13-2 short story

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.

P R A E S I D I U M

A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

13.2 (Spring 2013)

 

SHORT STORY

prae-202

courtesy of artrenewal.org

 

The Dogs Have Their Day

Ivor Davies

Protagoras had forewarned his students that today would be intense.  He expected to see the skills that he had so patiently nourished in them begin to bear fruit in lively, impromptu exchanges: the Wrestling Match for Achilles’ Arms, he sometimes called it.

“A quail perceives the approach of a fox.  Mother Quail scurries through the tall grass and flaps her wings in an attempt to draw Fox away from her chicks, but the sly one is not fooled.  He noses in the opposite direction and soon finds the nest.  He devours the chicks one by one and proceeds along his way, picking down from his long teeth and licking his chops.  Say you, Lysimachus, that this Fox should be hauled before the magistrate on a charge of murder?”

“Nothing could be more grotesque, Protagoras.  Fox has a right to survival, the same as the rest of us.  Do we not eat eggs, which are but chicks in the incubating?  And are these eggs more legitimate as food, then, because Dame Chicken has been domesticated and fed by the hand that now harvests her young?  Fox has indeed worked harder than we, I should say, to have his breakfast.  Besides, his own cubs may be carried off by the eagle; and as far as that goes, Quail herself has been dining on crickets.  Why should we punish Fox for crimes that everyone commits, if they are crimes?  And if merely staying alive is a crime, then it is yet no crime, for that offense which is committed by everyone must be considered unpunishable.  Who would be left over to judge, and who left over to tend the jail, and who to be the executioner?”

“Very good!  How do you respond, Periander?”

“I say that Lysimachus is hard-hearted—yea, and hard-headed, too!  If it is the nature of a fox to be a fox, then it is also the nature of a thief to be a thief.  Why, then, do we punish thieves?  Why should we punish anyone—for all do but act according to their nature.  But among fair-minded men, there are rules to be observed.  Kill the quail, if you must, Sir Fox—or, better, yet, kill the cock, for the hen is occupied in raising her brood.  But at least have the elementary decency to allow the chicks to mature.  That the law of survival is a cruel one can scarcely be challenged, yet it is no license to introduce wanton cruelty into the world.  Fox is a devious, cowardly assassin of innocents, and he must be punished or else the whole race of thieves, cutthroats, pickpockets, murderers, brigands—”

“And you call me hard-headed, Periander!  Perhaps it is you who are too soft in the head.  If Fox had to weary himself chasing after a full-grown quail every time he needed a meal, he should use up his energy quickly and starve within mere days.  Besides, you have not answered my point about our own murderous habit—if so it be, and so you would seem to have it—of stealing the hen’s eggs out from under her in our henhouses.”

“I see you are no hard-head, after all, Lysimachus, but rather what is commonly called an egg-head.  The hypothetical case posed by Pythagoras was a figure of speech.  Naturally, we do not haul foxes into court.  We kill them on sight, the better to protect our own hens and to secure more eggs for our own bellies.  The point of the exercise is to imagine that the animals are indeed people.  The equivalent of a domesticated henhouse would be Sir Fox’s supplying Quail with crickets that she might supply him the sooner with eggs; and he would no doubt leave some of these to produce chicks so that he might one day have still more eggs.  Foxes, it turns out, are not so very foxy at all, but are rather stupid compared to men.”

“At least you, Periander, have far more malice in your keen squint than any dog possessed of a bushy tail.  But you know well that I have treated our animal-plaintiffs and defendants as though they were my fellow citizens.  That is why I repeat that harvesting eggs—or killing the fatted goose for a festival, or slaughtering the hog to provide for a long winter—cannot be distinguished from a predator’s sniffing out his prey.  The fox has neither wits nor hands nor tools to build coops and pens and runs.  He culls according to his need and after his fashion.  So do we.  We are all killers at heart.  Some of us conceal it better than others.”

“And it is precisely in the concealment, Lysimachus—oh, thou shameless reprobate—that civilization consists.  We cover our nether parts, not because we do not use them, but because we use them in private.  Would you have our citizens copulating and defecating in the agora…”

“Well, now!  Well, well!” laughed Protagoras.  “I think I shall declare a draw in this match!  We shall allow Sir Fox to live and fight another day, though by no means do we absolve him.  Let us consider another case; and this time, Periander, do you assume the defense.  Let us conjecture that a man is caught red-handed in his neighbor’s bed with his neighbor’s wife.  The victimized husband has in nowise wronged his neighbor, and he has ever treated his wife with proper attention and respect.”

“Oh, Protagoras—please do not make me argue for the tedious righteousness of the wronged husband!  Has my speed not deserved to be tested in a marathon rather than in a stroll along the stoa?”

“Patience, Lysimachus.  I think I shall ask our young friend Ariston to assume the duty of defending outraged virtue.  Are you up to it, my boy?”

“I?  Yes, I… I shall do my best, Protagoras.”

“Well, our bored friend Lysimachus stands ready to help you if need be.  There is enough yolk in his eggy head that he can crack it in a nonce and bake you a cake.”

“Do you hear that, Lysimachus, you old drab?  You are the hag who feeds travelers at the inn…”

“Come now, none of that.  We are all such masters of quick cuisine, we sophists.  Give us a cake of cow’s dung, and we make you a cream pie.  It is our calling, our claim to superiority.  To it now, boys!  Periander, I say this woman should have her head shaved and this man fined of half his possessions.  Their behavior is a disgrace, an outrage to civic virtue.  How say you?”

“Oh, I say let us exact the maximum penalty, by all means!  Let us pretend that this man and this woman are a wonder of depravity, a comet of corruption , a colossus of ingratitude!  Calves were born with two heads on the morning of that afternoon when they took their sweet pleasure of each other.  Priests found no hearts and black bowels within their victims.  The prophetess at Delphi shut her doors and wept.  Never have such monstrous deeds been heard of before among the tribe of Hellenes—nay, nor among the cruel barbarians of Thrace, nor among the wandering Scythian hordes!  Why, the penalties are too mild!  Let the both of them pay with their lives!  Let them be chained to coastal rocks where they may await their drowning in the rising tide, thereafter to be gnawed by sharp-toothed fishes, crabs, and serpents of the deep…”

“Leap in, Ariston, or he shall go on forever.”

“I… I don’t know where to begin…”

“This latest recruit of yours, Protagoras—he is too pretty by half.  Men have coddled him just to still the tears in his doe-black eyes.  I see that I shall have to step in and halt the roll of this ribald stone downhill.”

“Be thou a veritable Herakles, Lysimachus, thou shalt end up Sisyphus, for the stone will come rolling down again.  Atlas himself cannot hold it.  Nature has put members of pleasure in the loins of men and women.  Would you have us cut off one and stitch up the other?”

“Fie, you lithe-tongued wastrel, fie!  Why, by your logic, we should live in the Utopia of Master Socrates, sharing each other’s brides and raising each other’s children without a clue as to which is ours, which our neighbor’s.”

“And a better world it would be, too.  Then every child would have a thousand fathers to nourish him.”

“Yes, and no child would have a single father to throw him a crust of bread.  For they should all say, ‘You don’t belong to me.  Look at your hair, your hands—you belong to my neighbor Timaeus there.  Go ask him for a crumb.’  As for the pinnacles of virtue you would have us make of our women, they already exist—except presently they only bestow their favors for a fee.”

“Yes, and well paid they are, too.  How is it, I wonder, that they are in such demand, yet a matron who seeks a few moments of pleasure on a lazy afternoon must be banished from the city gates?”

“Why, you hundred-handed monster without a soul, will you now compare our wives to strumpets for hire?”

“And who would make them strumpets, if not the very men who keep company with strumpets?  A chaste wife at home under lock and key, and a harlot in the agora giving turns behind a curtain… who are such men to sit in judgment upon anyone?”

“And you would tell us that we are all such men?  Well, say it were so, for the sake of the argument.  A man were ten times guilty, then, for running to his neighbor’s wife when he might scratch his itch with a mere stroll to the marketplace.”

“The worst of men, perhaps.  But a better man might have his heart set upon something deeper than an itch.  How if the child-bride next door should captivate his soul, as Achilles’s Briseis made a prisoner of her captor?  Would not this man be the nobler for tilling one garden of carefully turned soil rather than casting his seed madly to the wind?”

“Oh, most surely!  Let us make him an admiral!  Let us vote him a hero’s portion and put his portrait in Athena’s temple!  Such virtuous husbandry on another husband’s acre!”

“I see you are inclined to make mere mockery of the soul’s deepest secrets.”

“Even as you are inclined to mock the city’s most ancient statutes.”

“Come now, you two!” cried Protagoras, clapping his hands to cover a laugh.  “Neither of you will play Ajax today and succumb to a trick move from Odysseus, I see!  One of you shall have to carry away Achilles’ shield, another his sword.  But look you, Ariston… why, you should be ashamed, man!  Have you nothing to say for yourself?  Will you merely sit by like a bald vulture watching the lions tear away the best meat?”

“I… I admit to being a novice among masters, Protagoras.  I can scarcely conceive a thought of what to say when I find that it has already been said as I began the thought.”

“Tell us which side rides lower in the balance, then, if you find us so persuasive,” smiled Periander wryly.

“You would make him our judge?” protested Lysimachus.  “A child of no understanding?”

“Come now,” smiled Protagoras, ignoring the protest.  “Answer Periander.  What would you say, exactly?”

“Why, I… I scarcely… I believe I would say that both parties are right.  And also wrong.  I… I believe it is impossible to determine the greater right or wrong in this case.  The wife should not have cheated her husband of the favors she owes to him.  And yet… and yet, she has cheated him of nothing, for no mention was made of her denying him his due place in her bed.  Perhaps he should not have returned home at an irregular hour… for we may assume that he did so, or otherwise the neighbor would not have taken such a risk.  Husbands who surprise their wives in such a manner should be prepared for unpleasant surprises themselves.”

“That’s well said, by Zeus.”

“Yes, indeed!”

“And… and as for the neighbor, we may assume that he too had his reasons.  Perhaps the husband had wronged him in a bargain or slighted him in public.  But you said there was no such wrong at the start, Protagoras—forgive me.  Well… perhaps the young wife is simply one of Aphrodite’s nymphs-in-attending.  In such cases… in such cases, a man can scarcely be punished for being a man.  And the neighbor, it would appear, made every effort to be discreet.  One can ask no more than discretion, in such cases.  And why would the husband, in any case, wish to noise his shame abroad?  Why seek redress in public court for a wrong which were nine-tenths erased as long as no one beyond the three of them knew of it?”

“An excellent judgment, by thunder!”

“Protagoras, this fledgling has promise.  I see that you have not lost your touch, after all.”

“Young Ariston,” smiled Protagoras complacently, “you shall have Achilles’ greaves for now.  Perhaps one day soon, you shall carry away his panoply.”

***

Shortly thereafter, the three sophists-in-training were initiated into the Mysteries and never seen in Athens again.  Though Ariston was not yet ready for the transition, promising though he was, Scruggs insisted that he needed all three at once.

Time machines are quite as curious as Alice’s Looking Glass.  One could say that Scruggs and his three recruits traveled twenty-four hundred years into the future—which is more than enough time to learn a new language, new customs, and a new clientele for very old services.  On the other hand, none of the four men had aged a day upon arrival, and the whole transit could even be described as having taken less than a second.  As Professor Einstein would have said (in a fashion already well known to our travelers, if not for the same reasons), lapses of time depend entirely upon one’s point of view.

Scruggs immediately settled the three into their new positions (“immediately” from a twenty-first century American perspective).  On Sunday mornings, he could often admire the entirety of his work at a glance—or with a two-hour séance, to be exact, in front of the Sunday morning talk shows.  The cherry trees were blooming in Washington when he located the highlights of Periander’s latest press conference, for instance, on CSPAN.  Now Perry Ander, Press Secretary to the President, the young sophist had taken to his new duties like a bad dog to egg-sucking.

Specially framed by CSPAN for the occasion was Ander’s sparring match with the ever-obnoxious Julian Lucas, correspondent for the online journal Right Face.  Lucas was pestering the P.S. about the President’s proposal to envelop the nation in state-of-the-art high-flying craft that would render any open-air crime detectible by day or night.

“The satellites are obviously for the protection of our citizens,” Ander was explaining coolly.  “I don’t think anyone seriously believes—any sane person, or any person who isn’t simply playing the politics of hysteria for political ends—that the commander-in-chief has designs upon the safety of his own people.  Who really believes that?  What kind of person would believe that the president of the United States wants to subjugate his own people?  That movie didn’t do well except when Nixon was the bad guy.”

Ander laughed, and then laughed at his own laugh, as if having reflected upon his witticism’s profundity.  Then the press corps began a kind of serial laugh, its audibility quickly building.  They all ended up having a long, jolly laugh together.

“I mean… I don’t think anyone believes that.”

“But why must there be so many thousands of these things in our airspace?” persisted the annoying Lucas behind the receding wave of mirth.  “How can that serve national security, when there are doubts about the ability of the craft to stay out of their own way?  There have been instances of collisions in tests that have involved only a half dozen…”

“Look.  The objections you raise have reached our office from sources that we know to be interested in mere scare-mongering.  There are no such incidents as those you describe.  There are cases of… of minor malfunction in the early stages of development, some of them going back to the end of the last century…”

“No, sir.  There was an incident just last year—”

“… but the rest is mere exaggeration or fabrication.  We have all the figures and results.  I can get those for you later.  The President is interested only in providing the best security for the greatest number of Americans in the most cost-effective manner possible…”

“Cost-effective?  Why so many thousands—”

“… and the current program—if you’ll just let me finish, Julian—the current program balances all of those factors, but of course places security well to the top of the list.  The United States covers an entire continent.  We have a huge nation.  The number you have mentioned—which is exaggerated, by the way—I don’t know where you got it, but I can get you the correct figures—the number mentioned was arrived at by the nation’s best and keenest military and engineering minds.  We intend to blanket the whole nation in such a way that not only will terrorists be spotted who are trying to slip across international boundaries, but also criminal activities within our borders can be spotted and effectively tracked.  The result will in fact be a huge savings for state and local budgets devoted to crime-fighting.  A remote municipality in Kansas or Ohio, for instance, would not have the resources to follow the getaway car after a hold-up.  We can assist that locality.  A suspicious truck parked by a federal building in Nashville or Fort Wayne or… or Tucson might be a ticking time-bomb, like the U-Haul truck in the Oklahoma City bombing.  These are not small towns, but even their resources might lack the sophistication to spot the danger in time.  Our celestial security blanket, as the President likes to call it, would automatically log the positions of vehicles parked in delicate or sensitive areas and would issue alerts if said vehicles were not moved after a few hours.  This would all be done by computer.  The alert would go straight to local law enforcement, which could then follow up and ascertain if there were a true threat.”

“So you’re saying that all of us will be followed daily by a computer network—a highly centralized network, even if alerts go straight to local agencies—and that even the places where we park our cars will be fed immediately into some kind of vast database?”

“I don’t know where this is headed, Julian.  I really don’t.  Does the President wish that we lived in a world without nuclear weapons or remote-controlled bombs that could kill hundreds of women and children, if not millions, in one event?  Of course he does!  But we don’t live in that world any more, and we may never live in it again.  Especially if the readers of your rag continue to resist every modest effort at gun control.  So we have to take steps to be safe in this new world, and that involves giving up some of our old Wild West freedoms.  Gone are the days when you can just wander around in the wide-open spaces and not have anyone ask what you’re doing there.  But in your particular case, and in most Americans’, the question will actually never get asked.  Because the database will instantly recognize your car, say, and know that you’re parked near the Senate House because you’re covering a debate.  No one’s going to be coming up to you all the time and demanding to see your papers.  Ninety-nine point nine percent of Americans will never know that the blanket is monitoring all surface activity coast to coast.  Why is that so worrisome to some people?  I just don’t understand.  Do you want to be able to raise your children in safety, or do you want to have them exposed to murder and mayhem every day so that you can say that you’re an American and nobody is looking over your shoulder?  I don’t understand that attitude.  Maybe you can explain it to me.  Can you explain it to me?”

Ander had grown mildly but effectively heated.  The silence of the seated ranks of correspondents was palpable and impressive, like a phalanx of hostile shields encircling the beleaguered Lucas.

“I… you’re only talking about the good side.  You… the President, that is… needs to understand that the American people have legitimate worries about the possible bad side.  What if the wrong person gets into office one day?  Wouldn’t that be exponentially worse than another Oklahoma City bombing that might have been prevented?  And I believe that was a Ryder truck, by the way.”

“I’m so glad you corrected me!  I probably could have gotten sued for that—a thousand apologies to U-Haul.  Please all of you print my retraction!”

And another round of laughter flowed in like a tide and lifted the discussion far above Lucas’s minute objections.  Nobody else cared: the issue was now drowned and washed far out to sea.  Ander had played his hand perfectly.

Scruggs switched over to Capitol Q and A.  Another of his time machine’s recent imports, now rechristened Lester Macks, had taken the Washington press corps by storm.  Within half a year, or scarcely more, Macks had ascended so high in his network’s esteem that he was pinch-hitting for the signature Sunday morning news show’s distinguished anchor (on vacation).  The lead interview, featuring the senior senator from a dead-red Midwestern state, must already have run a couple of minutes, for the temperature on the set had clearly risen.  (Lester Macks always opened his interviews dribbling a fulsome admiration of his guests which treacherously put them at their ease.  Worked every time.)  Macks’ voice now had that keen edge and quick delivery that reminded Scruggs of a semi-automatic weapon bearing down on its target.

“How do you respond to Senator Claverheld’s charge that you and your party are serving special interests rather than the welfare of poor and middle-class Americans?”

“That’s an unfair charge, Lester, as the Senator well knows.  We can’t expect the economy to recover while those few who have money to invest are taxed and harassed until they withdraw to foreign markets.  The way our economy works—”

“But don’t you think ordinary Americans understand that system only too well?  What they see is that the only way for them to have even minimum-wage sweatshop employment is for the wealthy to get wealthier than they already are.  And you’re opposed even to raising the minimum wage.”

“If I could just finish… the way our system works is that investment capital creates opportunities for fledgling businesses.  Small people with big dreams—I mean, small businesses, little people without much money starting up a small business—they have to go to the bank to get a loan.  And if those who have money to invest aren’t investing it—if we’re driving them to take their money elsewhere—then the banks won’t give our little guy a loan.  And then…”

“I understand that.  I think everyone does.  What I wonder is if you understand that most Americans view that system as grossly unfair.  It doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t.  People who have already made their pile shouldn’t get to call the tune for the rest of society.  That’s what a Washington Post poll shows.”

“I don’t… I’ve never seen any such poll…”

“Would you like to see it?”

“… and in any case, what other system is there, Lester—other than socialism?”

“Is that what you call the President’s Prime-the-Pump initiative?  Socialism?”

“Well… since you mention it… that’s just what it is.  Why does the government get to decide which small businesses should be encouraged or which should succeed or which should go under?  It has nothing to do with their viability as businesses.”

“No, but it has everything to do with their utility to a better society.”

“But who gets to define what a better society is?  Why does the government get to define that?  Why does the President?  Congress hasn’t even voted on these initiatives, and already he’s creating special departments to implement them.  That’s not his constitutional function.”

“But the President won the vote of the people, so through his will is being expressed the will of the people.  The people are deciding upon what makes a better society—or they are expressing their confidence in the President’s ability to make that decision.”

“Lester… Lester!  We don’t elect kings in this country!  That’s not they way it works!”

“According to the latest Pew poll, the people are very happy to have it work that way.  Almost sixty percent trust the President over Congress to choose the best course for the economy.”

“That’s not what that poll measured, if you read it carefully.  Anyway, I repeat: our Constitution does not allot him that authority.  We are a republic governed by the rule of law—by a constitution.”

“Come now, Senator.  You’re aware, I know, of Representative Tibideau’s op-ed in the New York Times last week charging certain members of your committee with manipulating the rules to line their own pockets.  I don’t think the Constitution’s authors intended that to happen, either.”

“Former Representative Tibideau can say or write anything she wants.  She usually does.  That doesn’t make it true, and in this case it’s a lie, a slanderous lie.  I don’t recall the piece you mentioned—”

“Would you like me to read it to you?”

“No, I would not!”

“Would you like me to read an excerpt to you?”

“No, I would not!  I don’t need anything read to me that makes such charges.  I know that they are categorically false.  And for people on that side of the aisle to suggest that my committee is engaged in… in something like graft, or insider-trading, or whatever… why, it’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

“Just politics as usual.”

“Yes.”

“Well, maybe you’re right.  Maybe that’s why more Americans trust the President’s judgment.  Moving on to the last topic…”

“If I could just—”

“I’m sorry, Senator, we don’t have much time left—would you care to comment on the allegation that your colleagues in the Senate are withholding federal disaster funds to victims of the massive mudslides in California as a kind of political vendetta?”

“Whose allegation is that?  I’ve never heard of any such thing.”

“Do you deny that the Gun-Free Playgrounds bill stalled in the Senate last week?”

“I… my God!”  Senator Bergen’s mouth worked like a fish’s for a moment, trying to find words instead of air.  “Are you… this is incredible!  Are you really…”

“Do you not understand the question?”

“Do you understand what you’re asking?  Do you have the slightest idea?  Which part of it do you want me to tackle first?”

“We have thirty seconds.”

“Okay, do you want me to explain the Constitution in thirty seconds?  Or do you want me to explain to your viewers why a rider like that on a bill that barely passed the House is the definition of pork?  Or maybe I should explain how federal disaster relief is normally, legally awarded—or that this is actually not disaster relief at all?  Or maybe I should discuss the true intent of the rider, or that half members of the House—members of Frank Aguilar’s own party—now say that they didn’t even know the rider was there…”

“So you’re saying that you oppose the relief on a technicality?”

“A technicality?  A technicality?  Yes, if shredding the legal rules of procedure from top to bottom is a technicality…”

“Senator Bergen, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time.  Thank you very much for agreeing to get up early on this Sunday morning for a very stimulating interview.  We hope you’ll come back soon.”

“Um… thank you, Les…”

“Coming up next, the man who claims he can ride a motorcycle across Hudson Bay…”

Masterfully done.  Masterfully.  Scruggs was still chuckling about the Washington Post poll, the reference to which had been so mauled that anyone who might want to track it down could scarcely isolate the relevant question.  Lester possessed a special genius, even for a sophist, when it came to working off the cuff.  And he had extracted two major gaffes from Bergen, as well.  The phrase “small people” as a designation of average Americans would be all over editorial pages tomorrow, starting with Lester Mack’s online column.  The Senator’s closing admission that he had in fact opposed disaster relief to mudslide victims based on a technicality would also make a huge, noisy, and very muddy splash.  What would not be noticed in the gritty spray would be the irony of his intent.  The smear would stick and dry, and no amount of contextual clear water would wash it off.

Scruggs checked the time on his private theater’s digital display (which showed hours for every major city in the world), and winced.  He had considered recording freshman Representative Ari Stone’s appearance on Roundtable Roundup and watching it later… but he realized at this instant that he was avoiding the inevitable.  The brilliant performance of his other two protégés heartened him to peek at what he knew must be a distant third-place performance.  Young Ari had not been ready—Protagoras had warned him; but the unusual circumstances surrounding Blasingame’s dismissal had thrown everyone’s timing off.  There was no question that the young man with Greek God good looks possessed what he needed to win a quick, irregular election, especially in an urban district full of single working-women.  A Sunday show, however… it was far too early for a Sunday show.

If the rest of the nation, like him, could only have sat before the screen with the sound muted… something in Scruggs, he admitted to himself, hated these pretty boys for the wealth lavished upon them by that idiot whore, Dame Fortune.  He thought of Paris and Helen… and of his first wife and her boyfriend.

Maybe Ari would have enough sense just to sit there and toss in a cliché on cue.  The moderator would do everything possible to help him.  The trouble with this damn roundtable format was that Representative Fulton Truelock would be able to land numerous jabs under the referee’s protective arm.

Scruggs unmated the screen with a heavy sigh.

“I… I fail to see the relevance of that… of your remark.” Ari was already stammering.

“Really?” snorted Truelock.  “You don’t think the lives of children are relevant?  Well, that’s at least a consistent position within your party.”

“No, I think he means that Partial Birth Abortion has nothing to do with using drones to kill terrorists,” cut in Salomon Rolfo.

Scruggs felt a furious surge in his blood pressure.  He reached for his phone and was ready to punch the speed-dial to ABC’s news director.  With luck, he could have a warning transmitted into the ear of that stupid bastard to let Ari fend for himself.  Nothing looked worse to the public than what he had just witnessed: the “moderator’s” openly running interference for the dopey half of the interviewed pair.

But Ari surprised him.  “No, that’s not what I mean.  I understand what he’s saying.  Too many children are dying as collateral damage in our drone strikes.  I hate that.  And I understand why certain people… some people in some countries… hate Americans as a result of those strikes.  We need to try to stop them—the strikes, I mean.  Or we need to find a way to give them pinpoint accuracy, which they don’t have right now.  But we also need to remember that leaving one of these terrorists alive could mean the death of hundreds of American children.  It’s a very complicated situation.”

“And we need to stop sucking the brains out of viable babies who are trying to exit the birth canal,” thrust the unrelenting Truelock.  “At least the others are what you call collateral damage—unintended victims.  Or would you call the murder victims of PBA collateral damage of the sex-crazed lifestyle?”

“Mr. Stone, isn’t it true that the taking out of terrorist Mahmud Ibn al-Salim probably derailed a plan to sink a British Channel ferry with hundreds of people on board?”

But Ari again ignored the softball.  “No, I’d like to respond.  What I don’t see is how defending our children—and the children of our allies—has anything to do with abortion.  I don’t see the connection you’re trying to draw here.  It seems to me a little bit insane.”

“Insane?” cried Truelock over Rolfo’s gaping mouth and raised finger.  “You think it’s insane to be concerned about the lives of our own unborn but perfectly natural to care about the teenagers of terrorists halfway around the world?”

“Every child has a right to live.  And they don’t suddenly lose that right just because they become teenagers.  And how do you know, anyway, that these are all teenagers?  My information is that many of them are much younger.”

“Yeah, sure—that’s right.  Some of them may be babies.  You know… helpless little babies with clutching fingers and eyes barely open—the way you see them as they’re exiting the womb, just before the abortionist sticks a syringe into their skull and pulls out the plunger.”

“Actually, that’s not a sight I’ve seen.”

Truelock bolted partway out of his chair.  “That’s the whole damn problem!  You and your party—you see what you want to see!  To you guys, none of this is even happening!  You don’t even know what’s going on!”

“And you seem to see things that aren’t really happening, Fulton.  You have these images in your head, and they’re driving you crazy.”

“Are you denying that Partial Birth Abortion takes place in this country?”

“I’m denying that it takes place as you describe it.  The fetuses in these cases are no more viable as living human beings than… than a lump of clay.”

“So you think that PBA never takes place in the third trimester?  You think that?  Really?  Are you really that out of touch?  Are you really that dumb?”

Rolfo had almost sunk under the table—the famously round table.  Ari Stone, in contrast, gave the most winning of boyish smiles.  He was the wavy-haired team captain: the star quarterback allowing the walk-on to take a snap under center during practice.  What a great guy!

“Fulton, the citizens of this country have spoken.  The women, especially, have spoken.  I doubt that very many of them appreciate it that you’re calling them murderers.  And not just murderers, but cold-blooded murderers who practically beat their newborn’s brains out against the hospital wall as soon as it’s born.  Is that really what you mean to say?”

“That’s really what’s happening!”

“Well, I… I don’t know how this advances us in any sense.  And I still don’t see how it connects to our foreign policy.  But we’ll probably just have to leave it there.  I think the director’s signaling that we have to take a break.”

And Representative Ari Stone gave the most winsome smile since Robert Redford’s salad days, aimed halfway between moderator and camera and squarely into the stage lights.  What woman would trouble herself about the son she never had when that face could be beamed into her den or her bedroom?

It was the greatest triumph of them all—and, Scruggs marveled, it had been scored through something like the rhetoric of stupidity.  Stone’s resistance to logical connections had been blockheaded… but blockheaded in a manner shared by most of his constituents, and most viewers of this channel, and probably most voters throughout the nation.  Truelock had raged as his constituency back in South Carolina would want him to rage—but he had also just destroyed his chances for a vice-presidential nod during the next election cycle, and probably forever.

Life was good, after all.  Life was sweet.  Life was full of cute morons like the first Mrs. Scruggs, and it could therefore be programmed with minute accuracy.

Turning the key on his private theater’s door with a smug smile, Scruggs reflected that his experiment’s magnificent success demonstrated the falsehood of the sophists’ fundamental conviction.  All truth was not relative: at least one truth survived the whirring passage of history’s epochs intact.  For it was clear that across the vast array of times and customs in human affairs, an accomplished liar is always an invaluable treasure.

A faithful contributor to this journal for the past decade, Ivor Davies resides in the North Georgia area with his family, where he writes, teaches, and consults (in reverse order of remunerative advantage).