Red Zeppelin

Some days, I swear, there is some vastly undiscovered rule of journalism that requires news reporters to occasionally create stories and headlines composed of randomly selected words, and there is a jovial competition as to which correspondent can build the most absurd story out of these various selected parts. Perhaps there is some prize journalists vie for, like a Pulitzer or having a pay scale above minimum wage. I can bet there’s a boiler room in the basement of the Associated Press building New Utopia, Holidayland, where a young doe-eyed stringer right now is pulling Scrabble tiles out of a velour sack and giggling over that universally euphoric joy of making shit up. I’m pretty much certain this is how we got “Jimmy Carter Get Attacked By Swimming Rabbit,” “Bill Clinton Tells Journalists He Had Astroturf in the Back Seat of His Car,” and “Evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction Found In Iraq.”

This concept seems to have recently been exorcized back to life recently, as I foolishly decided to scan the recent headlines to see what was going on in this world the other day. To my equal parts astonishment and dismay, the headline that caught my attention was “Venezuela Launches Zeppelin To Combat Rampant Crime.”

Now, there are several things inherently wrong with that headline.

Firstly, it’s about Venezuela. Venezuela is one of the more…well, shall we say, deceptively progressive communities in the Western hemisphere. Its leader, Hugo Chavez, was elected to its presidency twice now, in accordance with the fact that during these races the laws governing the definition of “election” were somewhat more relaxed than what occurs on a yearly basis down at the local AFL-CIO chapter. Presumably this is a mandate so engineered that all future elections will be foregone conclusions, assuming that the method of vote is not cast in the form of bullets purchased in bulk by the CIA or the United Fruit Company. Venezuela has managed to be a reasonably prosperous standout in a South America community beset with cyclical poverty, mostly due to its rather stable oil production. This revenue permits a rather large amount of latitude for Chavez to experiment with far-reaching communistic programs—or, more accurately, programmes—without worrying too much about the consequences. Oh, if only Havana had an operational offshore drilling rig.

As is the rather usual trajectory, however, Chavez has taken his populist mandate and slowly been carving it into a Latin American-style dictatorship, with draconian decrees and Martha-Stewart-style force of will. Part of this can be justified in the failed coup against him that occurred in 2002, but not by much. He’s also specialized in becoming kind of a third-world spokesman for anti-Americanism, an issue that has been a persistent thorn in the side of Fidel Castro, whose own legacy has pretty much been left as being a pain in the ass to the United States and perhaps the accelerated integration of major league baseball.

Chavez’s economic management has met with some resistance, however, as his largely anti-corporate stances have scared off many efficient companies and driving the economy to more resource-gathering activities, such as coffee and more Venezuelans. Thank goodness, though, that their major commodity is the largely constant cash cow of oil, assuming out any commodities that aren’t inserted into your body either nasally or intravenously.

The second question mark, and the more important one, in that whole headline is the zeppelin. I mean, a what? A zeppelin? You’re talking about the big, lumbering things that are pretty much known for nothing constructive unless it involves selling tires, hippies with mud shark fetishes, or catching on fire? Apparently, the idea is that the zeppelin will be able to more effectively patrol the streets by getting a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade view of Caracas. Its main point is to combat the major points of crime in the city, mostly looking out for rogue individuals handing out copies of The Road to Serfdom and selling Valvoline out of the trunk of their cars, or at least theoretically, if they could afford cars.

Then again, how is having a big, awkward rigid airship whose usefulness ended with the advent of fire any different than security cameras or computer chips implanted directly into your spinal cord? (Oh, like you don’t know already.) At least with a freaking blimp hovering overhead, you know that Big Brother is watching you. Who knows what the NSA is watching you do in the privacy of your own bedroom? You sick jerk. (They also keep track of what you buy at the drug store and your web site visits by volume, so don’t pretend to look so innocent.)

Still, the rather ludicrous notion that a zeppelin is an effective crime-fighting method will either be hailed as a creative way to solve the eternal problem of lawlessness, or decried as the expensive and desperate gasp of a tinpot dictator. Given the tested attributes of tinpot dictators in that region, though, we’ll have a good 40 years to find out.

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