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How Many Americans Does It Take To Screw in a Socket Wrench? No, wait, I got it.....How Many Americans.......

no, better, how many Americans does it take to elect a President??

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 03, 2002.

Ah, the Swiss. Makers of watches unequalled. Neutral. Bankers. Great skiing. Great cheese. Nice…..shorts. Everything nice and tidy, safe in the land of the Swiss. Yup.

I love these European national images held by much of the world. The French as caustic libertines, the Italians as happy libertines, the Spanish as sadistic libertines, the Germans as sadists, the Poles as potato heads, the Russians as drunken potato headed peasants, the Danes as suicides, the Norse as suicides, the Swedes as bodacious suicides, the English as clueless lisping butlers, the Scots as penny pinching sheep keepers, the Dutch as teak clad tap dancers with tulips in their lapels, and Belgians as…….eating tiny cabbages and waffles, the Austrians as practicing crossbow. Or something.

And the Swiss, too smart to go to war, too competent to need others, precision craftsmen, yada, yada, yada.

And it came to pass most horribly yesterday over Germany that a Boeing, which is to say an American plane with two pilots and a lot a packages, collided with a Russian plane full of young Russian children on their way to Spain and some sun and fun which the children of Russia dearly deserve. All were killed.

As is the case in every plane crash, all the lobby groups appeared. The pilots, who the airlines traditionally like to blame, said it could not have been them, although this stand was hampered somewhat by the fact that two American pilots had to be escorted off their airplane in the States yesterday because they were, well, drunk and argumentative and evidently annoyed the wrong minimum wage gate attendant. Hail, gate attendant.

But in any case, the airlines announced they were always open to pilot error and the manufacturer announced the terrific record of the Boeings but the argument really didn’t get going because there was a handy kicking boy: Russians and their crappy planes.

Russians are famously incompetent, everyone knows, and rather than actually learn English, which they are required to do with International flights, they just memorize phrases as sounds and cause accidents all the time. Plus, they’re always drunk. Plus, they’re not Westerners, so of course the Russians are to blame. Just because two American pilots were caught too drunk to drive to the airport and more than willing to take a plane with lots of people up is no reason to doubt that Russian pilots must be drunk all the time, even with lots of little kids aboard. And in any case, the Tupelov aircraft has a terrible record. I mean, it must be the Russians, everybody knows they’re idiots anyway. Case closed.

It seemed right, and may eventually have some substance, but it doesn’t seem so yet. It turns out the famously precise Swiss didn’t have automatic warning systems on, and their air traffic controllers screwed up; they lied about the number of times they warned the Russian plane, they lied about how much time they gave the Russian pilots to react, they lied about lying. The Swiss, bankers to Nazi gold, complacent and willing contributors to the Holocaust, suck ups to massive amounts of ill gotten cash world wide, be it South American genocidal dictators or Mafia thugs from Corsica, or Afghani Poppy Princes and having lied about this for a half century, lie again. Again, to save their butts.

It is an open question – it always has been – if national stereotypes are worth the effort since they are wrong at least as often as correct. But if we and others find it somehow convenient to use them, let’s just update them. Because we won’t always have the Russians to kick around. Remember the Polish joke? Look at Poland today and tell one, but nobody laughs. The Poles are increasingly seen as competent and competitive.

Tell an American joke. One about a Democracy that rewards the loser, where long known accounting fables, once exposed, are treated as surprises by the media. Where investors whine that nobody told them there was risk in the stock market. Where the occasional drunken commercial pilot is apprehended before takeoff, where when the going gets tough in Afghanistan they call in the British.

It’s our national anniversary tomorrow. Anyone know a good joke?

But not about me, okay? I’m back.