The TV news team is telling me that one presidential candidate sold state department favors and the other plans internment camps for immigrants. Neither assertion is true, of course. They’re just straw man arguments. But a vigorous debate follows in which both candidates are trashed as though the assertions were true. Straw Men. They’re everywhere, like alien bug-eyed-monsters, grabbing our attention. Which is what straw men do, grab attention. “Straw man n. 2. An argument or opponent set up so as to be easily refuted or defeated. – American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition.” It’s the first step of spin.
Bob vs the Aliens
To read Writing DaysZ 1-5, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf
They found the railroad handcar under an overhang behind the waystation. Bob and Piper grunted frantically, trying to inch it to the tracks before helicopter gunships could roar overhead. Old Spice rummaged through a wooden chest, tossing out items apparently deemed useless.
Piper dodged a wrench. “Spice!”
“Give us a hand,” Bob said urgently, quietly, “They’re coming!”
“No they’re not. The helicopter noise has stopped. Oh-” He held up an oil can. “Look!”
“So they landed in the town. In a few minutes, they’ll be airborne again and headed here.”
Spice began squirting oil on everything about the handcar that looked like it might move. “It’s Never Too Late to Prepare for an Emergency!” He smiled at them. “That’s my family motto.”
Bob repeated the phrase and squinted at Spice, “That’s the dumbest motto-.” The handcar lurched, screeched and began rolling. The three of them manhandled it onto the tracks and Bob and Piper pumped the seesaw handles while Spice squirted oil on every part that moved. Ahead, Bob saw a heavier stand of trees that promised shelter. Behind, he heard a helicopter lift off in the distance. The car gained speed to about twenty-five or thirty miles an hour and became easy to pump. But it was hardly escape velocity. He felt trapped in a slow-motion video. Trees blocked their view just as the helicopter approached the station behind them. “Keep going! They’ll overfly the track after they don’t find us at the station.” To ease the tension, he told Piper, “Spice was a doofus back home. Weren’t you, Spice?”
Spice looked up from something he was fiddling with. “Doofus?”
“An incompetent person,” Bob winked at Piper, “Foolish or stupid.”
She winked back. “Ignore him, Spice. You don’t have to talk about your family.”
Spice sputtered and stood. “That was not my fault! Really,” he implored. “It was the genetic alteration that I underwent for the Earth Mission. I was just trying to let her down easy.”
“Who, Spice?” Piper soothed. “Who were you trying to let down easy?”
“My fiancé,” he told her in a somber voice. “She deserved to know that my new body found her repulsive. So, I sent her a message. I followed all of the appropriate protocols for use of the family communicator, too. It is expected that the recipients of a personal message from my family will know who wrote it without a signature.”
Bob chuckled. “You sent her a message?”
“I chose my words carefully.”
“Oh, Spice! Is that’s how she found out you were breaking up with her?” Piper shook her head in dismay. “You texted her?”
“I wish.” The Alien slumped. “I accidently sent the message to the wrong person. But my fiancé, at least, knew who wrote it when she read it in the news.”
“Oh, Spice! Who did you send it to?”
“My father’s mistress. She was, how do you say it? Pissed at him.”
In the silence that followed, Bob rolled his eyes heavenward to see a helicopter flying in whisper mode arcing over the trees at the railcar. He grabbed the ray gun from his pocket and held it pointed skyward against his mouth and licked it frantically as ropes dropped around them and they were rushed by armed men dressed in black bulky outfits making loud, guttural, sounds. Abruptly, the helicopter veered away, trailing behind it one man still clinging to a rope.
“Where are you going?” asked one of the three men who had made it onto the railcar.
The answer came over his harness speaker. “Going for a beer. That was a roadhouse we passed back there. Coming?”
“Hell yeah man. We’re in.” The men jumped and rolled smartly to a standing stop behind the railcar. As the helicopter landed to pick them up, they turned and waved goodbye with their guns.
Bob looked at the ray gun but it was already fading away in his hand. “Wow,” he breathed.
“See.” Spice beamed at him, “I told you it would make attackers stop bothering us.”
“I just wished it had a trigger. Firing a ray gun by licking the red spot is stupid, Spice. I was too stressed to remember where the spot was. I had to lick the gun all over!” He made a face and spit.
“Don’t be trigger-happy, Bob.” Piper smiled at him like she was proud of him. “You saved us.” That made him happy. They spent the day taking turns, one keeping lookout while two pumped the handcar. No more helicopters came at them and although easy enough, the pumping was eventually exhausting as none of them were used to prolonged physical exertion. At dusk they were happy to see the lights of a small town.
“That’s New Haven,” Spice said. It’s not on any of your maps yet. But it popped up last week on our planet survey as a fast growing town. We can find accommodations there for the night.”
The lights in the town resolved into campfires, cars and people; adults, children and dogs, even some livestock. Where the rails crossed over a small stream, they were waved to a stop by men with fishing poles. “Hold on there,” one called in a pleasant but firm voice. He helped them to stop the handcar before it rolled onto the trestle.
“Thanks, friends.” The man held out his hand. “That contraption would make such a racket going over the bridge, the fish might stop biting. I’m Andy.”
Piper hopped down and shook his hand. “Glad you were able to help us stop in time, Andy. I’m Piper. We would like to spend the night here.” She turned and introduced Spice, who landed beside her, and Bob, who stayed on the cart. “Spice here is an Alien and Bob back there,” she pointed with her thumb, “Is Bob.”
“I see,” the man glanced at Bob before warmly shaking Spice’s hand. “Welcome! It is a pleasure to have you with us.”
“I thought all you Aliens left,” one of the fishermen said.
“That’s Skeeter.” Andy waved the man over. “Skeeter’s our Sheriff and resident greeter. Say,” he grinned at them, “You’re just in time for the debate. Let Skeeter get you a bite to eat and settled in.”
After some eating, greeting and refreshing, they watched older kids pile wood on one of the campfires to turn it into a communal bonfire. Early fall chilled the air. Overhead, star swarms lit a clear night sky. People gathered, some climbing up onto a vehicle. “Declared debaters,” Andy informed them, helping them climb up with him onto a flatbed truck. He raised his hands for attention. “The subject of tonight’s debate is, ‘What Happened?’”
“Is that an Alien?” a woman asked.
“Yes, and by the rules of New Haven, he is accepted like everyone else.”
The woman sounded agreeable, “Well, OKAY I guess.” To the chuckling of others, she added, “We accepted my ex-husband.”
“Back to the point,” Andy acted as the debate moderator, “What happened?”
“Well,” a thick looking man began, “I know we accept him and all and I do, but.” He paused and looked around. “You all know the collapse began when the Aliens arrived.” Bob loosely estimated maybe a couple hundred people watched the man point out Spice. “I’d like to hear what he has to say about that.”
With tense eyes turning on him, Spice seemed to shrink. He whispered into Bob’s ear, “Correlation is not cause and effect.”
“Excuse me,” Piper stepped forward. “We are Piper and Bob, Alien Companions. Due to the subtleties of the English language, and given the importance of clear communication in tonight’s debate, the Alien has asked us to translate for him. Allow me to introduce Old Spice, Earth Mission Commander of the Aliens.”
Spice genuflected as best a spherical being could, holding the pose longer than expected. Only when the crowd went silent did he rise to his full three-foot height, somehow making it all seem majestic. The thick man gave him back a short bow.
“What did he say, Bob?” Piper prompted.
“The Alien says their timing was unfortunate and unrelated to the circumstances on Earth when they landed.”
“Use his name, Bob!” To the amusement of the crowd, Piper kicked him. “Damn, man! Try to make him sound human.” They laughed at her. “Well, people, we need answers, not scapegoats. What do you really think happened?”
“You can’t fool me!” a man screamed.
“Ignore the screamer,” Andy told Bob, “He’s crazy. He’s not screaming at us. Herb screams only at himself.”
“Take your hands off that!” the screamer demanded.
Bob winked at Piper, “He’s talking to himself.”
“We already know what happened.” A young man spoke from the roof of his SUV. “My family lives in this car because the rich stole everything away from us. Away from all of us! The top one percent sucked up all of the oil with their planes and their helicopters and their yachts and moved their companies overseas and we’re left with no jobs and no homes and cars with no gas to live in.”
“Counter?” asked Andy. “Who wants to argue differently?”
“Scapegoating,” said Spice.
“What’s that mean?” the young man retorted.
“The word is from a Yom Kippur ritual,” Bob explained. “The high priest would symbolically lay the sins of the people on a goat’s head.”
“So?” the man huffed. “I know what I’m talking about. I listen to public radio.”
Stepping in smoothly, Piper said, “Spice is saying that blaming a group is no answer.”
“Scapegoating a group is just a way of setting up a straw man argument,” Bob elaborated. “Meaning, anyone in the group can be attacked for supposedly sharing the groups’ alleged sins. It’s a way of saying, ‘Politicians are greedy liars and can’t be trusted. That lets you attack anyone who is a politician.”
“Exactly!” The thick man nodded and smiled. “It was the Koch brothers!” He rotated slowly, nodding to the crowd, arms extended with palms up to bring them to his understanding. “They’re greedy billionaires. You can’t trust ’em! And we all know they are lying Republicans.”
“That’s plain crazy talk!” shouted a woman. “What about that billionaire George Soros? FOX News already exposed him as a Democrat. You gotta be crazy to trust a man who’s both, in the top one percent and a Democrat.”
“Stop that!” Herb screamed. “You can’t pee here.” That caused a slight commotion as people next to Herb drew back.
Spice seemed confused. “Scarcity drove up the price of oil,” he told Piper and Bob, “And you people kept buying it anyway. Now, not enough is left to power your needs. It was all very human and predictable. Why the blame?”
Bob shook his head, “Bad arguments, they’re everywhere. Let’s get out of here.” On the way out, they passed a sign someone had posted next to the fire, “Debate Tonight, Beware of Trolls.” In the distance, Herb screamed, “Time’s up!”
Yesterday was “National No Texting Day.” In what bubble in whose mind did that make sense? Makes me wonder how many people texted the info to their friends yesterday. That’s the thing about mind bubbles. They hold ideas that make sense when you think about them but burst when exposed to the real world.
… to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-5, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)