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Demise of the unexpected hangsman?

October 22, 2006

There’s a well-known logical paradox known as “The Unexpected Hanging”. A condemned prisoner is told Saturday night that he will be hung at dawn sometime during the next week, but to increase the mental anguish of his punishment, he will never know which morning.

The prisoner reasons, “They can’t hang me next Saturday, because it’s the last day, so I’ll know it’s coming. They can’t hang me on Friday, because I know they can’t do it on Saturday, so when Friday comes, I’ll know it’s their last chance.” By the same process of elimination, he concludes that there is no day on which he can be hung without his expecting it.

So he is genuinely surprised when they trot him out the door and string him up on Saturday morning.

Republicans have successfully caused Democrats mental anguish for many elections now, by promising their hangsman Rove will deliver an October surprise, but we’ll never know what or when. But I’m coming round to the view it won’t be surfacing this time. Since the only October surprise big enough to help them out this time around would be launching the Iran war, I certainly hope I’m not whistling in the dark.

There are several sources for my growing confidence that Karl won’t be showing up with that noose. The first, and weakest, is the absolute desperation being shown by all the embattled GOPers this cycle: wildly over the top negative ads, hurling easily exploded accusations of hebophilia, pedophilia, cavorting with naked Playboy Bunnies, the works. Ken Blackwell in Ohio preparing to break the 2-2 party line tie between election board members on whether to disqualify his opponent for Governor, ahead of him in the polls by over twenty points, on the grounds that he switched from one Ohio residence to another, and that whichever house he claims as his home, the Secretary of State will claim the other one is, making him ineligible to vote, and therefore ineligible to be a candidate.

Crazy stuff.

The second tipoff is that popping jacks out of boxes in late October is a game with diminishing returns. Both because early voting is growing more and more common, so that at least 10 percent of votes will already be cast by the time you spring your surprise. And because all such surprises consist of TOUS, Teeror-alerts Of Unusual Size. The hope is to send such a jolt of fear-adrenaline through the limbic system of the electorate that it will turn off its brain until just after it exits the voting booth. The model is Pulp Fiction: Travolta slamming that hypo into Uma Thurman’s heaving chest.

But it turns out that our citizenly hearts have become habituated to the GOP’s terror adrenaline drug. Each dose is less effective. The poll bounce is smaller and shorter. Not even the ritual chest-beating video from Osama, much as UBL would like it to give his favorite recruitment officers in DC a boost, will make any noticeable difference this time.

Third is the fact that their latest Horrorama campaign ad, aping Johnson’s infamous Daisy Ad to the best of their ability, has as its punchline an entreaty to the party faithful to go vote early. They fear more uncontrollable October surprises that will break the Dems’ way, more than they look forward to any rabbit Karl is going to pull out of his size eighteen hat.

Most potent argument of all? Last week, the panel of judges who heard the first set of charges against Saddam announced that they’d reached their conclusions. Verdict and sentence all ready. But they were going to sit on it, and not schedule an announcement until – let’s see now, what’s the first date one of us doesn’t just happen to have a dentist’s appointment or an urgently required beard trim? Ah, here it is! – November 5.

That Bushco is so abjectly eager to control the last news cycle before the election, that they would humiliate the supposedly sovereign government of Iraq and its supposedly independent judiciary with instructions from the Washington overlords to time their trial outcomes at the overlords’ convenience, seems a strong indication that they have no other means at hand to control that cycle. Heck, the verdict of guilty and the sentence of death are neither of them even surprises.

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