Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Get Sprung

Many liberals I've known hate that DC's National Airport is named after Ronald Reagan. He was a warmonger! A reactionary! He traded arms for hostages! Shame on National for honoring his name!

I usually counter with, What about Dulles? I've never heard a liberal denounce that airport's name.

John Foster Dulles was a Republican Secretary of State who helped plan anti-democratic coups in Iran and Guatemala. He and brother Allen had business ties with Nazi companies. The best you can say about Dulles is that he opposed nuking Japan. But since most liberals defend Truman's atomic assault, Dulles' opposition should count against him.

Nary a peep. Same goes for Kennedy Airport and the Kennedy Center. Reciting JFK's crimes is pointless since millions do not view him as a criminal. But the point remains. So why the fuss about Reagan and not Kennedy? Of course we know the answer. But every so often obvious questions should be asked, just to retain what sanity is left.

In all my visits to DC, I'd never been to the Kennedy Center. When a friend offered a ticket for an evening of music celebrating the Tunisian Revolution, I said sure. It's been a long time since I've dressed up and gone out; plus, I'd finally see the hallowed place. As a new resident of the District, it seemed almost mandatory.

I was curious to see how the Arab Spring would be depicted. US elites were caught off guard by the uprisings, backing their friends and clients until that proved untenable. Then poof! They were for democracy. Expressed lavish support for political freedom. The standard bait and switch.

In reality our owners oppose popular Arab rule, as there is tremendous hostility to their imperial interests. Libya was a test case with an already demonized foe, using the Arab Spring as cover for NATO intervention. The Western concept of Spring is more explosive than dissent from below, a season the Iraqis continue to endure.

Overall, the Kennedy Center was underwhelming, a frozen reminder of "modern" architectural tastes from the late-60s/early-70s. I was taken with the giant JFK head in the lobby. For all the cracks about North Korean Leader worship, we do a fine job of canonizing our plaster saints, or in this case, bronze martyr.

People milled around the head, admiring its scope and inspirational likeness. But I thought, if you're going to deify JFK, do you really want to emphasize his head?

Near the head was a bar, a more fitting tribute to the Kennedys. The concert was about to begin. I slammed a Stella Artois and entered the theater with my friend. The audience bristled with excitement. There had been rumors that the Obamas would appear, maybe the Bidens. We were mercifully spared that. Still, the crowd felt psyched. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

Then came the speeches. The Arab Spring was rightfully hailed, followed by imperial ass-licking. I knew this was probable. We're in DC, after all. But it went on and on. How the US has traditionally encouraged democracy in the Arab world. How our shining example of unfettered freedom inspired those in the streets. A State Department flunky, whose name I didn't catch, spoke on Hillary Clinton's behalf, praising Madam Secretary's love of liberty.

People nodded affirmatively. Applauded here and there. It all made sense to them. To me, it seemed a perfect moment for a personal tour of the building.

As I left the theater, I saw the bartender putting away his bottles. If I was going to sit through two more hours of what I'd just seen, a stiff drink was needed.

"Absolut on the rocks, please."

"I'm sorry sir. The bar is closed."

"Okay. How about a beer instead?"

"Sorry sir."

"There's a bottle right here! Come on, man. Charge what you want."

"Sir, please step away from the bar, or I'll have to call security."

Now I was truly glad that Obama and Biden didn't show. Imagine having this exchange with Secret Service agents around.

Rebuffed, I walked throughout the Center. I liked it better without people, a large stark space from lost time. As with so much else in DC, the Center's size and symbolism convey imperial confidence.

This especially made sense with Kennedy, whose presidency marked the high point of US power and wealth. Those days are long gone, the Center an anachronism. To have it crumbling and covered in vines would at least give it some character.

When I re-entered the theater, the speeches were winding down. I took my seat as a video promoting Tunisia's tourist industry came on. It reminded me of the Mount Airy Lodge commercials from the 80s, promoting a Poconos resort for stressed out New Yorkers. Swimming pools. Saunas. Golf courses. Fine dining. Five star hotels. Yep, it looks like the average Tunisian finally has it made. Thanks to us, naturally.

At long last, the concert began. Composed by Jaloul Ayed, Minister of Finance in Tunisia's interim government, the symphony celebrated Hannibal Barca's military campaigns. Playbill described Hannibal as having "a great capacity for ruthless endurance in battle, as well as an equally charming personality."

That's a tough combo to pull off when using elephants to crush enemies. Someone of that stature deserves a stirring symphony. Unfortunately, Ayed fell centuries short.

Not that it was a bad symphony. Hell, I would've preferred a bad symphony, introduced by Leonard Pinth-Garnell whom I would never walk out on. Hannibal was simply a boring symphony. Obvious. Thumping (the elephants?). Brash. More John Williams than Mozart.

The audience didn't appear crazy about it either. People checked watches. Stole quick glances at their iPhones. Like Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane, I twirled my program, killing time. As Hannibal dragged on, people began to leave. But we stayed to the cymbal crashing end.

In the cab line outside, commentary was tepid and brief, if polite. Hannibal didn't conquer this crowd. A portly white guy ahead of us got into a cab and was immediately kicked out by the driver. Apparently, he didn't want to go to the white guy's address. So the white guy accused him of bias against Black people.

The driver erupted. Loudly demanded respect. Screamed for someone else to get into his cab. He looked at me. I begged off. This made him angrier. Finally an older couple appeased him. They settled in as he kept yelling, his cab racing out of the lot.

I didn't catch the driver's nationality, but he's clearly adapting to American patterns. Maybe the speech makers inside were right. Sometimes it hurts to be so envied.