile Crisis:

"It's 1962. John F. Kennedy is U.S. president. Robert McNamara is Secretary of Defense. Admiral Lyman Lemnitzer heads the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The CIA has failed in its illegal Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.   JFK decides," Bamford continues, "to back away from military solutions to the Cuban problem.   But Lemnitzer, the CIA and others at the top remain obsessed with Cuba."
He writes:
“As the Kennedy brothers appeared to suddenly ‘go soft’ on Cuba, Lemnitzer could see his opportunity to invade… quickly slipping away. …attempts to provoke the Cuban public to revolt seemed dead…  Lemnitzer and the other chiefs knew there was only one option left that would ensure their war.  They would have to trick the American public and world opinion…”
Admiral Lemnitzer introduces "Operation Northwoods."
“We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba…casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.”
"We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington.”
There was also an elaborate variation offered on this theme:
...create “an exact duplicate for a civil registered aircraft…” “At a designated time the duplicate would be…loaded with…selected passengers, all boarded under carefully prepared aliases. The actual registered aircraft would be converted to a drone [a remotely controlled unmanned aircraft]”… “the destruction of (that) aircraft will be triggered by radio signal.”

The Cubans would be blamed. [3]

As of today, January 25, 2002, we still have not caught bin Laden, nor do we seem close, and our government has recently announced that it is "now shifting [their] focus away from bin Laden..." Yet we are still being warned of probable impending nuclear and/or biological retaliation for our pursuit of the terrorists, while simultaneously being cautioned not to overreact.

We have been given two truths concerning the government's focus on bin Laden, diminishing the power of their initial promise which began, "Make no mistake about it....."  And hourly we are still inundated with input from analyst and pundit alike, concerning the implications and techniques and philosophies of each strategic move made by our military during America's New War.  But to now, our United States Congress has still not issued an official Declaration of War.

Have we been unwittingly lured into the pot?

I remember the knot in my stomach when George Bush senior was at the helm in Fall of 1990 as Operation Desert Shield metamorphosed into Operation Desert Storm, then ultimately, The Gulf War, right before our eyes and ears.  I was the mother of two high school children then, two draft-age sons.  No official congressional declaration was ever made then, either.  Yet quickly, veritably overnight, we found ourselves and our country engaged and our troops deployed.  We soon grew terrifically familiar with the prospect of the reinstatement of the draft and with other pertinent vernacular, "deploy,""surgical strikes," "personnel pouches,""turkey shoot,""cleansing an area," "collateral damage," "paper tigers,""weapons of terror," "weapons of mass destruction," "Kuwaiti Theatre," "smart bombs," "Saddam Hussein--public enemy #1,"aka,"another Hitler," "read my lips....", and soon after, many times......."a new world order."

Have we again been anesthetized through the repetition of well-crafted words and phrases, designed to inundate, placate, anesthetize, and perhaps paralyze, in the aftermath of 9/11. Even the term "9/11", itself,  is a euphemistic sound byte, a commercially concise way of expressing the unspeakable by minimizing its horror. Like Smart Bombs or Smart Cards.

Who dares question any of this----I mean, where would one begin?

The horror of September 11th, we witnessed en masse.  And persistent media repetition of such horror coupled with conflicting information and minimization of our concerns and fears,  has left us psychologically withdrawn.  Hence, our government steps up to the microphone, makes its authoritative assertions, and we become putty in its hands.  This administration -- which had already left Americans feeling uncertain and suspicious ever since Fall 2000's election debacle, and one critically lagging in the polls of public opinion before 9/11--quickly and decisively offered us a solution.  Declare War.  Kill the Evildoers.  Win at all costs.

And public opinion polls soared.

Now we have accepted their solution as our only option, our only viable response to what has happened.  And we avoid talking about that official declaration that congress has yet to make.  Don't get me wrong, though.......I, too, would like a pound of flesh extracted from the perpetrator(s).   But all of this has happened so fast that my normal logic chips have had no time to assimilate it.   And the commercial news media continues to bombard our senses with images and information and emotionally persuasive mastheads and slogans.......America Under Siege, 9/11, 9/11-- The Aftermath, America Strikes Back! America's New War, America's War on Terrorism...2002! Happy New Year, New War, New World!!

Too much input.  The constant onslaught of intensely stimulating visual and aural images may be disabling our critical thinking processes and rendering us as viable as residents of Stepford...  We have come to trust sources outside our own reasoning -- outside our own bank of logic chips -- to inform as well as to interpret for us what it is we have all just been through.  We trust Dan Rather.  We trust Peter Jennings. We trust Tom Brokaw (after all, he had a personal stake in this; his producer was an Anthrax victim).  We trust Ted Koppell.  We view the present through CNN's state-of-the-art eyes and ears.   We trust what they tell us.  We trust what the paper tells us.   We trust what our leaders tell us.  We trust what our churches tell us.  We trust what our schools teach our children.  We trust who our parents voted for.  We accept what we are being told.   We have stopped asking questions about anything.  It's easier to just do as we are told.  The temperature in the pot is rising.  We get angry and uncomfortable at the merest intimation of any reality other than the one we are familiar with.  And we, indeed, place a premium on comfort and safety -- hey, CNN says we are safe!  We will catch bin Laden.  We will halt the evildoers.   we will put an end to terrorism.

The water here feels so warm and cozy...

Have we been lured into the poppy fields of Oz?  What is it that seems to have so charmed our collective consciousness, rendering sentient beings indifferent to questioning the evidence, and incapable of doing little more than nodding and smiling and waving little plastic American flags (made in China), like automatons, while listening to the 600th replay of "I'm Proud to Be An American".......

What is it that is rendering us as complacent as frogs in a cook pot?  Vulnerable as lambs led to slaughter......

(To Be Continued...)

~ INDEX to the rest of "A Hillbilly Draws in the Dirt" ~

  • PART 1(1/25/02) --"Frogs in the Pot..."
  • PART 2 (2/02/02) --"The Man Who Would Be King"
  • PART 3 (4/24/02) --"Our Search for Global Order"
  • PART 4 (5/01/02) -- "May Day, May Day"
  • PART 5 (5/13/02) -- "Telling Truth by Her Flower"
  • PART 6(6/03/02) -- "Going Back to the Garden"
  • PART 7 (8/06/02) -- "Heaven on Earth"
  • PART 8 (9/12/02) -- "The Real War Being Waged Against Us"
  • PART 9 (12/31/02) -- "New Year's Eve Memories of 2002"
  • PART 10 (01/12/03) -- "Live Now--Pay Later"
  • PART 11 (02/19/03) -- "Patriot Act 2 and Concentration Camps"
  • PART 12 (02/21/03) -- "Things Have Become All Too Clear..."
  • PART 13 (3/19/03) -- "Not Too Clear for Some..."
  • PART 14 (3/26/03) -- "My Mind is Clearer Now..."
  • PART 15 (4/1/03) -- "Clearly Green"
  • PART 16 (5/20/03) -- "A Constitutional IQ Testt"

    Questions or comments?  Write us
    1. Edward Hunter, Brainwashing: The Story of Men who Defied It, Pyramid Books, New york, 1958, pp.18-40. 
    2. Excerpts from, "Insight" with Barrie Zwicker, interview with James Bamford, former investigative producer for ABC’s World News tonight with Peter Jennings, author of Body of Secrets; VisionTV, aired January 21, 200, 10:30 pm, ET.
    3. ibid.