Friday, January 28, 2011

Best Wishes To Egypt’s Lovers Of Liberty

Here in New England it’s close to four in the morning; in Egypt it’s Friday afternoon, and there’s no way of knowing how the anti-government protests are doing since Mubarak’s government took the unprecedented act of shutting down the Internet and all other communications out of the country.

I’ll go to bed soon. Don’t know what will happen while I sleep. A very good friend of mine emigrated from Egypt, and his family’s there still. I want to be hopeful but dare not; for the past ten years and more, anytime I thought to feel hope on the liberty front, in my country or any other, it only led to disappointment.

Yesterday I shared a note an Egyptian man posted on Facebook before his government shut down the Internet. That’s what I do: post things on blogs. It’s not much – it may not be anything – but it’s still more than anyone in Egypt can do right now. Of course, as an American living in a Free Democratic Republic, I can also inform my duly elected representatives that I want them to stop giving support to the repressive Mubarak regime that ha ha ha ha ha.

I knew I couldn’t finish that with a straight face. The American government no longer listens to the American people – if it did, Janet Napolitano would be out of a job and so would everyone else in the TSA.

Maybe someday they’ll start listening again, before things get as bad here as they are in Egypt this afternoon. Maybe the protests in Egypt and Tunisia will spark a freedom renaissance in the Arab world. Or maybe I shouldn’t tempt fate with my hopes.

But I can’t help myself. I’m a misanthrope to be sure, yet somehow can’t entirely give up on humanity. We’ve come this far, and for all the recent stumbling I still can’t bring myself to believe we can’t go any further.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"We Don't Ask For Much, Just Broadcast What Is Happening"

I didn't write any of this; it's a cut-and-paste of a note that an Egyptian friend-of-a-friend posted on Facebook about what's happening in Egypt right now. Also, here is raw video from the AP showing the protests. Warning: it includes a scene of an unarmed man being shot.

To all the people of world

The people in Egypt are under governmental siege. Mubarak regime is banning Facebook, Twitter, and all other popular internet sites Now, the internet are completely blocked in Egypt. Tomorrow the government will block the 3 mobile phone network will be completely blocked. And there is news that even the phone landlines will be cut tomorrow, to prevent any news agency from following what will happen.

Suez city is already under siege now. The government cut the water supply and electricity, people, including, children and elderly are suffering there now. The patients in hospitals cannot get urgent medical care. The injured protesters are lying in the streets and the riot police are preventing people from helping them. The families of the killed protesters cannot get the bodies of their sons to bury them. This picture is the same in north Saini (El-Sheikh zoyad city) and in western Egypt (Al-salom). The riot police is cracking down on protesters in Ismailia, Alexandria, Fayoum, Shbin Elkoum, and Cairo, the capital, in many neighborhoods across the city.

The government is preparing to crackdown on the protesters in all Egyptian cities. They are using tear gas bombs, rubber and plastic pullets, chemicals like dilutes mustard gas against protesters. Several protesters today have been killed when the armored vehicles of the riot police hit them. Officials in plain clothes carrying blades and knives used to intimidate protesters. Thugs deployed by the Egyptian Ministry of Interior are roaming the streets of Cairo, setting fire on car-wheels as means of black propaganda to demonize protesters and justify police beatings and state torture.

All this has been taken place over the past three days during the peaceful demonstrations in Cairo and other cities. Now, with the suspicious silence of the local media and the lack of coverage from the international media, Mubarak and his gang are blocking all the channels that can tell the world about what is happening.

People who call for their freedom need your support and help. Will you give them a hand?

The activists are flooding the net (youtube and other sites) with thousands of pictures and videos showing the riot police firing on armless people. The police started to use ammunition against protesters. 15-year old girl has been injured and another 25 year old man has been shot in the mouth. While nothing of these has appeared in the media, there is more to happen tomorrow. Will you keep silent? Will you keep your mouth shut while seeing all these cruelty and inhumane actions?

We don’t ask for much, just broadcast what is happening.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Death Of A Homeless Man

In the summer of 2009 I was the fluff-piece writer for a local daily paper. Hardly anything I wrote there was worth adding to my professional clipfile or mentioning on this blog, with one exception: on a hot July afternoon, the staff photographer and I were trudging through downtown on our way back from covering another forgettable feelgood story when we chanced to speak with one of the homeless guys congregated near a bus stop, a man named Dennis Lorenzetti. I shared the story here because -- well, I don't know. Maybe for selfish reasons, professional pride in a rare story that actually mattered. Maybe for noble reasons, because I did and do firmly believe the purpose of the Fourth Estate is not to make the other three look good, but to give a voice to the voiceless. Maybe both, or something else entirely.

But it's a good thing I did, because that old blog post is apparently the only online mention of the man (save this one, of course). Now, fast forward to a couple weeks ago. I check my blog stats fairly regularly to see what sort of search terms bring new readers here; every day, dozens of no-doubt-disappointed people visit looking for Japanese tentacle porn or phone sex or similar topics. That's to be expected, but I was surprised to suddenly find several daily visitors searching for "Dennis Lorenzetti," and "Bristol" or "New Britain."

Then I got an e-mail last week from a journalist and former colleague bearing bitter news: Lorenzetti died last month. His body was found behind a low-rent supermarket where the homeless often huddle. Apparently there's disagreement regarding exactly what happened: his homeless friends say it was murder. The cops call it an accident, where he slipped and fell and that's why his head was smashed in. I can't claim to know all the details, and what little I do know is all second- or thirdhand information; I personally have verified nothing. But it seems the cops never bothered telling Lorenzetti's family, and his death never made the local papers because there was nobody to write and send an obituary.

In the past couple of days I have also received e-mails from people claiming to be relatives of Lorenzetti's; only now are they discovering what happened to him. Since I did not ask their permission, I lack the moral right to tell you who wrote me or what they said, but I can and will tell you this: I've been serving as an unofficial contact person this past week, putting friends and relatives of Lorenzetti in touch with the sole investigative journalist in the region with the time, resources and inclination to look into what happened. (I know a couple more gainfully employed journalists who, I suspect, would love to dig into and report what happened, but I doubt their employers will allow it. Can't run the risk of embarrassing well-paid, respectable public servants now, can we? Remember: government cock will not suck itself. That's what a free and independent media is for.) Lorenzetti clearly had some mental issues, and drank more alcohol than any person really should, but that doesn't mean he deserved to die unlamented and forgotten like a damned dog in the street.

If you are one of the people who found this blog after searching for Dennis Lorenzetti, feel free to e-mail me if you want to get in touch with the journalist pursuing this story. Or say something in the comment thread, if you'd prefer. I will give you his name and contact information, and send yours to him.

I wish I could do more.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fellow Libertarians, I Damned Well Told You So

As early as 2006 I caught grief from some self-described libertarians because I refused to be impressed by former congressman Bob Barr, even after the Libertarian Party was damnfool enough to give him a leadership position. At the time I called Barr a:
drug warrior extraordinaire who pays lip service to the cause of liberty yet believes Granny should go to jail if she smokes a joint to make her chemotherapy-induced nausea go away. There are two reasons a libertarian should oppose the war on drugs: it's a perfidious assault on personal freedom and an enormous waste of money. Barr fails on both counts.

Fun fact about human biology: often, when a person is dying but not yet dead, the muscles of the anus and rectum will go completely slack and any fecal matter inside the intestines of the soon-to-be-corpse makes its way out to freedom.

I suspect Barr’s appointment is merely the pants-shitting phase of the Libertarian Party’s death throes. But "appoint Bob Barr" would be a marvelous euphemism for the process of expelling solid waste from the body, don't you think? "I just ate three pounds of fermented cabbage and refried beans. Please give me a match so I can light it after I appoint Bob Barr."
And now, four years later, I might be the only American libertarian who's not particularly surprised to hear Barr has taken a job -- presumably a well-paying one -- as adviser to former Haitian dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

Dear Reader, I do not mean to insult your intelligence, but bear with me while I point out the obvious: when Barr was a congressman with actual authority to write and vote on bills, he consistently voted the anti-liberty position, and only started paying lip service to ideals of freedom after he lost his job and couldn't actually DO anything about said ideals.

If you want to judge a man's character -- or even a politician's character -- "what he does when he wields actual power" is a far better yardstick than "what he says after he loses it."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The James Morrow Technique Of Radio Programming

I forget how many tens of millions of people live in Canada, but one of those people is very offended by the way the word "faggot" appears in the 26-year-old Dire Straits song Money for Nothing. Thus, in order to make that one person happy, Canadian authorities have banned the uncut version of the song from being broadcast on Canadian airwaves.

Meanwhile, on a shelf somewhere in my little apartment a few hundred miles south of the Canadian border, I have an autographed copy of the book Only Begotten Daughter, by James Morrow. It's an extremely dark comedy about Julie, the half-sister of Jesus Christ, borne of God and a virgin Jewish male. According to the book, every person who ever was or ever will be born -- with the exception of Jesus himself and the prophet Elijah (or whichever Old Testament prophet God "brought up to heaven in a whirlwind") -- is condemned to hell after death, because in order for you to be condemned, all that's necessary is for one person to believe you deserve it.

Sounds like Canadian broadcast authorities read the book and thought, "That Morrow fellow was on to something, eh?"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Clyburn on Palin: Great Moments In Not Getting It

Kudos, of a sort, to congressman James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, for having the courage to suggest Sarah Palin might potentially be something of a twit:
In her response to the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 19 others in Arizona, Sarah Palin criticized journalists for manufacturing a "blood libel" against her. On a radio program this morning, Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-SC) said that the former Alaska Governor "just can't seem to get it."

"You know, Sarah Palin just can't seem to get it, on any front. I think she's an attractive person, she is articulate," Clyburn said on the Bill Press radio show, according to The Hill. "But I think intellectually, she seems not to be able to understand what's going on here."

Verily, 'tis possible. But what, exactly, does Clyburn think is going on here?

Clyburn said that his experiences in the Civil Rights Era gives him a different understanding of the relationship between rhetoric and action, and says what he sees and hears today reminds him of what he heard back then.

"I have some experiences that maybe she does not have," he said. "When I see and hear things today that are reminiscent of that period of time, I am very, very concerned about it, because I know what it led to back then, and I know what it can lead to again."

Yes, as a black man who lived through the Civil Rights Era, Clyburn certainly wouldn't want to see a return to the days where one group of Americans lived in dignity and freedom while another group had no rights to speak of ... unless Clyburn gets to belong to the favored group this time. Clyburn, you may recall, is the loathsome opportunist who responded to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords by saying TSA agents should give Congressmen special treatment in airports:

Clyburn called for the Transportation Security Administration, which administers airport security checkpoints, to interact “a little better” with the Capitol Hill Police.

“We’ve had some incidents where TSA authorities think that congresspeople should be treated like everybody else,” he said.
Note to James Clyburn: don't make this a civil rights issue, you flaming hypocrite. If you really cared about equality, you wouldn't try to make yourself more equal than others.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

TSA and Gabrielle Giffords: Continuing Mission Creep

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several other people were shot at a supermarket where Giffords was hosting a talk-to-your-representative public event. This has absolutely nothing to do with airports or transportation, yet assistant House minority leader James Clyburn is using it as an excuse to say congresspersons should get special treatment from the TSA:
Clyburn called for the Transportation Security Administration, which administers airport security checkpoints, to interact “a little better” with the Capitol Hill Police.

“We’ve had some incidents where TSA authorities think that congresspeople should be treated like everybody else,” he said. “Well, the fact of the matter is, we are held to a higher standard in so many other areas, and I think we need to take a hard look at exactly how the TSA interact with members of Congress.”
The reporter did not ask him to explain the logic of how the problem "lunatic shoots people in a supermarket" has the solution "make Congress exempt from the humiliating and degrading treatment TSA inflicts on innocent Americans."

Captain Hindsight Meets Captain Obvious

Amazingly, it appears congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will recover from her head wound, though how full a recovery remains to be seen. Her shooter is apparently a paranoid schizophrenic, and none of the voices in his head turned out to be Sarah Palin's, though her PAC has taken its infamous "target list" down from its Facebook page anyway. Given how many thousands of blogs have copied the list since yesterday, I'm not sure what they hope to accomplish.

Whatever your political leanings -- left wing, right wing, whatever -- here's something to consider when publishing opinionated columns, graphics, maps or what have you: If someone commits a horrible crime against one of your political opponents and you feel the need to delete old Facebook status updates, blog posts or anything else which, in retrospect, makes it sound like you endorse that crime, maybe you shouldn't have published that blog post or Facebook update in the first place. It's like posting a video of yourself naked, picking your nose and using the pickings to spell out obscenities on your stomach: yes, you do have the legal right to do this, and I firmly oppose anyone who'd attempt to take that legal right away ... I'm just saying you should pause long enough to ask yourself "Has this the potential to reflect badly on me?" (Hint: the answer is "yes.")

ADDENDUM: After reading the comments, I fear this post might be misinterpreted. So allow me to clarify: I'm not calling to ban anything, and my argument here is a "public safety" matter. My advice is not intended to prevent future assassination attempts, but to spare future writers from feeling ashamed of themselves in the aftermath of future assassination attempts. I say this for the benefit of anyone who regularly expresses strong and heated opinions (including politicos and would-be politicos like Palin): if you feel compelled to delete what you wrote, you probably shouldn't have written it in the first place. "Don't embarrass yourself," is what I'm saying.

As I think more about it, Sarah Palin would have my grudging respect had she kept her target list posted on her Facebook page (fond as she is of her guns, she should try sticking to them), and posted a new message not merely offering condolences to the victims and their families, but soundly denouncing any American who'd use violence rather than persuasion to affect political change (segue here into something inspirational about free speech and the first amendment). Or, conversely, had she taken the target list down and explained that she no longer wanted her name associated with it. But taking the list down while saying nothing about it, and ignoring it as much as possible?

Given how she handled her governor's job the second things got tough, I don't know why I'm so surprised by such cowardice. I stand behind everything I've ever written and published under my own name; Palin lacks the same courage.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Sarah Palin's Target Shot

This is a vile and hideous thing: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head point-blank at a public appearance in Arizona. She and six others were killed. Giffords was one of the names listed on the "target map" Sarah Palin's PAC put out last March. No way of knowing yet if the two events are connected; either way, Palin should have "refudiated" the map's message from the moment it was first released; will she at least have the decency to repudiate it now?

Assassination is never the answer, dammit. When I saw the horrific news about Giffords, I'd originally gone online intending to blog about yesterday's news that a package addressed to Janet Napolitano ignited in Washington DC. As head of the DHS, Napolitano is personally responsible for every atrocity committed by any TSA agent -- but the way to solve the TSA problem is not through assassination, damn it. And damn you, whoever sent that package. And especially damn the gunman in Arizona who murdered Congresswoman Giffords.

What the hell is happening to my country?

EDIT: It's maybe 20 minutes later, and the news just said Giffords is in surgery. So she is not dead after all; I have no idea what her chances are, but of course hope the surgeons can bring about as full a recovery as possible.

SECONDARY EDIT: Still no word on the shooter's stated motivation, but even if he outright said "I did it for the glory of Sarah," I highly doubt Palin literally wants the 20 Democrats on her target list to be shot and killed; she's simply too goddamned dumb to understand why such imagery goes beyond the pale. Palin's dangerous the way a very small child is dangerous: not from ill intent, but utter cluelessness.

Lord knows I'm not above using emotive imagery rather than cool logic to discuss politics -- in my last anti-TSA column I linked to a photo of a TSA agent on his knees feeling a traveler's crotch, then invited a hypothetical agent to "sniff my crotch like the dog that you are." So fine, yeah, I'll compare my political opponents to animals ... but "crotch-sniffing dog," while undeniably insulting (as was my intent), doesn't have the implied threat of, say, "cockroach deserving of extermination." In a years-ago blog post here I discussed the difference between saying "I wish Fred Phelps would drop dead" versus "I wish someone would kill Fred Phelps." I'm fine with the former, not with the latter, and the problem with Palin is that she so often uses the latter mode of speaking, not even because she really believes it, but because she's too goddamned stupid to realize why she shouldn't.

TERTIARY EDIT, 8:15 pm: So it appears the man who shot Congresswoman Giffords and killed five other people -- including a little girl only nine years old -- is a rambling loon whose motivation for the shooting only makes sense to people who also know which part of Catcher in the Rye includes the message "go kill John Lennon."

With luck, Giffords will not only live, but make a full recovery. But a little piece of our democracy just died; for all the problems facing our country -- yes, and outright corruption and criminality, too -- our elected officials should well fear losing their jobs in an election, or even impeachment. Our bureaucrats should fear getting fired, with loss of all pensions and benefits. None of these people should ever fear for their lives, only their livelihoods in politics, and while I hope Giffords makes a full recovery, I also hope this leads to a toning down of the violent, vitriolic tone that's been paralyzing politics too long.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The TSA Knoweth Not Shakespeare

"What's in a name?" Juliet famously asked. "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

"Yes," Jennifer added five and a half centuries later, "and that which we call feces by any other name would smell like crap." So I'm spectacularly unimpressed by recent reports that some airports are considering eliminating TSA personnel and hiring private security contractors instead. This sounds good until you realize airport security would still be required to follow TSA guidelines, which means flying still includes the legal obligation Americans submit to having our genitalia groped by some thug wearing the same latex gloves already shoved down nine dozen other strangers' underwear.

Removing TSA from airports is not enough; TSA needs to be removed from America. Disband the agency and permanently blackball every one of its employees -- especially the administrators and policymakers -- from holding any position of legal authority ever again.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

TSA And A Radio Daze

Tomorrow afternoon – Sunday, January 2, at 6:30 EST – I’m supposed to discuss my latest Guardian article (theme: I refuse to fly while TSA’s fingerbang patdown policies remain in effect) with James Strait, a radio talk-show host out of Philadelphia. (Confession: I know nothing about Philly’s radio scene or Mr. Strait, but his website – where you can listen to him in realtime – refers to the Real ID program as “an attack on liberty” so I’m guessing that, at least where TSA abuse [read: pretty much TSA’s entire existence] is concerned, we’re largely on the same page.)

[EDIT: Forgot to ask: should any of you have the time and ability to easily record the interview and send me a copy, I'd appreciate it.]

I’m sincerely grateful to report receiving, in response to my column, many lovely messages from people from basically said “I feel as you do, and I won’t fly either.” One man, a small-business owner who travels rather frequently as a result, even said he’s been taking private flying lessons and buying a plane although, as he pointed out, piloting himself will cost at least ten times more than flying commercial. He’s fortunate he can afford to make such a sacrifice; America’s fortunate he’s willing to make it. Too many of our compatriots would rather go along to get along – “I may not like the airport gropedowns, but how else can I take the kids to see Disney?” Too many compatriots, unfortunately, feel they have no choice – “I loathe the airport gropedowns but if I don’t fly on business I’ll lose my job.”

Overall, however, much of the response to my column has been surreal; so many stalwart TSA defenders insisting it’s not that bad, it’s no big deal, what’s wrong with adopting submissive-criminal poses and letting government agents feel around in your underwear every time you want to travel, huh?

Some controversies I expect; when I write in favor of legalizing drugs and prostitution, or dismantling certain aspects of the welfare/regulatory state, of course that will generate much disagreement among the so-called political mainstream. But I find it awesome – in the original, terrifying sense of the word – that simple declarations we Americans could take for granted 20 years ago are now considered controversial: “I am owed the presumption of innocence unless and until proven guilty of a specific crime.” “Within the borders of my own country, I am free to travel without government interference.”

But this generates the most surreal controversy of all: “I retain exclusive control over certain parts of my body, and neither the government nor anyone else has the right to see or touch them without my consent.” Seriously, that claim now inspires indignation, controversy, and accusations of prudery?

We here in America have reached the point where high-ranking political appointees seriously propose requiring intimate patdowns and/or potentially dangerous nude-scan radiation photography as a precondition for travel on every form of mass transit. And yet, fantastically, I found myself accused of being some cruel and heartless oppressor of the working classes for using the term “thug” in reference to those government agents who actively and knowingly implement degrading policies of ritualized sexual assault against innocent people.
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