IN DUBIOUS CELEBRATION: Among the myriad of banes afflicting the existence of any reporter lucky enough to still have a job is that of the obligatory anniversary story. Any self-serving organization that’s managed to perpetuate its existence for at least five years feels endowed with the inalienable right to have a cover article written attesting to their amazing foresight and staggering magnanimity. Stop the presses! Fiesta turns 90 this year! Solstice turned 40! We’re all getting older. In this vein, I’d like to extend a loud shout-out to the good folks running Vices & Spices — who never asked — who just celebrated their 39th year selling some seriously fine Mocha Java. They’ve also demonstrated it’s possible to be hip and happening in a low-key Hawaiian sort-of way even when smothered in the opulent bosom of beautiful downtown San Ro-Kay. Likewise congrats to Hazard’s Cyclesport — who also didn’t ask — which has been selling and fixing bikes for 100 years.
With so many anniversaries to keep track of, I somehow forgot to send a card observing the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, not be confused with the popular rock band that pimped his name in a fit of stoned-out irony that was no doubt quite hilarious if you happened to be there. The real FF, by all accounts, was a true killjoy, described by contemporaries as dark, strange, uninspiring, and someone who cast an aura of violence and recklessness. For fun, FF liked nothing better than to shoot wild animals by the hundreds of thousands — even kangaroos and lemurs — and accumulate trophies in similar number attesting to his appetite for gore and carnage. The deal was that FF stood next in line to run the Austro-Hungarian Empire — kind of like China, Exxon, and Fox News rolled into one — but that destiny would be denied when Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian 19-year-old hanging out with a group of proto-anarchist punks sporting the unimaginably unoriginal name the Black Hand, intervened. First, Gav chucked a bomb in FF’s general direction, prompting FF to stand up and object, “I come here to visit, and you throw bombs at me! This is outrageous.” Gav and crew rectified their lapse in manners by popping a cap in FF’s neck and one in the belly of his poor wife, Sophie. This set in motion what was known as “The Great War” or alternately “The War to End All Wars,” but which, in fact, was neither. Austria-Hungary — being disrespected — felt compelled to invade Serbia, thus pissing off Russia, and Germany sought to make lemonade by invading Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. When the dust settled five years later, nine million people had been slaughtered, another seven million maimed so bad they wished they’d been killed, and another 15 million merely scarred for life.
The United States, then at best a second-rate also-ran, shrewdly waited until almost everyone had already been killed, jumping only at the very last minute “to save the day.” Ever since, the world has been our proverbial oyster, over which we insist upon our exclusive right to shuck and jive as any Numero Uno would see fit. Out of all this sprang the still very contemporary genie of chemical warfare and weapons of mass destruction, not to mention of course, Ernest Hemingway, whose stripped-down minimalist literary distillation of the psychic trauma he endured as a battlefield medic has been foisted upon successive generations of high school students ever since. Americans, not being as dumb as we look, had to be led kicking and screaming into this war. From the ashes of the propaganda machine established by the White House to brainwash us into battle emerged what’s since become Madison Avenue and the whole attendant advertising industry that’s made a science of preying upon our worst insecurities to incite the expenditure of money not possessed on goods and services not needed.
Four of the great empires then running The Show were wiped out entirely. In Russia, the czar was tossed overboard, giving rise to the USSR, dubbed by sometime Santa Barbara resident Ronald Reagan “the Evil Empire,” and of course, the whole Cold War thing, which would in turn transform the bucolic bliss of the once agrarian Goleta Valley into a high-tech hot bed of smokeless industry totally and utterly dependent upon military research dollars. That lucrative arrangement crashed during the Peace Scare that broke out with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it’s since been replaced by new waves of high-tech innovators who generate billions making devices I don’t pretend to fathom.
Making this more than a gratuitous stroll down Memory Lane is how the victors divided the spoils. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, England and France got to redraw the map of the Middle East as they saw fit, creating — via what’s termed the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 — the boundary lines to new countries where none existed to optimize their access to cheap, plentiful, and uninterrupted oil. The only problem was that the people occupying these new countries included various tribal, ethnic, and religious rivals who lived pretty much to kill one another. No one in their right mind would ever create a country including Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, but that’s how Iraq got born, thanks to the Sykes-Picot Agreement. No one living there at the time was party to this agreement, and it should come as no surprise — though it always does — that the religious nut-jobs leading the latest insurrection in Iraq — ISIS — have explicitly vowed to erase the map lines drawn up by the Sykes-Picot deal, no matter how much blood has to be spilled in the process. And here we thought we managed to get out of Iraq after how many years of fighting? So now what?
Will someone tell Franz Ferdinand I’m sorry I forgot to write? And in the meantime, happy birthday to Vices & Spices, Hazard’s, and all ships at sea. If we’re lucky enough to make it to next year’s, we’ll really have something to celebrate.