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DAWN - Opinion; March 5, 2003

March 05, 2003

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Drift towards an Orwellian dystopia

AS the firestorm in the Middle East draws nearer, the terms of the debate sparked by its imminence are shifting more rapidly than Arabian desert sands. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this change occurred, but Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction” are suddenly no longer the key concern.

Nothing short of “total disarmament” will do. Does that mean everything from Al Samoud II missiles to the last ceremonial dagger must be consigned to the scrapheap?

George W. Bush now claims that the blitzing of Baghdad and other population centres will not only liberate Iraqis but also lead to the establishment of a separate Palestinian state. “Iraqi lives and freedom matter greatly to us,” he told the American Enterprise Institute — one of the far-right think tanks that the US administration relies on for its ideological moorings — last week.

That is why, he may well have added, we plan to kill thousands of Iraqis and instal Tommy Franks as military ruler. But, then, such lapses in logical consistency ought not to surprise anyone who recalls that just a few decades ago American troops thought nothing of destroying Vietnamese villages in order to “save” them from communism.

Tony Blair, meanwhile, has been doing his bit for the White House cause by echoing the argument that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who deserves to be toppled on humanitarian grounds. In virtually the same breath he says that if the Iraqi leader surrenders his weapons, he is welcome to remain in power. In other words, torture and summary executions pose no problem as long as Saddam is incapable of threatening ... what? Israel? Saudi Arabia? US hegemony in the Middle East?

The British prime minister must be familiar with the works of his literary namesake, Eric Blair. In one of the 20th century’s classic visions of dystopia, the latter, better known as George Orwell, outlined a totalitarian society that operates on the basis of “doublethink”. The concept is defined as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”.

It is “indispensably necessary”, in this context, to “tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies”.

Sounds familiar? “This peculiar linking-together of opposites — knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism — is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society,” writes Orwell. “The official ideology abounds with contradictions even where there is no practical reason for them.”

For those unfamiliar with ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, the reference to Oceanic society deserves an explanation. The world as Orwell foresaw it roughly four decades hence from the postwar vantage point of 1948 consisted of three super-states, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, with the remainder — equatorial Africa, the Middle East, southern India and the Indonesian archipelago — serving as disputed territories consisting of “a bottomless reserve of cheap labour”. That is to say, vast sweatshops.

Intriguingly, “Oceania comprises the Americas, the Atlantic islands, including the British Isles, Australasia and the southern portion of Africa”. The projected entity broadly covers the main components of the “coalition of the willing” that intends to make war on Iraq regardless of whether such a move is sanctioned by the UN.

In Orwell’s novel, the British province is known as Airstrip One, and Oceania is constantly at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia. Whenever it switches enemies, the past is instantly rewritten in order to bring it into conformity with the changed circumstances. “The enemy of the moment,” Orwell explains, “always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.”

The parallel is hard to miss: you are unlikely to find any representative of the Bush-Blair administrations plainly admitting that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were valued western assets not so long ago. They would, in fact, have been construed as such in 1984, when Bush and Blair’s precursors Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher ruled the roost.

“In Oceania there is no law,” Orwell tells us. “Thoughts and actions which, when detected, mean certain death are not formally forbidden, and the endless purges, arrests, tortures, imprisonments and vaporizations are not inflicted as punishment of crimes which have actually been committed, but are merely the wiping-out of persons who might perhaps commit a crime at some time in the future.” A more accurate description of the Bushite concept of pre-emption would be hard to imagine.

‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is best remembered, of course, for the slogan BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. The novel drew its inspiration from the totalitarian systems Orwell was familiar with, namely Nazism and Stalinism, and there can be little doubt that the “black moustachio’d” Big Brother, whose visage stared down at Oceanians from every conceivable surface, was modelled primarily on Josef Stalin, who, coincidentally, died 50 years ago today. Equally obviously, his putative nemesis Emmanuel Goldstein is based on Leon Trotsky, the luminary who realized there was no place for his intellect in post-Lenin Russia.

By extension, the Big Brother persona is transferable to Saddam, who reputedly looks upon Stalin as a role model, and whose image gazes down upon Iraqis from every other edifice in Baghdad, if not elsewhere.

Unfortunately for Bush and Blair, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ never makes clear whether Big Brother — or, for that matter, Goldstein — really exists. Either of them could possibly be just a useful figment of the Party’s imagination. Just as Oceania’s war could be purely fictitious, all because “the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival”.

There can be little question that sanctions, which made the average Iraqi more dependent on Saddam’s regime for sustenance — and which give the lie to western humanitarian concern for Iraqis — served to strengthen the bureaucracy in Baghdad. But, while recognizing its coercive power, it is hard to envisage the latter as an all-knowing, all-powerful organ.

On the other hand, US intelligence agencies can be viewed in a different light. It emerged at the weekend that the National Security Agency, on Condoleezza Rice’s instructions, is keeping a close watch in New York on the delegations of the six Security Council members that so far haven’t made it clear where they stand vis-a-vis a second resolution. Up for grabs is “the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises”, according to a leaked memorandum.

The increased surveillance covers diplomats from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan and is intended to deter Security Council members from voting against a follow-up to Resolution 1441.

The votes will only count if the resolution isn’t vetoed by a permanent member such as Russia, France or China. Moscow and Paris have lately indicated that they may be willing to veto war plans, but their determination will remain in doubt until it comes to the crunch.

A veto may prove necessary to rescue the UN from ignominy and irrelevance. But, given Washington’s resort to dirty tricks — which are more reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s follies than anything Stalin attempted — it would make a great deal of sense for its headquarters to be shifted from Oceania’s chief metropolis to somewhere in Eurasia. Paris or St Petersburg would do nicely for the time being.

The passage of a Security Council resolution along the lines envisaged by Rice, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz would render the UN obsolete as a peacemaker. This must not be allowed to happen. A second resolution would not justify or seriously legitimize the coming war, but it would render it less unacceptable to a significant proportion of westerners. And that would be a tragedy.

Orwellian doublethink may account for the fact that whereas Saddam would have been in “material breach” if he refused to destroy missiles that marginally exceeded the range specified by the UN, now that he has got rid of them, it’s “a trick”.

But hold on. “Crimestop”, says Orwell, “means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.”

The Party says, meanwhile, that WAR IS PEACE. It also says: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

In the event, it’s fortunate that no party — neither Bush’s nor Blair’s, nor for that matter John Howard’s or Rupert Murdoch’s — completely controls the past. Or the present. The anti-war marches across the world last month made abundantly clear the tenor of vox populi.

If international signals are heeded, Orwell’s dystopia will remain a fictional premise. If not, prepare for Dubya Dubya III.

E-mail: mahirali@journalist.com

What ails our economy

By Ahsan Iqbal


AFTER three years of the Musharraf government’s all-powerful rule in which it launched several reform programmes aimed at reviving the economy, the national economy continues to show signs of sluggishness and low growth. The average GDP growth rate for the three years of Musharraf government plummeted further to 3.2 per cent from 4.6 per cent average of the 90s, which is often referred to as the lost decade by General Musharraf.

It may be of interest that during the Nawaz government, GDP increased from 1.7 per cent (1997) to 4.2 per cent (1999), despite the sanctions clamped on Pakistan in its last year. While we may have succeeded in reducing the fiscal deficit and inflation, we must squarely face the problems of low growth, low levels of investments and savings, stagnant exports, and the growing poverty crisis.

Pakistan is the only economy in South Asia whose Gross National Income (GNI) and per capita income have shrunk in the last five years. Pakistan’s per capita income has declined from $480 in 1997 to $420 in 2001 and GNI from $62 billion to $59.6 billion. India’s per capita income during this period increased from $380 to $440, Bangladesh’s from $340 to $370, and Sri Lanka’s from $790 to $830. This contraction has created serious structural imbalances, pushing poverty to record levels. Against this backdrop, there are both economic and security imperatives which require us to study the causes of Pakistan’s poor economic performance and find urgent solutions.

People are often told that Pakistan’s poor economic performance has been due to the poor policies of democratic governments. But, the truth is not so simple. The two long economic growth eras of Ayub Khan and Ziaul haq owe much to the stable political environment and massive injection of foreign aid by the US for the frontline state role which both rulers played to serve Washington’s interests. If any democratic regime had been allowed such long tenures with generous inflows of foreign aid, the results could have been much better. On the other hand, during the ‘90s democratic regimes were put on a roller coaster path by not allowing a tenure of more than two-and-a-half years to any government. There were eleven prime ministers sworn in between 1985 and 1999.

As soon as democracy was restored, Pakistan was subjected to the Pressler amendment as its frontline state role had ceased with the withdrawal of the erstwhile Soviet Union from Afghanistan. This shut the doors of foreign aid and concessional military supplies. The democratic governments were now forced by multilateral financial institutions to comply with harsh conditionalities in order to qualify for financial assistance.

Throughout the ‘80s, the military government continued to borrow domestically at 0.5 per cent to meet budget deficits, but during the ‘90s democratic governments were forced to correct this anomaly in one go by borrowing at the market rate, which increased the debt servicing cost greatly. Moreover, the concessional military supplies were no longer available and had to be purchased from the open market at much higher prices, which put an additional burden on the budgets. Frequent attacks on institutions and dismissal of governments also played havoc with the institutional framework and governance in the country often resulting in major policy reversals and shocks.

Usually, the debate on the missed economic opportunities, of Pakistan, which possesses all the necessary ingredients of a strong economy — like fertile land, water, human resource, energy, minerals, coastline, modern telecommunications and industrial infrastructure — focuses on pure economic issues such as debt, exports, savings, investments, and tax collection. But such a debate overlooks some very basic and important dimensions/linkages, without which a strong economic infrastructure cannot be created nor recovery achieved. Here I intend to explore some of these areas.

Before we identify some weaknesses of our economy, it is important to understand the new and emerging economic context, which demands a paradigm shift in our economic thinking and planning. It requires new mental models and approaches for economic development and growth. The dawn of the twentyfirst century marks the end of the era of the industrial revolution which spurred economic growth for the last two-and-a-half centuries. A new “Knowledge and Information Revolution era” has emerged, making knowledge the new paradigm of wealth creation. Democratization of information and investment has changed the rules of business.

Traditional factors of production such as natural resources and capital have fallen out of the competitive equation. Today, knowledge and skills alone stand as the only source of real comparative advantage. Globalization is changing the nature of world markets, competition, and management. WTO has set in a new borderless world trade order, which most of the developing countries have signed without fully understanding its implications. New regional blocs are emerging to provide companies bigger home market advantages in order to be globally competitive.

By 2010, over ninety per cent trade will be either inter- or intra- regional. Quality and productivity are new keys to success for winning economies. In this fast-paced changing world, speed decides the fate of business companies. Previously, big used to eat small but now fast will edge out slow. Change is the new order; fates of societies depend on whether they undertake proactive change, reactive change, or keep wondering about what has changed. It was in this direction that Pakistan Vision 2010 was launched in 1998. Unfortunately, General Musharraf’s government disbanded this initiative because it was launched by the Nawaz Sharif government, and we like to uproot even hand pumps installed by our opponents. Interestingly, India launched its Vision 2020 on Jan 23, 2003.

This brings us to the first and the most basic problem of our economy — lack of continuity of political policies. Political stability precedes economic development, without which even the best of policies will fail. The cost of policy reversals and changes for us has been even greater than the cost of corruption. The second factor is lack of strategic vision in our economic planning. In 1965, Pakistan’s manufactured exports of $200 million were equal to the combined manufactured exports of South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand.

We pursued import substitution policies while East Asia adopted export-oriented policies. The result was that we manufactured goods for our domestic market and to suit local standards, while those countries made goods for world markets meeting international standards. Consequently, by 1996, our manufactured exports had risen only to five billion dollars while South Korea’s increased to over $ 77 billion, Malaysia’s to over $ 32 billion, and Thailand’s over $ 29 billion.

If we look at our export portfolio, we find that we are marginally present in seven out of the world’s 40 biggest import categories and marginally in three out of the 40 fastest growing categories. We are not where the action is. We are stuck with a commodity-type portfolio, whose prices have crashed because of globalization.

Therefore, we need to restructure our productive base in both agriculture and industry towards value addition in order to target export growth markets. In agriculture, there is a great potential in fruits, vegetables, horticulture, and herbal and exotic products. In industry, we need to create new engines of growth besides textiles based on agro-industry, chemicals, engineering, electronics, and IT. Moreover, we need to be part of regional economic blocs.

The third challenge is building a social infrastructure that can support the building of a knowledge-based society and economy. Despite being a nuclear power, we are ranked 135th in the HR Index and sixth in the seven countries of South Asia. In education, we are still confused about the system we should adopt. There is not a single country in the world that has developed by making a foreign language its basic medium of learning. A nation whose language of thinking and speaking is not the same is always at a disadvantage.

This is not to suggest that we abandon English language instruction, but that the prime medium of education must be our national language so that we can tap the full creative potential of our youth. The curriculum needs to be revised and standardized to stimulate inquiry, creativity, and enterprise. Public sector education must be reformed to once again start offering quality education to talented children from the lower and middle classes. Societies that prosper are ones which allow equal opportunities of growth for lower social strata and which provide the impetus for progress, innovation and change: the children of the elite only do a good job of maintaining the status-quo.

We also need to establish linkages of our productive sectors with education and research. The textile sector accounts for over 60 per cent of our exports, but there are only five PhDs in textile technology out of 2,000 PhDs in science and technology in the country. Vocational and skill-related education is almost non-existent; the education system is churning out scores of thousands of matriculates and graduates with general education for whom there is no demand.

The writer is a former MNA and deputy chairman of Planning Commission.

A new role for female lawmakers

By Zubeida Mustafa


MARCH 8 is international women’s day. One can expect a lot of hype on the women’s issue on this occasion. While the feminist activists will be vocal in decrying the poor status of women in Pakistan, others championing the cause of the establishment will be quick to point out the progress which has been made in the field.

There will still be others who will speak about the rights of women in Islam and how far or close our society is towards achieving these. Objectively speaking, each of these is right in his/her own way to an extent. It all depends on the perspective from which one views the scene and the benchmarks which are adopted. It also depends on the expectations one has. The fact is that compared to the status women enjoyed in Pakistan a few decades ago, their situation has certainly improved in some respects.

Collectively speaking, they are more literate, more educated and certainly more aware of their rights. They also have managed to make more public space for themselves, though some laws — the Hudood Ordinances, for instance — are discriminatory and retrogressive and militate against women’s rights.

Moreover, if the condition of women in the country is seen in the light of the average for the Third World or other countries in our neighbourhood, a sorry picture emerges. Many of these countries were at the same level as us a few decades ago but, over a period of time, they managed to progress faster than we have.

Take the case of female literacy, the key measure of progress in any society. With literacy and education a person is at least potentially equipped to strive for self-improvement. Female literacy is 27.9 per cent in Pakistan today. This is certainly a phenomenal improvement over the seven per cent recorded in the 1951 census. But when seen against the Third World average of 66 per cent or the 45.4 per cent which India claims today, one is made to wonder where we went wrong.

The low capacity of women to make a change in their status is reflected in the gender empowerment measure — a yardstick devised by the UNDP to compare the status of women in different countries in terms of their ability to influence decision-making, especially in respect of their own roles in society. Pakistan’s rank in the gender-related development index is 120 out of the 146 countries listed. With the female literacy rate being less than half that of men, and women’s estimated income being barely one-third of that of men, one can hardly expect women to assert themselves in public matters.

It is in this respect that those striving to make a dent in the women’s situation should really worry. If women themselves do not possess the capacity to improve their status and win the basic right to have equal opportunities as men, nothing will ever help them reach that goal.

Seen in that context, many of the steps taken by the government would seem significant, but only as facilitating factors. For instance, the huge increase in women’s presence in the National Assembly (73), Senate (17), the provincial assemblies (139) and the local bodies (32,000) is of course a very big step forward. But this is not the be-all and end-all of women’s development. Much depends on how the women parliamentarians/councillors use their new-found powers and responsibilities.

There are many constraints they face. First, their presence in the domain of law-making is a new experience for most of them. Many have yet to find their bearings and learn to assert themselves and not be overawed by the preponderantly male composition of the law-making bodies. Besides, most of them have had to depend overly on male backing and may find it difficult to raise an independent voice.

This is the case with those women members who have won their seats through election in constituencies traditionally held by male members of their families who could not contest the elections this time because of the stringent qualifications imposed by the government. They have not been left in any doubt that they are holding the seats for men in the families. As for those elected on the reserved seats on party tickets, they would owe their loyalty first to the party which brought them to power. Hence initially it is likely that the women will be toeing the family/party line and not really speaking up for themselves.

What is important, however, is that these legislators should develop the capacity to think independently and take decisions without being unduly influenced by their male colleagues. Experience shows that when women constitute a minority in a position of power they are forced to accede to the male opinion if they wish to survive. By being too assertive against the male mainstream they can isolate themselves and jeopardize their public life by risking their position. That would explain why women leaders who made it to the top in a man’s world — Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Srimavo Bandaranaike, Margaret Thatcher — had to act the steel woman to survive.

The women who have been elected to the lawmaking bodies need to take their role very seriously. It is commendable that some women’s groups — the Aurat Foundation, for instance — are working to provide training and knowledge to women parliamentarians and councillors in order to give them a better understanding of their potentials so that they can make use of their position to improve the status of women.

Even though progress might be slow, it is important that their direction and agenda should be correct. While the general expectation will be that the women lawmakers will work for the uplift of women, it should be emphasized that this is not their sole function. They should not allow themselves to be marginalized and be seen only as one whose sole concern is to work for the cause of women’s progress.

Important though this role is, women lawmakers should also strive to provide the female perspective to every issue which comes before the legislature. Whatever might be said about gender equality, it must be admitted that many women do tend to have a distinct perspective on many issues of common concern. For instance, why should not the women’s voice on male dominated issues such as defence, the nuclear programme, and foreign policy be heard.

Women are beginning to make an impact on national policymaking in other countries. Take the case of the women MPs in Britain, who constitute a large group in Parliament today. Twenty-five of them voted for the amendment to the government-sponsored resolution in the House of Commons on Wednesday last which was designed to stay the government’s hand in its policy vis-a-vis Iraq. In Sweden and Norway, where women make up nearly half the lawmaking bodies, the female impact on policy-making is pretty strong.

Hence, the women who are today in a position to play a role in decision-making in Pakistan should develop a distinct cross-party approach which is women-friendly, pro-peace, pro-social justice, and pro-disarmament. They should take an assertive stand against nuclear weapons and a foreign policy that can hardly be described as pacifist.

At the end of the day, a shift in these policies in Pakistan will work in favour of women because, unlike men, the women are the ones who are doubly oppressed when a country builds up its arsenals and fights wars rather than provide social justice to its people.

Boars, bores and boors

SOME time ago a doctor friend in Islamabad had an unusual encounter late one night. He was returning from Rawalpindi with his family when his car was held up by a wild boar. Well, not exactly held up, for the animal, though big and fierce, was unarmed, but it did strike against the car and damage it.

It is a fact of life that doctors are hardly ever allowed to rest or enjoy moments of relaxation, for patients demand immediate attention at all hours of the day and night. It is not known if that wild boar had recognised my friend as a doctor and wanted ministration by him. Anything is possible these days. In any case the two did not understand each other’s language and the matter ended there.

Those of you who have been in Islamabad, or even heard of it as the beautiful capital of Pakistan, must wonder what the wild boar was doing in the city. And that too, according to the doctor, near Zero Point where there is always some traffic. Because in the considered opinion of the night birds of Karachi, and even Lahore, the capital is more likely to yield bores, even wild ones, rather than a predatory member of the porcine family.

It’s an old story now. A visitor from the USA on a short visit to Islamabad, described the capital in graphic though rather funereal terms. She said the place was as vast as Arlington Cemetery and twice as dull. Since she was speaking to a Pakistani who didn’t know what Arlington was, she had to explain. “Well, Arlington is the abode of the dead, but they were our heroes and national figures. The people of Islamabad are merely dead.”

Not a nice thing to say. Since I now live in Islamabad it does not lie in my mouth to repeat the American woman’s definition of us as dead. At best, or at worst, we could be classified as bores. But there are always exceptions. A columnist may be a bore sometimes, but did you ever meet one who thought himself other than the cat’s whiskers?

What a coincidence that only the other day my granddaughter asked me what a boor was. (She had to spell it out, for I thought she was saying “bore.”) Rather than give her the dictionary meaning — “clumsy or ill-bred fellow” — I told her it was a combination of a boar and a bore, since both were on my mind at that moment. I’ll tell you why.

You see, the very same evening when my doctor friend was confronted by the wild boar near Zero Point, an open air pop concert in a Rawalpindi park had to be cancelled because a party of youthful reformers, who combined in themselves the attributes of all three — boars, bores and boors — wouldn’t let it go on. They had hurled all kinds of threats at the organisers. So the local administration, apprehending a law and order situation, promptly created one by calling out the police. Instead of dealing with the threats of violence the police decided to push the hundreds of music lovers (who had bought tickets) out of the park with the help of their batons. The audience was left with the undecided question: who were the greater boars/bores/boors — the religious vigilantes or the police?

Some time before the unscheduled meeting between the doctor and the wild boar, the environment people in the Capital Development Authority (CDA) had called a meeting of the local Association for Conservation of Shooting (a euphemism for blood-thirsty shikaris and hunters) and chalked out a plan for elimination of this dangerous animal from Islamabad’s thickets and wooded nullahs.

Members of the association were all too keen to go on the war path and wanted to start shooting at once. But probably being aware of the erratic aim of some of the shikaris, the CDA advised them to wait till the first proper legislative session of the National Assembly was over, for it wouldn’t do to precipitate by-elections at that crucial time. The session concluded a few days ago.

Not that the hunters would not be able to tell an MNA from a wild boar. No, for they too, i.e. members of the association, are all Pajero-owners. But, as they say, accidents will happen in the best of families, With almost all male members of the National Assembly with the exception of those from the MMA) out at night for fun after the gruelling word-fights in the House, a pot shot going awry could do the trick and render a seat vacant. Night work is like that.

By the way, whatever else you may think of our MNAs and their obsession with perks and privileges, you can’t call them bores. In fact when the Assembly is in session, the barometer of boredom registers a sharp fall because of their presence in the city. They put new life into our Arlington. Even the permanent bores of Islamabad feel perked up, especially after nightfall, when special traffic arrangements have to be made near some foreign embassies which allegedly do side business in liquor.

While acknowledging the contribution of the legislators to the night life of the capital, the local advocates of anti-boredom turn bright red for another reason. That reason is economic jealousy, because when the Assembly meets, the price of the bottle of the precious contraband shoots up and the stuff also becomes scarce. Money for the elected representatives of the people may be no problem. For the local consumers it is.

Since wild boars tend to avoid human company of the armed variety, I have no statistics to show that their incursions into the built-up areas of Islamabad decrease when the Assembly is in session. This might well be the case, for most of our MNAs go about in Pajeros and Land Cruisers armed to the teeth. But whether the Assembly is meeting or not, no wild boars have ever been seen at the diplomatic points mentioned above. Apparently they are all teetotallers.

So, life is not as dull and dreary in Islamabad as seekers of fun from Karachi and Lahore make it out to be. At least they have opportunities of enjoying the company of three varieties of local denizens — boars, bores and boors. It is up to them to make the best of either one of all three.

Yelling at the TV

CROMWELL is my favourite inventor. He is the one who came up with the idea to put people on hold for 20 minutes and then cut them off before they get to speak to their party. The airline reservation people called him a modern-day Alexander Graham Bell.

So when he called me up the other day and told me to come over, I knew I would become a part of history.

Cromwell was in the cellar working on a large TV set.

“What do you think?”

“I think it is a nice television set.”

“But this one is different. You can yell back at it.”

“Wow. I’ve never seen a TV set that you could yell at.”

“People have been dreaming of something like this for years. But no one knew how to do it. I came up with the idea to have two woofers, a digital receiver and an inverted thingamajig, which you don’t plug into a wall. Who do you want to yell at?”

“How about Joe Millionaire?”

Cromwell hit his clicker. “Go,” he said.

I screamed, “You may be a hunk, but you are a lying, cheating impersonator. And just because you chose a girl doesn’t mean you’re not going to lie and cheat and break her heart! Go away! I never want to see your face on TV again.”

Evan Marriott, a.k.a. Joe Millionaire, didn’t know where my voice was coming from, and later on I heard that the producers fired four technicians, because they had to blame somebody.

“Not bad,” said Cromwell. “But if you’re going to yell at reality shows, you have to get more vitriol in your voice. Which of the talking heads have you ever wanted to yell at?”

“That’s a long list. I have always wanted to yell at Bill O’Reilly, and of course, Robert Novak, Don Imus, John McLaughlin, Chris Matthews and Rush Limbaugh, for starters.”

“Well, my invention makes it possible to scream at them as much as they scream at you. Have you ever wanted to yell back at politicians?”

“Of course. Doesn’t everybody?”

“Have you ever tried to yell at President Bush?”

“Yes, but so that people don’t think I only yell at Republican presidents, I have always wanted to talk back to President Clinton, the first Bush, Reagan and Jimmy Carter.”

Kissinger came on CNN with the Capital Gang.

Cromwell said, “That is a tape of the show. Do you want to practice yelling at Kissinger?”

I said, “I’ve been yelling at him on the TV set for 20 years. It hasn’t done any good.”

“Now you can yell back at him for real if he decides to bomb Cambodia again.”

“Cromwell, you are going to change the viewing habits of every American. You are also making it possible for people to let the steam out so they don’t have to yell at their wives and children anymore.”

“Would you like to yell at Michael Jackson?”

I told him honestly, “I wouldn’t waste my breath.”

—Dawn/Tribune Media Services