Wright from Washington City
June 9, 2010


Rolling Flatulence
Biker dudes and empire dupes



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I love motorcycles. I love them so much I have three of them, much to the disgust of my wife, who can think of better things to do with our garage.

However, I've never been into the whole "biker" thing. You know what I'm talking about. The guys with the earrings and big Harleys and Harley lookalikes. I've never really liked Harleys, because I find them too big, heavy, slow, and agricultural to be fun to ride. On top of that, many of the most popular models sacrifice function for style, being too uncomfortable to sit on for any distance. But I don't think the "biker" scene is about riding anyway. It's about posing. More precisely, it's about looking tough. Take a look at the magazine ads aimed at them. Nobody is smiling. They all scowl sullenly, like dyspeptic badgers.

That's why biker dudes [1] (and dudettes) go in for tattoos and ride around in packs, wearing "do-rags" and fringed leather vests and chaps. [2] It's why they load their bikes up with lots of chrome [3] from accessory catalogs and install deafeningly loud mufflers — or none at all. The noisy pipes sure aren't to make their bikes run better, for they do just the opposite, messing up the carburetion, making the engine run like a '57 Chevy with two plug wires missing.

No, it's because these guys are BAD, see? They're tough muthas, and they want you to know it. They don't mind if their two-wheeled chrome tractors set off your car alarm and wake the baby. They like that. They want you to be scared of them.

Scary stuff, kids!
Scary!  ...  Scarier!  ...  Real scary!
It's quite a phenomenon, all those middle-class salary-drones and retirees dressing up like Pirates of the Caribbean and pretending to be ex-cons. Most of the time I don't let the posing and attitude bother me, although I don't appreciate all the gratuitous throttle-blipping in residential neighborhoods. Yeah, yeah, I get it. You have a motorcycle. Also, I really hate the way some people treat me as if I were Attila the Hun when I'm on a motorcycle, thanks to all the tough-guy posturing by the biker dudes.

Anyway, once a year here in Trantor we get an overload of biker dudeness. That's during the Memorial Day weekend, when hordes of biker dudes descend on the city, clogging traffic, revving their engines, getting drunk, and generally making nuisances of themselves.

Called "Rolling Thunder" — apparently after LBJ's murderous and unsuccessful three-and-a-half-year bombing campaign of the same name that devastated North Vietnam — the gathering's ostensible purpose is "to educate the public that many American prisoners of war were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become prisoners of war-missing in action." Rolling Thunder was founded to force the United State to face up to the problem of Vietnam War legionaries "missing in action," or MIA.

In fact, the event seems to be a weird combination of mawkish sentimentality — including a "candlelight vigil" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — jingoistic speechifying in support of U.S. warmaking, and good old-fashioned debauchery. There's a huge barbecue sponsored by — what else — a Harley Davidson dealership, a "Saluting Our Troops" concert, and a "Musical Tribute to Veterans" at the Lincoln Memorial, featuring the U.S. Army Band and, of all people, Nancy Sinatra.

Between those events, groups of biker dudes roar around the city and its environs, often with gigantic flags attached to their machines, reveling in the noise of their unmuffled engines and showing off the thousand-yard stares they've been rehearsing all year. What I find amusing, however, is that many of them don't seem to know how to handle their bikes. They wobble around and drag their feet at low speeds. Many have apparently given up entirely, and have opted for expensive "trike" conversions, which add a third wheel and eliminate forever the danger of tipping over when riding slowly, scratching up your chrome, and embarrassing yourself in front of all your buddies.

You wouldn't know it looking at the biker dude circus, but the MIA question is a deadly serious issue. According to Sydney Schanberg — a renowned war correspondent and author of The Death and Life of Dith Pran, from which the Oscar-winning movie "The Killing Fields" was made — as many as 600 U.S. prisoners of war were kept behind by the North Vietnamese state after the Empire's pullout. They were held, he writes, as hostages for more than $3 billion in reparations from the United State — reparations that were promised by Nixon and Kissinger but never delivered:

There exists a telling mass of official documents, radio intercepts, witness depositions, satellite photos of rescue symbols that pilots were trained to use, electronic messages from the ground containing the individual code numbers given to airmen, a rescue mission by a special forces unit that was aborted twice by Washington — and even sworn testimony by two Defense secretaries that "men were left behind." This imposing body of evidence suggests that a large number — the documents indicate probably hundreds — of the U.S. prisoners held by Vietnam were not returned when the peace treaty was signed in January 1973 and Hanoi released 591 men.... ("McCain and the POW Cover-Up," The American Conservative, July 1, 2010 issue)
So why hasn't anything official been done about it? Schanberg says it's because of the potential for embarrassment on the part of the guvvamint: "The Pentagon had been withholding significant information from POW families for years. What's more, the Pentagon's POW/MIA operation had been publicly shamed by internal whistleblowers and POW families for holding back documents as part of a policy of 'debunking' POW intelligence even when the information was obviously credible."

Now that's an issue that anti-establishment rebels could really sink their teeth into: hundreds of legionaries abandoned by their government, left to rot and die, their families never knowing what happened to them, the truth covered up with the tacit support of the news media.

But the Rolling Thunder website says nothing about Schanberg's allegations. In fact, it says almost nothing about the lost 600 at all. There's not one word about how the United State purposely betrayed its own soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Instead, it's all about "supporting our troops" and "supporting our veterans."

And the Memorial Day weekend event is nothing more than an orgy of pro-imperial, pro-war jingoism that reaches its climax on Sunday morning, when the thousands of tough biker dudes and dudettes gather — where else? At the Pentagon. A great swath of highways around the Potomac is officially closed to normal traffic, while the biker dudes collect themselves into a gigantic, ear-splitting herd and parade themselves to the Mall, escorted by battalions of police collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime. On the overpasses over I-395, which runs from the Beltway in Virginia into the city, crowds of people wave flags, banners are hung, and fire engines are parked in support of the bikers. They are, without a doubt, the most well-loved-by-the-establishment bunch of rebels you ever saw.

Rolling Thunder's just a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Its true purpose is apparently to help ensure that "our troops" will continue to fight, suffer, and die in wars just as stupid and pointless as the war on the Vietnamese. When the surviving troops get back, they will be given parades and speeches, and then the Empire will treat them with the same kind of contempt the Vietnam vets got (and still get).

And what a sweet deal it is for our rulers. In return for defusing a potentially explosive issue, all they have to do is let a bunch of clowns take over the city for a weekend. It's a small price to pay.

June 9, 2010

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1. I call them "dudes" because, like visitors to a dude ranch, they're role-playing. Also, with all those leather fringes, they remind me of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

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2. As far as I'm concerned, the point of wearing leather on a motorcycle is to protect your tender epidermis if you fall down. A vest leaves your arms exposed; and chaps may protect your legs, but they leave your precious butt cheeks out in the breeze, to be abraded painfully by asphalt should you and your bike part company at speed. The cheapo helmets many biker dudes wear, when they wear them, are next to useless for protecting their little heads, as well. My father, a doctor, calls that "natural selection."

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3. An acquaintance of mine calls them "chromosexuals."

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