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The Essay
Show #348
Axis of Evil
David Gunn

During his State of the Union address earlier in the week, acting president G.W. Bushwhack named North Korea, Iraq, Iran and the 7-11 on G Street, Northwest in Washington DC as an "axis of evil." That's a pretty harsh indictment of a country, no matter how odious its national hygiene habits are, and certainly no reason to lump it in with that clerk who chronically underfills the Big Gulps that members of the Office of Homemaker Security have a hankerin' for on Friday nights. Anyway, much as he would like his phrase to qualify for Sound Bites of the Century, Mr. Bushwhack's was not the first use of that phrase. At least three other recorded utterings of it precede his.

During the John T. Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925, which pitted a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible against the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools, prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan, looking for a cliché of his own, called Darwin's theory the "axes of evilution." He likened the art of teaching to a ladder up which students had to climb to secure knowledge. Each rung upon which they trod represented a kernel of wisdom that the students needed for a well-rounded education. Reaching the top of the ladder and stepping off was akin to graduating from school, a rite of passage from student to adulthood. But by indoctrinating them with that heretical Darwinism nonsense, Scopes' students were forced to climb the ladder in the wrong direction. In particular, Bryan contended, the two rungs that represented the theory of natural selection and secular humanism were contrary to traditional Biblical teachings, and should be proscribed. Defense counsel Clarence Darrow later humiliated Bryan by pointing out that two rungs don't make a rite.

A January 1972 headline in the Las Vegas Times that read "An Excess of Evel?" referred to the plethora of appearances by motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel. Knievel began his death-defying stunts by jumping over a bus. As his courage, or foolhardiness, grew, so did the number of buses--to 30. He also jumped over houses, a shark-infested aquarium, a small civil war in Argentina and the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. No matter he was breaking bones--his own--at a pace that would eventually land him in the Guinness Book of World Records with 35, he was always publicity-hungry enough to make daredevil appearances at the drop of a hatchet. A proposal to jump over Grand Canyon prompted the Vegas headline.

And in 1973, avant-garde composer Harry Partch designed and built an Axis of Evil, an instrument of collected percussive effects, to complement his Spoils Of War, another instrument of collected percussive effects that he built 23 years earlier. Aside from the demeanor of the first person who played the Axis, Eugenio V. Cross, a chronically crabby individual--the V stood for "very"--the instrument had nothing to do with evil. Rather, its primary component was the axle of a Sivi, an Indian ambulance that the Bombay Motorworks Factory produced from 1940 till 1982. And axis of evil is an anagram of axle of Sivi. The Axis was featured in Partch's very last composition, "Viola Fixes"--for attenuated viola, hyperomachromium, boo and Axis--after which it was destroyed by an unappreciative audience member who still bore a grudge against the outcome of the Scopes trial.

So when Homemaker Security minions who bear grudges against convenience store lackeys accuse them of being in league with an axis of evil, they aren't inventing a term that will last long in the sound bite top 100, much as this 348th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is not anticipated to make the top 100 of cleverly conceived, flawlessly produced and fashionably au courant radiophonic broadcasts, unless somehow rescued in the nick of time by Kalvos.