Monday, July 31, 2006

Tortures of the Damned

Like most American cities, the outlying regions of Columbus, Ohio, are a ghastly, sprawling morass of strip malls, grease pits, slurpee shops and motel hells, all generously sprinkled with Luxury Living enclaves populated by the now ubiquitous and ubiquitously-derided McMansion. To call it all overwhelming is to lend some measure of awe to the scene when it really is just plain awful. Sadly, much of the inner realm of this city is not unlike its dreadful satellite environment, as a trip down Rt. 23 would grossly inform.

Indeed, it is a very long and unpleasant trip downtown until one finally reaches the Ohio State campus, at which point some measure of a "town" actually begins to emerge. No doubt, there are old, verdant neighbourhoods tucked away and removed from the scrofulous arteries like Rt. 23, but to a visitor, a miserable and moribund crudscape is all one is able to "experience." Enterprising souls might be inclined toward exploration with the hope that, surely, there must be better places than that presented on the main roads, but without diligence toward this end, a numb stupefaction will quickly descend on any Columbus newbie.

One wonders how anyone can proudly, or even possibly, enjoy such an environment. A healthy dose of fundamentalist Endtimes prophesy probably helps, preaching, as it does, that corporeal life on earth is merely God's death row, each of us awaiting execution or reprieve, depending upon one's love, or lack of, for Jesus. And death row is exactly what one is treated to along the infernal stretches of Rt. 23 and, no doubt, many other similarly horrid motoring byways. The extent of effort required to keep the rabble in line so that they don't begin to wonder whether there might not be a better living arrangement than endless driving and shopping at Wal*Mart must surely be vast. And some of that effort, as unconcious as it may be, is made by the likes of fundamentalist Christians, fretting constantly as they do over a rather limited buffet of perceived societal ills; abortion, gays, and most recently, stem cell research.

To that end, there's lots of Christian radio spewing forth from local Columbus stations, which heartily broadcast James Dobson's Focus on the Family weekend radio shows, offering parenting tips to keep your kids and you on the straight and narrow path to righteous living. But cohabitating with Dobson's religious organs in Ohio is another feature in the featureless realm of the terribly built environment: the United Dairy Farmers chain of convenience stores. In common appearance, they share the style of other similar franchises: non-descript cinder block crates housing the very same variety of quickie-mart junk that all the others offer. Except one.

Amongst the Maxim magazines and peek-a-boo tabloid gossip rags, between the rows of chips and soda that help keep Ohioans joyously rotund, a customer of a United Dairy Farmers store will not find condoms. The reason, as an apparently disenchanted employee claimed, was that the owner "doesn't believe in that." Naturally, my interest was piqued.

To the unfamilar, United Dairy Farmers evinces a co-op, feel-good aura, like it might be owned and operated by actual dairy farmers; all hard work and wholesome goodness from the American heartland. This would be wrong. UDF is owned by billionaire Carl Lindner Jr., and was started in Cincinatti in 1938 as a family-owned ice cream shop. As quaint as that may sound, that quaintness has long since vanished and as Lindner's wealth grew, so did his penchant for giving large campaign contributions to Christian conservative Republicans, though he was not opposed to handing out large amounts of cash to Democrats when his business interests were at hand. His family owns a large part of the American Financial Group and Lindner was, until 2002, the CEO of Chiquita Brands International, formerly known as the United Fruit Company, a company with a long and inglorious record of oppression and shady dealings throughout Central America.

Lindner was apparently determined to continue UFC's legacy and, in 1998, The Cincinatti Enquirer published a lengthy expose, "Chiquita Secrets Revealed," of Lindner's company and his stewardship of this vessel of economic repression and illegal daring-do. Charges leveled by the paper included worker abuse, polluting, bribing foreign officials, union busting and cocaine smuggling, but the story was retracted after an elected prosecutor with close ties to Lindner threatened investigation of the newpaper when it was learned that the reporters had gained access to Chiquita's voice mail system. The story, which appeared to be entirely accurate, only garnered infamy for the reporters who broke it and none for the depredations of Lindner's company.

Notwithstanding the deplorable actions of his Chiquita dominion, Lindner's Christian purpose remains intact, strongly supporting his family's own Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, presumably where young fundamentalists learn the fine art of empire building on the backs of the rural poor in foreign lands. Further to the purpose of Christianizing American government, Lindner was and is a strong supporter of Ohio's Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

As Sectretary of State and co-chair of the Bush/Cheney campaign in Ohio, Blackwell is the man seen as chiefly responsible for voter suppression efforts in Democratic districts across the state and is currently running for governor by kowtowing to the Christian Reconstructionists, at the Council for National Policy. The CNP exerts great effort to keep its activities under wraps but one of its general aims is to turn America into a Christian Nation, which will employ Holy Scripture as the law of the land. In fact, the CNP was started by Tim LeHaye, Armageddon's bedfellow and author of the Left Behind series of Second Coming books. At least, they wish America to be a Christian theocracy until Endtimes, when this band of lunatics imagines Rapturing once Armageddon begins. Blackwell fits in well with this crowd as he has said,
I don't wear my religion on my sleeve – it is my armor.
And nothing suits Lindner more than giving money to a fellow Christian warrior.

So, the next time you're in Ohio and find yourself in the vast, unpleasant wash of our modern world, some understanding as to how we have made our own environment so damned unpleasant may come to you. No doubt much or most of it derives from pure and unadulterated greed and larceny, but there is another force at work that sees life on this planet as merely a passtime, a waystation, on the way to enternal bliss. Why bother fixing it when the end is nigh? Have an ice cream. But forget the condoms. They don't have herpes in heaven and if you're one of the damned, well, you'll be covered in festering sores anyway.


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