Donald Reagan’s funeral was a weeklong series of photo-ops, a most appropriate postscript to
a presidency that was an eight-year celebration of government by public relations. There was that
photo of Ronnie and Nancy posing with Michael Jackson. Then there was Nancy, sitting on Mr. T’s lap—he
was dressed in a Santa Claus costume and she was kissing him on the head. And there was Ronnie and the
pope—the Great Communicator and the Great Excommunicator.
When Reagan ran for reelection in 1984, a network-tv correspondent presented
a hard-hitting report about the White House ducking issues for the sake of a “feel good” campaign.
Yet a Reagan aide phoned and said, “Great piece, we loved it.” He explained to the confused correspondent,
“We’re in the middle of a campaign, and you gave us four-and-a-half minutes of great pictures of
Ronald Reagan. And that’s all the American people see.”
Reagan used to wear only one contact lens when he appeared before crowds.
The eye with the contact lens would read the speech, and the other eye would study faces in the audience
for their reactions. Whenever his speechwriter Ken Khachigian tried to shorten his stump speech
by eliminating a line, Reagan replied, “Have you seen the way people respond when I say that?”
When he testified before the committee investigating the Iran-Contra
scandal, he was unable to remember whether he had approved trading weapons for hostages. During
his 1980 campaign, there had been rumblings of senility, and Reagan publicly offered to take a senility
test, but nobody ever took him up on it. Perhaps his convenient losses of memory were actually early
tremors of the Alzheimer’s disease that plagued him for the last 10 years of his life.
How, then, to account for the current epidemic of memory loss among Bush
administration officials testifying before investigating committees?
The May 24, 2004 issue of Newsweek stated that a memo written
by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales after the September 11 attacks may have established the
legal foundation that allowed for the abusive treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Newsweek reported that in January 2002, Gonzales wrote to President Bush that in his judgment, the post 9/11
security environment “renders obsolete [the Geneva Convention's] strict limitations on questioning
of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
According to the weekly, Sec. of State Colin Powell “hit the roof” when
he read the memo, and he fired off his own note to Bush, warning that the new rules “will reverse over
a century of U.S. policy and practice” and have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction.”
Then, on Meet the Press, he claimed that he did not recall the Gonzales memo.
Last November, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, a reporter for a London-based
Saudi newspaper, interviewed Powell in Washington. Referring to Powell’s description of his
international killer schedule, Al-Rashad asked, “So do you use sleeping tablets to organize yourself?”
“Yes,” Powell replied. “Well, I wouldn’t call them that. They’re a wonderful
medication—not medication. How would you call it? They’re called Ambien, which is very
good. You don’t use Ambien? Everybody here uses Ambien.”
So I decided to check out the side effects of Ambien: “Sleep medicines
may cause the special type of memory loss known as amnesia. When this occurs, a person may not remember
what has happened for several hours after taking the medicine. This is usually not a problem, since
most people fall asleep after taking the medicine. Memory loss can be a problem, however, when sleep
medicines are taken while traveling, such as during an airplane flight, and the person wakes up
before the effect of the medicine is gone. This has been called ‘traveler’s amnesia.’ Memory problems
are not common while taking Ambien. In most instances memory problems can be avoided if you take
Ambien only when you are able to get a full night’s sleep (7 to 8 hours) before you need to be active
again. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you think you are having memory problems.”
If you remember to talk to your doctor, that is.
A study in the May 27 issue of Neuron confirms previous models
of memory recall that found sensory-specific components of a memory are preserved in sensory-related
areas of the brain. The hippocampus can draw on this stored sensory information to create vivid
recall. Which is why, even after you’ve returned from a vacation, you may still fully recall the
sights, sounds, tastes and smells of some of its particularly memorable moments. For their study,
the researchers mapped brain activity in human volunteers who sampled different odors and viewed
pictures of various objects.
As for short-term memory loss, Wes Nisker writes in The Big Bang,
the Buddha, and the Baby Boom: The Spiritual Experiments of My Generation:
“Recent research in molecular biology has given us a clue to the connection
between THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and the actual experience of getting high.
It turns out that our body produces its own version of THC and that the human brain and nervous system
have a whole network of receptors for this cannabinoid-like substance. That means you’ve got a
stash inside of you right now, and nobody can even bust you for it.
“Our body’s natural THC was discovered by Israeli neuroscientists,
who named it anandamide, from the Sanskrit word for ‘inner bliss.’ The scientists believe that
our system produces this THC equivalent to aid in pain relief, for mild sedation, and also to help
us forget. It is very important that we forget, because if we remembered everything that registers
on our senses from moment to moment, we would be flooded with memory and could not function. So anandamide
helps us edit the input of the world by blocking or weakening our synaptic pathways, our memory lanes.”
So, the next time somebody tells you, “Don’t bogart that joint,” at least
you’ll have a scientific explanation, if you can remember it. o