Sunday Satire


It’s another rainy day in Infospigot’s neighborhood. What better way to pass the time than with the Sunday papers, an occasional glance at TV football, and a plate full of pancakes (Kate was inspired by watching Alton Brown explain the history and science of flapjacks on the Food Network; you think I’m kidding, but the picture above is included to show I’m not). I struggled through The New York Times crossword. I read the obits in the Chronicle. And I happened across an awful opinion piece in the Chronicle’s Sunday “Insight” section.

The column, by former Wall Street Journal reporter G. Pascal (Greg) Zachary, is titled “India, Indonesia didn’t prepare for the worst.” It ventures to lecture India for spending money on developing nuclear weapons and Indonesia for diverting profits from its oil industry away from one of the provinces stricken by the December tsunami. That’s all fine. I guess governments everywhere could have more enlightened priorities. But gee, Mr. Zachary, where do you or any other American get off giving someone else a hard time for their weapons obsessions or economic greed or for ignoring their people’s vital needs? Naturally we’re the smartest, best (and best-looking!) people on Earth. But I’d think the Iraq fiasco, the national missile defense folly, the Enron scandal, health-care and pension crises and the incipient collapse of public education for the poor would lend us a sense of humility.

I was bugged enough that I wound up writing a letter to the section’s editors:


G. Pascal Zachary’s piece (“India, Indonesia didn’t prepare for worst,” Jan. 2, 2005) almost fooled me. What I took at first to be hypocritical carping about the irresponsibility of Asian nations hit by the December tsunami turns out to be satire almost too subtle to contemplate. Zachary scolds India for, among other things, diverting precious resources into an arms race. He wags his finger at Indonesia for its greed in dividing the spoils from its oil industry. He indicts both governments for failing to adequately care for their citizens. Wow. Really hard-hitting stuff. For good measure, he throws in a swipe about India stealing U.S. jobs. As a contrast to such short-sighted selfishness, he offers us Americans, who “naturally … can see past their narrow self-interest.”

Of course, you have to look past a literal interpretation of Zachary’s words to glimpse their Swiftian brilliance. What Zachary’s really getting at is how India and Indonesia are merely aping the example of the United States (and other powers of South and Southeast Asia’s glorious imperial past) when they waste treasure on weaponry, put profits for the wealthy ahead of citizens’ welfare and pursue policies that say to their own people and the rest of the world “we couldn’t care less what you think.”

Congratulations on a masterpiece.

We’ll see if it runs. I’m sure my note is just one among many.

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