By The Plaid Adder
an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "Remember
Me," Dr. Beverly Crusher, having noticed with alarm that people
she knows are disappearing right and left, discovers that
the spatial universe around her seems to be shrinking as well.
Finally - realizing, as she says, that "if there's nothing
wrong with me, maybe there's something wrong wtih the universe"
- she asks the computer to define "the universe." The computer
says, promptly and cheerfully, "The universe is a spheroid
region, 705 meters in diameter." Dr. Crusher is very much
bothered by this, and sets out immediately to try to correct
the problem and restore the universe to its former amplitude.
George W. Bush, on the other hand, would find the computer's
answer enormously comforting. A spheroid region 705 meters
in diameter is just about as much as his crowd can handle.
Give Bush a nice comfy spheroid region 705 meters in diameter,
of which the only inhabitants are him, his advisors, and a
few hundred heavily armed security goons, and he'll never
trouble himself about what happened to the rest of the world.
He can go on giving his orders and making his pronouncements
and slinging lies and bullshit, and everyone in the universe
will smile peacefully upon him and pat him on the head and
offer him treats. In a spheroid universe 705 meters in diameter,
Bush could finally be the wise, compassionate, benevolent,
all-powerful ruler that Rove keeps saying he is.
Well, right now, Bush's universe is a spheroid region
705 meters in diameter. They don't call it "the universe,"
of course; they call it a "sterile zone." For today, Bush
is in England, where according to the terms of a deal worked
out after much wrangling with the British authorities, Bush
will be enclosed in a region of space which will be uncontaminated
by human life - with the exception, of course, of the members
of the official British welcoming committee, and Bush's own
The term is suggestive; one imagines Bush enthroned in state
on a giant petri dish, coasting down stainless steel corridors
toward a hermetic oxygen chamber. One also recalls a much
earlier episode of Star Trek, in which a crazed automated
space probe which has been zipping around the universe destroying
any life form judged to be imperfect finally ends up destroying
itself while bleating "Sterilize! Sterilize!"
But of course this leads to more sobering real-world associations;
the "racial hygiene" practiced by eugenists in the first half
of the twentieth century, the "ethnic cleansing" that closed
out its last decade. And by then one is wondering what it
costs to keep Bush inside his pristine little playpen, happily
oblivious to the chaos raging in the world that encloses his
safe and sterile universe.
Thanks to London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, and a general
putting-down of feet amongst the British authorities, it won't
cost as much as it might have. The Guardian reported
Sunday on all the things that the U.S. authorities asked
for and won't get. It's a long list. Among the more startling
demands that were denied: diplomatic immunity for American
security personnel, so that they could shoot protestors with
impunity, and closing down the subway system for the duration
of the visit (in case a terrorist somehow managed to smuggle
a MOAB onto a tube train and detonate it underneath the Bush
motorcade). Authorities also refused to allow the Bush team
to tote in "a piece of military hardware called a 'mini-gun',
which usually forms part of the mobile armoury in the presidential
cavalcade," or to patrol the skies above London with military
Most important, control over security will remain with London's
Metropolitan Police (14,000 of them) and the massive protest
expected for Thursday will in fact be allowed to march to
Trafalgar Square along a route that will take them past Downing
Street and Westminster Abbey, where Bush will be spending
As an American who has been doing my best to voice opposition
to my own president any way I can since he started bombing
Afghanistan, I find watching the preparations for the protests
accompanying Bush's visit to London both exhilarating and
depressing. Bush remarked the other day that he will enjoy
being in a country where dissent can be expressed freely.
I'd enjoy it too; but unfortunately I'm stuck in this
country. And in this country, most of what the British
authorities rejected as unreasonable and outrageous has become
standard operating procedure.
If you've ever protested a Bush appearance, you know what
I'm talking about: the helicopters overhead, the metal fences
penning you up into your "free speech zone" half a mile up
the road, the detachment of riot police - and, if you do happen
to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade, you will
also be glimpsing that mini-gun that the London authorities
rejected as overkill. It is true that nobody has ever tried
to shut down the Metro during the big marches in DC; but that's
probably because Bush is never home when the protestors come
to town. He and his sterile spheroid region are always on
the road then, ensconced inside a $2,000 a plate fund-raising
dinner or hovering over Camp David or bobbing along the spread
of that ranch in Crawford.
But in England, where they are doing a much better job of
hanging onto the civil liberties that our first amendment
was supposed to protect, there's going to be a lot more pressure
applied to the outer edges of Bush's sterile spheroid region.
Indeed, Bush's shrinking itinerary shows that his universe
has already contracted significantly. A planned speech to
Parliament has been cancelled, because Bush's handlers are
unwilling to expose him to the ferocious heckling he would
certainly receive. Instead, Bush will be doing what he does
best: meeting and greeting at expensive private banquets and
delivering short, carefully scripted, empty speeches to hand-picked
audiences who have been thoroughly screened for potential
contaminants before they are allowed into the sterile zone.
But as Bush browses the tombs of the poets in Westminster
Abbey or dines at 10 Downing Street, it will be hard to ignore
the noise of 100,000 some odd protestors passing by in the
street outside. That ought to be audible, even over the noise
of all those poets spinning madly in their graves as the cowboy
boots of the man who has singlehandedly brought the English
language to the verge of extinction strut across the flagstones
So for three days, Bush will be exposed - however slightly
- to the universe the rest of us inhabit. For three days,
he will savor the pleasures of being in a country where the
authorities do not automatically assume that he is the center
of the universe, and who are not interested in turning their
entire city into a "sterile zone" simply to pander to his
paranoia. For three days, tens of thousands of actual human
beings will gather in London's public spaces to voice their
protest against Bush's program of endless war. For three days,
the bubble boy will be menaced by the infection of dissent,
as those nasty organisms massing in protest in London's public
spaces threaten to breach the borders of his sterile zone.
Well. You've got three days, England. We're counting on
you. Don't let anyone give you any crap about being "anti-American."
Hundreds of thousands of Americans like me understand perfectly
well that the more you love America, the more you get to hate
the people who are currently dismantling it from the top down.
If you can make a dent in that sterile zone, you will be doing
this country an enormous favor. So go on out there. And whatever
you say, say it loud. Noise doesn't carry too well in a vaccuum,
and it's hard to hear in the sterile zone.
And then after three days, Bush will be rushed back to America,
and he and his handlers will collapse in relief and gratitude
as the borders of that spheroid rush away into the darkness,
and the sterile zone silently expands. Lulled by the sighing
of the filters that surround him, Bush will sleep peacefully
again, undisturbed in the silence of America the pacified.
America, where the voice of the press has been muted into
a continual murmur of praise; America, where the infection
of dissent has been safely quarantined, and an ever-vigilant
team of specialists provides a constant supply of antidotes.
America, which is suffocating inside its fortress of duct
tape and plastic as it slowly and surely becomes one big sterile
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an
equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same
can be found at the Adder's
the Adder's Archive