The Scoop

Air, Fire & Earth

By Bob Harris

YOU’VE SURELY HEARD BY now about the tragedy in Aviano, Italy, where a U.S. jet cut the wire supporting a ski-lift gondola, causing 20 people to fall to their deaths. You’d surely hope that afterwards, somebody in the military would have stepped forward right away, explained what happened, and accepted responsibility in an honorable manner.

You’d hope.

Brig. Gen. Guy Vanderlinden (whom I loved on Barney Miller) is the deputy commander of NATO naval strike support forces in southern Europe, which are maintained so we can respond to trouble in northern Africa or the Middle East. (They’re also just in case Switzerland suddenly freaks out and declares war on France. Which could happen. You can’t trust the Swiss. Oh, sure, they look harmless with their clocks and lederhosen and instant cocoa. But I’m onto you, you twitchy Swiss misfits. I’m onto you.) Sorry. I digress.

Anyhow, so this Gen. Vanlindenhosen guy is explaining after the accident how a state-of-the-art EA-6B Prowler could happen to plow right into the cable supporting this ski lift and kill all these people. And this is what he said, direct quote:

“I do not believe the pilot diverted from the approved route.” Oh.

OK, Gen. Vanlandingpad, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: You’re saying that his approved route was directly into this ski lift. Y’all planned that.

As a training exercise, just in case Saddam Hussein equips the Republican Guard with ski lifts and gondolas. You’ve got a countermeasure. I see.

The Italians didn’t buy it. They said the pilot was miles off line and flying way too low. Which, after a bunch of denials, the Pentagon eventually admitted. The Marines also denied that the plane had a flight data recorder. Which they turned over to the Italians a couple of days later.

Will the Pentagon ever learn? What happened in Aviano was an accident. What happened afterward wasn’t.

And that’s why a lot of people don’t trust the military.

SOMETHING NEW and bad comes out about the tobacco companies almost every day. The latest: According to papers recently publicized by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the sultans of smoke spent years consciously targeting black people, even though they were fully aware that cigarettes can kill.

Genocide? Nah.

Remember, these very same tobacco executives also marketed specific cigarettes to women, younger smokers, and especially–judging from all the giant Marlboro ads–sexually insecure white men.

All of which is plenty bad enough. And it gets worse.

It turns out that in 1972, tobacco giant Brown & Williamson also planned to manipulate the taste of their cigarettes to attract new customers. One idea they considered was to lure young people by creating a cigarette simulating the taste of cola.

The documents flatly state, “It’s a well-known fact that teenagers like sweet products,” and then list a number of different ideas for inventing a sweetened, Pepsi-tasting cigarette.

What were they planning to call it? “Smoka-Cola”? I can just see the billboard slogan: “Your breath stinks–and you burp!” That’ll impress the chicks. Heck, they should have even caffeinated the stuff. That way, an avid user could start the day with coffee, cigarettes, and a sugary donut … and then burst into flames before lunch.

How do we punish the executives who lied to Congress about the existence of so many of these documents? Maybe we could just sentence them to a lifetime of using their own products.

LAB TESTS PROVE: Being poor can damn near drive you nuts. Believe it or not, my life wasn’t always this glamour-filled joyride of all-night political humor parties with buxom showgirls.

No, I was actually poor myself once.

Anybody who really deals with poverty can tell you that one of the worst effects is psychological. Look, y’ever go to a party, and you were sort of the geek? Maybe your clothes were out of style, or maybe you didn’t know anyone, and so it was hard to get anybody to talk to you? It takes about 10 minutes before you’re feeling lousy about yourself, even though objectively you’re still just as cool as ever.

OK, now imagine that’s the whole world. Everywhere you look, everyone is richer and better dressed, and they don’t even want to look at you because they find you depressing.

Only it’s not a party. It’s real life.

That could be hard to cope with, right? Now there’s scientific proof. A new study of almost 10,000 people in the United Kingdom has found that the lower your income, the more likely you are to suffer from depression and other common mental disorders.

Inversely, you might imagine that being rich might make you more emotionally stable. Actually, the study doesn’t show anything of the kind. Which wouldn’t surprise anyone in Los Angeles or Washington, where celebrity self-destruction is sort of a local feature.

St. Louis has the big arch; Pittsburgh has the inclined trains. L.A. and D.C. have Roberts Downey and Dornan.

Bottom line: Money really doesn’t buy happiness. But enough to get by can rent a reprieve from despair.

From the February 26-March 4, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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