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Choose your idols wisely

While the pope lies in a bed of faith, patiently waiting to die, Hunter Thompson took the initiative himself, no longer willing to wait.Pope John Paul II was relatively young when he assumed the papacy in 1978, 34 days after Pope John Paul No. 1 suffered an unexpected “setback” 34 days into office, during a year when Jimmy Carter was president, Richard Nixon released his memoirs, the Cowboys beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl, and Rev. Jim Jones served toxic Kool-Aid to a batch of unsuspecting followers in Guyana.Meanwhile, Hunter Thompson was just beginning to realize, and capitalize upon, the true value of his worth basically based on the brilliance of a long, lost weekend in 1972 Vegas that he does not remember (even with an attorney alongside taking hallucinatory notes) but had an uncanny ability to recite anecdote after anecdote in spite of consuming “two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers. … A quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls” in a single long-winded episode.John Paul was born Karol Joseph Wobtyla (pronounced Voy-tee-wah) in 1920 in Poland to an administrative officer in the Polish army and a former schoolteacher. He was the first non-Italian Pope in 456 years – the youngest in a century – speaks eight languages, suffered serious wounds during an assassination attempt in 1981, and is said to be the most recognized person in the world. Hunter Stockton Thompson was born in 1939 in Kentucky, the son of an insurance agent. He joined the Air Force after high school, covering sports for a newspaper at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Honorably discharged in 1958, he worked a series of jobs writing for smalltown newspapers until his first big break appeared in the form of rambling notes sent to Scanlan’s magazine during a frenzied attempt to meet a deadline. Instead of being pink-slipped, he was awarded a green light of raves and accolades from folks who called it “a breakthrough in journalism.” He later compared the experience to “falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool of mermaids.”As John Paul was rushed to the hospital for the second time in three weeks with breathing problems last Thursday, the Vatican newspaper claimed he was sharing in Christ’s suffering and his “bed of pain” had become “the cathedral of life.” Vatican Cardinal Renato Martino called it “a real example of how to accept human suffering.”A week ago Sunday, Thompson was sitting in his command post kitchen chair, a piece of blank paper in his favorite typewriter, and proceeded to place a .45 pistol into his mouth and pull the trigger, gently blowing his brains out through a small, but still unflattering hole on the other side. With apparently little suffering (at least at that precise moment), his curmudgeonly face was left intact. His son, daughter-in-law, and grandson were in the house.The 84-year-old self-appointed sole receiver of God’s e-mails (“self” consisting of a few dozen cardinals hiding behind antiquated rock doors in the Vatican), appears intent on showcasing his agony for the entire world to witness, attempting to send a message of the horrible trials and tribulations of life in accordance with his solipsistic creed. Yet any rational human being knows he is — however well intentioned – merely a man.Hunter Thompson was a counter culture hero with more books and articles skewering America’s hypocrisy and containing more capricious moments of literary brilliance in a single paragraph than a hack like me could ever hope for in a lifetime of novels. Yet he was still just a man with a bottle of booze, a pocket of pills, a sardonic view of the world and a symphonic touch with a keyboard. And now he’s nothing more than a dead legend, ala Morrison or Hendrix.Meanwhile, the pope has recently released a book entitled “Memory and Identity,” in which he refers to homosexual marriage as a part of “a new ideology of evil” that is insidiously threatening society and calls abortion a “legal extermination” comparable to the genocide of the Jews.Thompson’s last published article had to do with a 3:30 a.m. phone call to comedian and long-time friend Bill Murray discussing the commercial potential of a new sport called shotgun golf, which combines the finely tuned skills of swinging a 9 iron and the skeet-shooting aims of a 12-gauge.One potential idol condemns literally billions to a life of misery and a promise of eternal damnation if certain constantly edited (in accordance with current culture) rules are not followed. The other spent a lifetime condemning anyone in his path just for the hell of it, but not really giving a damn if they paid attention or not. Neither a spiritual leader claiming monopolies on truth and righteousness nor a gun-toting, rum-soaked, drug-infested “gonzo” journalist can teach the masses anything of significant use other than temporary suggestions on how to live one’s life, whether they desire the advice or not.Life moves on regardless, but rational thought dictates neither deserves graven image status.Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at poor@vail.netVail, Colorado


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