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It’s in the Cards

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In one form or another, gambling is now officially legal in every American state except Hawaii, Tennessee, and home sweet home. But playing cards is all the rage.

Blame the Pentagon, and the national penchant for keeping score. First there was the U.S. Department of Defense’s “Most Wanted Iraqis,” a 55-card deck (presumably with one extra joker) detailing all the nasty Iraqis yet to learn their lessons the hard way. Score: The U.S. military has captured 31 of the 55 most wanted. Saddam Hussein—yet to be captured, of course—played the ace of spades.

& ull; Next came the “Deck of Weasels,” a 54-card homage to celebrities and world figures who dared not support the Iraq war. Predictably, French President Jacques Chirac played the ace of spades. Actor Tim Robbins, filmmaker Michael Moore, actress Janeane Garofalo and “jokers” Jimmy Carter (a perennial target of conservatives) and Jesse Jackson filled out the deck.

& ull; Why stop there? Online magazine NewsMax.com, the brain trust behind these two decks, issued yet a third: the “Deck of Hillary.” With this full set, the manufacturer promises you’ll learn everything there is to know about “her lies” and “wild statements” about her husband’s misadventures. NewsMax.com’s stated goal is to sell more of these decks than Sen. Clinton sells of her latest book. All’s fair in love, war and mudslinging. But what really bores the casual observer is the lasting enmity that so many people harbor for one woman. Isn’t Clinton-bashing so 10 years ago?

& ull; Thank the gods of variety for people like Ted McManus, a Madison, Wis.-based computer consultant and activist who’s crafted the “American Crusade” trading cards. These aren’t for sale but can be downloaded and printed for free at InfiniteJest.org. This big-daddy, 69-card set is a more nuanced hand of current U.S. foreign policy. Dispensing with hands, McManus simply deems world leaders, foreign policy issues or novelty objects as “good,” “evil,” “irrelevant,” or, with a dictatorial German spirit, “sehr gut!” Attorney General John Ashcroft’s library and religious surveillance cards are deemed “DoublePlusGood,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair is pictured as Bush’s White House Scottish terrier Barney (“Good Boy!”), while the Bill of Rights is deemed “Irrelevant.” The American public is pictured as a herd of sheep (“PlusDocile”).

What’s at work here is the belief that we learn more about the world through a deck of cards. Or, as NewsMax.com put it: “There’s no better way to ‘out’ the enemy than to depict it on a deck of cards.” It’s an interesting, but doubtful, proposition. A recent poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland confirmed the world’s worst fears: Most of us know jack about current events. One-third of the American public believes U.S. forces discovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (we haven’t), while 22 percent believe the Iraqis used chemical or biological weapons during the recent war (they didn’t). Far worse was a pre-war poll showing that half of all Americans believed that Iraqis played a hand in the Sept. 11 hijackings (there wasn’t a single Iraqi among them). How’s that for keeping score? Sounds more like “PlusDocile,” doesn’t it?

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