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Of Teddies and Twits
by Peter Kurth
February 17, 2005

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If there’s anyone out there still unaware of the Current Most Raging Controversy in the State of Vermont, let me explain it for you. 

No, it’s not about “civil unions” or our former Governor, Howard Dean, MD, having beat every flack in the pack to become the new chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.  (You go, Howard!)  It’s about a teddy bear.

Yes, a teddy bear, called the “Crazy For You” bear, priced at $69.95 and produced by the chic, up-market Vermont Teddy Bear Co. in Shelburne -- a sort of Ben and Jerry’s of stuffed animals. The “Crazy For You” bear, which was designed as a “light-hearted” Valentine’s Day gift, comes wrapped in a straitjacket and accompanied by commitment papers -- “commitment,” get it? -- and has so outraged what I believe are called mental health experts that the president and CEO of VTBC, Elisabeth Robert, has had to resign from the board of Fletcher Allen Health Care, Vermont’s largest hospital.

“I recognize that the recent controversy surrounding one of my company’s teddy bears will detract from my ability to serve effectively,” Ms. Robert confessed last week, as though she were part of the Chinese “Gang of Four.” Her spokeswoman then announced that Robert would have no further comment, inasmuch as Valentine’s Day “is the peak of the company’s busiest season” and, besides, “Crazy For You” has been unavailable for purchase since February 3, when the supplies ran out.

Now, far be it from me to insult the mentally ill, but there are a couple of things to be said about this.  First, the word “crazy” does not belong only to people who are.  Second, if there really are such things as “mental health experts,” they’re doing a terrible job.  The miracle is we’re not all walking around in straitjackets and headed with our commitment papers to the nearest sleep clinic.

As an example of what I mean, it was also reported last week that a new version of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, brutally administered every year to millions of innocent teenagers, has been revised to include “a 25-minute essay section” that, according to a story in the local daily, is already “ratcheting up fears among local high school students.” 

I should think it would.  Instead of the traditional, time-honored multiple-choice exam, stressful enough in itself, the SAT will now demand “a persuasive essay” from the college-bound.  Or, anyway, from “students who plan to take the test.”

“We’re really just kind of the guinea pigs,” says Alison Krywanczyk, a 16-year-old at Rice Memorial High School in Burlington.  Brother, has she got that right.  Her “persuasive essay” will revolve around “an assigned topic that asks a generalized question such as:  Is it necessary to fail in order to succeed?”

Of course, there are only three ways to answer a question like this, and none of them requires an essay, persuasive or otherwise.  The SAT board might as well be asking, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” or “Where are the Thirty-Nine Steps?”  So, in order to help Alison and the rest of her terrified classmates, I’m going to give them the answers right now.  They can take their pick as to which one they use.

1) Is it necessary for whom to fail in order to succeed?  (Note the accusative case, children – do not forget the accusative case!  And while you’re at it, quit saying “like” all the time and “between you and I.”)

2) Is it necessary to fail at what in order to succeed at what?

3)  Yes, absolutely, it is.  But only if you’re George W. Bush.  If you’re Bush, you need to fail at everything – I mean, everything – in order to become the Most Powerful Man on Earth and Leader of the Free World.  Not only that, but you’ll see your popularity rise in direct proportion to the black-and-white record of your failure.

See how subtly I’ve led in to the one topic I’m still so anxious to avoid – Bush and his lying, thieving, fake-Christian, fake-compassionate, bloodthirsty regime in the White House.  I don’t know how many of you heard the exchange recently between Bush and a woman in Omaha, Nebraska, where Ding-Dong was out shilling for Social Security “reform” and the new, improved “ownership society” (or, as columnist Joy-Ann Reid cleverly puts it, “The 'you're on your ownership society’”). 

We have to assume that this woman in Omaha, Mary Mornin -- can you stand it? -- couldn’t possibly have come near the Emperor unless she supported his crack-brained policies.  But, in any case, when she told him that she currently works three jobs to make ends meet, His Majesty remarked with typical comprehension, “You work three jobs?”

Yes, Ms. Mornin replied, whereupon Dubya waxed philosophical.  “Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said, and unfortunately he’s right:  Under his much-vaunted “leadership,” there is something “uniquely American” about it. It’s something that used to be reserved for slaves in the salt-mines, but times have changed, as Dubya would be the first to tell you.

“Get any sleep?” asked the Idiot-in-Chief, laughing and grinning in that enchanting way he has.

“Not much, not much,” said Ms. Mornin.   (“Who says I haven’t created any new jobs?” Jon Stewart commented later on “The Daily Show,” rolling his eyes and mimicking Ding-Dong:  “This lady has three of them!”)

Meantime, at last count, more than 100 Iraqi citizens, along with a handful of American soldiers, have been shot or blown to pieces since “democracy” arrived in that country a few weeks ago.  Who cares?  We’re going after Iran now, and maybe Syria.  And anyone else who gets in our way. 

As I said at the start – it’s a miracle any of us sleeps at all.

Peter Kurth is the author of international bestselling books including Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson, Isadora: A Sensational Life, and a biography of the anti-fascist journalist Dorothy Thompson, American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. His essays have appeared in Salon, Vanity Fair, New York Times Book Review, and many others. Peter lives in Burlington, Vermont. He can be reached at: Visit his website at:


Other Articles by Peter Kurth


* Drink It Up
* Pizza Pie
* Year End Review 2004
* Say Cheese!
* One Question, One Rule
* End of the Road?
* Remembering Dorothy Thompson
* There's Nothing About Mary
* Time to Start Finishing
* Pass the Ammunition!
* Keep Petting That Goat!
* Religion in the News
* Beam Me Up, Mrs. Williams
* Such Emptiness! Such Depth of “Preparedness!”
* Absent on AIDS
* King James and King George

* Beheadings
* F--k this, Dick!
* Reagan Idiosis
* Chickenhawk Chic
* Letter to Mars
* Robbing "Defeat" to Pay "Appall"
* Standing Small
* Bible Time
* One Man's Flip Is Another Man's Flop
* Kee-reist is More Like It
* Star Wars
* The Breast That Ate Pittsburgh
* Monkey See, Monkey Do
* Crank Call
* A Cynic's Guide to the Top Stories of 2003
* Talking Turkey
* Let Them Drink Coke
* The Gang that Couldn’t Talk Straight On Iraq
* Party Rules