Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An American’s Knowledge Of Freedom, And A Child’s Knowledge Of Lust

Imagine a child – very precocious and bright for her age, but still young enough to think kissing is “icky” and romance is “gross” and she will never, ever involve herself in such yuckiness when she grows up, because everybody knows boys are nothing more than perpetual-motion machines generating cooties in lieu of energy. Eeew.

Now imagine a political sex scandal – or look at any random news site, there’s always one in the headlines – some dude had a good chance of being elected to high office, or already made it there, but then his career and reputation came crashing down around his ankles, right along with his pants.

And the child asks about the politician’s motivation: what made him risk his fortune, career and reputation like that? So you look for age-appropriate ways to explain “Grown-ups feel this thing called ‘lust,’ which makes some of them behave in very stupid ways,” and perhaps the child might understand this intellectually, but until she is old enough to have such feelings herself, she won’t truly understand it in her gut.

Something similar happened to me last weekend, when I took a short vacation to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. For a long time now, I’ve known intellectually that America is no longer the “free country” it used to be, but only when stepping outside it for awhile do I truly feel it in my gut.

I mentioned yesterday some differences between the Canadian and American border guards. But there were other little things, too: in Canada and America, both governments will buy TV ads or billboards encouraging their citizens to behave in certain ways. The Canadian ads I saw contained messages like “donate blood” or “volunteer your time for a worthy charity.” The American ads urged people to feel paranoia and fear, via the infamous “See Something, Say Something” messages sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. (I had no idea sleepy little farm towns in the Massachusetts Berkshires were such hotbeds of potential terrorist activity, but the billboards assured the farmers they should feel very, very afraid.)

To get to Niagara Falls from my place in Connecticut, the best route involves taking the New York Thruway, which is well-peppered with electronic signboards flashing messages to drivers. I first saw such signboards in the mid-1980s, on a family trip to Washington, DC, and remember being impressed by how high-tech and science-fictiony they were. Back then, the signboards flashed information drivers would find useful: time, temperature, traffic and weather conditions.

The signboards on the New York Thruway last weekend wasted no electrons on such drivel; instead, they flashed constant reminders of state authority and the penalties for getting on the wrong side of it, with “Click it or ticket” being the most common phrase.

A couple years ago, while writing for a now-defunct group blog, I took a trip to Halifax and shared an anecdote: my boyfriend and I visited a fort built to defend the city back when cannon were the most powerful weapon available. Inside the fort, you were surrounded by green grassy walls topped with regular niches where cannon once stood guard. Today, if you climbed the walls and sat in those cannon-spots you’d get breathtaking views of the harbor and city, but you’d also be at high risk of a fatal fall, so there were regular signs posted warning people to stay off the wall.

As I wandered through the fort, I suddenly heard a man yelling “Get off the wall!” I looked in one direction and saw an elderly man who had climbed into one of the forbidden cannon spots, then in another direction and saw an annoyed Canadian police officer whose job, apparently, was to stand in the center of the fort, keep an eye on the walls and yell at people who climbed too high.

As an American woman accustomed to American authority figures, I watched and waited to see what the police officer would do next – kick the old man out of the park? Ticket him? Arrest him? Taser him for non-compliance? The answer turned out to be “none of the above”; the cop merely watched to ensure the old man climbed down. A few minutes later, I heard the cop shout “Get off the wall!” at another tourist, but again, that was all he did.

I had long known, intellectually, that America was no longer the truly free country I’d learned about in school, just as small bright cootie-fearing children might know intellectually “Adults feel this thing they call lust,” but that moment in Halifax, considering the difference between how I expected the police officer to behave versus how he actually did, was the first moment I truly felt it in my gut. But I’d managed to forget that feeling, just a little bit, until I left my country again.

There’s an old saying “Nobody fears being cheated more than a con man; nobody fears being robbed more than a thief.” Apply that standard to modern America, and it says something very disconcerting about our government.

Monday, May 30, 2011

My Country, 'Tis Not Of Me

I'm still tired and footsore after a mini-vacation on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Though still too exhausted to write very much, I will say this: the Canadian border guard was polite, though obviously bored. The American guard was a bigger dick than the one which launched John Holmes' career. I'm honestly amazed that in America, in the Year Of Someone Else's Lord 2011, the fact that I am unmarried -- or rather, the fact that I crossed the border with a man whose last name differs from my own -- is enough to warrant Extra Questions. Good thing my boyfriend is not the stereotypical "forgetful male"; I shudder to think what would have happened had he not been able to answer the question "When is her birthday?"

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Unpatriotic Patriot Act

Over at the Guardian, I explain why I don't expect the Patriot Act to be repealed anytime soon: despite claims to the contrary, the Patriot Act has nothing to do with the War on Terror and everything to do with the War on Drugs.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arizona Cops Murder Iraq War Veteran

Last week a SWAT team in Pima County, Arizona, violently invaded Jose Guerena's home, fired 71 bullets at him (only 60 hit their target), and refused for an hour and 15 minutes to let paramedics work on the injured man. Now the cops are assiduously doing their best to slander the dead by saying he had it coming, what with his being involved with a drug gang and everything. Except there's no actual evidence Guerena was; no drugs or paraphernalia found in his home, and Arizona authorities are now reduced to saying Guerena might have been involved in drug gangs because he owned a picture of Jesus Malverde, a sort of Mexican Robin Hood apparently revered by millions of Mexicans today. However, some of those Mexicans are narco-traffickers, ergo anyone with a Mexican name and a picture of Malverde is assumed to belong to a drug gang (especially when cops need after-the-fact justification for staging a home invasion and murdering the home's inhabitants).

I look forward to the day police use similar logic to bring down the Mafia: he had an Italian last name and owned a rosary! You know how Catholic those Mafiosi tend to be. We had no choice but to pump 60 bullets into his body, then keep the paramedics at bay. How else are we supposed to protect innocent people from murderous thugs?

I have officially lost what few remaining shreds of respect I had for "police work" as a profession. The noble stories I heard as a child all turned out to have parentheticals attached: Police work hard to get murderers off the streets (assuming those murderers don't have police badges. When they do, police do all they can to cover up for the murderer and slander his victim). Police protect us from thieves (except the thieves in the police department who use civil asset forfeiture to confiscate money and property from people never convicted of a crime).

I'll concede the possibility "a numerical majority of police have never personally used their badge as a license to rob, rape or murder." But even those who never directly inflicted suffering on innocents are still complicit, by allowing themselves to become bricks in the blue wall of silence. There are thousands of corrupt-cop stories out there -- journalist Radley Balko has made an entire career out of documenting American police abuse, and for all that I admire Balko's work I firmly believe his career has no damned business existing in an ostensibly free country -- yet how many policemen became known for blowing the whistle on their corrupt colleagues? Off the top of my head, I recall Frank Serpico. That's all.

Jose Guerena, dead at 26 and leaving behind a widow and a toddler child, would've been better off killed by an IED in Iraq. At least then, the government would pay his widow a pension rather than posthumously slander him. (Granted, you might say I should not blame "the" government for the localized actions of the Pima County Sheriff's Department. But unless and until the Department of Justice spends at least as much time and effort taking down murderous SWAT teams as it does arresting cancer patients who smoke pot, I consider the federal government complicit in every SWAT-team atrocity Radley Balko ever reported.)

Were Jose Guerena a blue-eyed blond named Joe Whitebread, he'd probably still be alive today. Here in the year 2011, the belief "Mexicans aren't fully human, so it's no big deal if they die" is de rigueur for any effective drug warrior. Just ask Michele Leonhart, the oddly moralistic sociopath currently heading the Drug Enforcement Administration: last month the Washington Post reported that Mexican drug cartels are now targeting and killing children, in order to terrorize the populace. Leonhart considers that cause for celebration:
“It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs,” said Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The cartels “are like caged animals, attacking one another,” she added.
See? No innocent children are being slaughtered in Mexico; they're just caged animals dying south of the Rio Grande, and our world presumably a better place now that they've stopped breathing. And Jose Guerena wasn't just a Marine veteran, hard-working husband and devoted father; he was one of those people. You know, the ones who engage in suspicious activities like having a Hispanic name and owning pictures of the wrong Robin Hood.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Our Lady Of Perpetual Misery

WHAT UNITED AIRLINES DID: scheduled its usual load of flights to and from various places in the country, assigning each flight a number for billing and recordkeeping. As usual, United assigned its flights ordinary integers like 93 or 175, nothing insane or irrational like π or √2 or anything like that.

WHAT UNITED AIRLINES SAID AFTERWARDS: “Mea culpa! Forgive us! We forgot the numbers 93 and 175 can never be used on flights anymore, because those were some of the flight numbers from 9/11!”

: “Get over yourselves, you masochistic misery fetishists. They’re just numbers.”

(Note to non-American readers: “9/11” is American shorthand for what the rest of the English-speaking world calls “the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC on 11 September 2001.” It’s pronounced “nine-eleven,” in the same hallowed tones devout teetotalling Baptists use to say “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”)

Back when 9/11 was still contemporary news, it would indeed have been insensitive for an American airline company to assign a flight such numbers; no ticketholder wants to hear “Now boarding flight 93” when he’s already heard “everyone on flight 93 died” on the news on his way to the airport.

But ten years later, why are we still behaving as though the initial fear and adrenalin rush is still intoxicating our systems? What really creeps me out about this is, it seems like America’s on track to becoming another dysfunctional LEG country, a Land of Endless Grudges. Like the rationales for the idiotic wars that periodically erupt in places like the Balkans: “We must raze the town of Grzywycz and kill everybody in it, to avenge the evil things its townspeople did to my great-great-grancestor in 1397!” Or perhaps a better analogy would be the lifelong mourning misogynistic Victorians demanded from respectable widows: “Your husband is dead, you’re a widow at age 20, and the sorrow you now feel is expected to define the rest of your existence. You must never smile, wear colors or pursue normal enjoyment, ever again. You know the old saying ‘Life goes on?’ Not for you, it doesn’t.”

It’s wicked enough when done to widows, worse when done to a whole nation. Especially when that nation is mine.

An American Healthcare Survey

My landline phone rang today, a rare event in my household since we mostly communicate with friends and family via the internet, and are on the Do Not Call registry besides. But politicians and pollsters aren’t bound by anti-telemarketing restrictions, so I picked up the phone to hear a very young and meek-sounding woman who said she was with Blah Blah Polling Company conducting a survey about healthcare, and wondered if she could ask my opinion on a few matters and absolutely positively not try to sell me anything.

I don’t usually go along with such requests but did this time, thinking it would be interesting to hear what sort of healthcare questions pollsters currently focus on. Except the pollster asked me nothing about health care; she only asked about health insurance. Specifically, she asked me to name all the health insurance companies I knew about. I could only name two off the top of my head, though when she started reading company names off a list I recognized them all: yeah, I’ve heard of that one. Yes, that one too. Yes. Yes. Yep. Yup. Uh-huh.

Then my household health insurance status: yes, we have coverage in our household; yes, it’s through mine or my spouse and/or partner’s employer. No, without looking at my card I can’t tell you which health insurance company covers me now. (That’s because my doctor’s receptionist never asks for the name of my health insurance company, only the name of the employer who provides it. But I didn’t tell the pollster this, since she didn’t ask.)

Now she repeated her previous list of “Have you heard of this company” questions, only this time she pronounced the full, complete multi-word names of national corporations’ various Connecticut-based subsidiaries: instead of simply asking if I’d heard of Blue Cross, she asked about “Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Connecticut.”

Corporate names more than six words long all sound alike to me, so I told her the only full-name company I knew was Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which once covered me. I didn’t tell her my opinion of said company – that it sucks like a vacuum cleaner on steroids – but she still made a discouraged sound halfway between “oh” and “eew.” (Note to non-American readers: in this country, health insurance companies in one state aren’t allowed to offer coverage in another. Thus, when I taught high school in Massachusetts my employer-provided health insurance would only pay for doctor visits in that state, though I lived in Connecticut.)

Nonetheless, she repeated the full Connecticut-specific subsidiary names of various insurance companies and asked if I’d heard of them: How familiar am I with This Company Healthcare and Insurance of Connecticut? What about That Company Connecticut Insurance and Healthcare? Other Company Connecticut Healthcare Insurance?

Then another list of questions: the last time I had to choose between different coverage providers in an employer-based plan, did I have the opportunity to buy a policy with Some Company?

“I don’t remember what the choices were,” I said. “I remember I went with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, but don’t remember who offered the other options.” That didn’t stop her from asking if I’d had the opportunity to buy coverage from every insurance company on her list. “Are we almost finished here?” I asked. “I was in the middle of something.”

“There’s only a few more questions,” she assured me. “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being ‘very interested’ and 1 being ‘not interested at all,’ how interested would you be in buying coverage with This Company Healthcare and Insurance of Connecticut?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’d have to see what they charge, what they cover, what the deductibles are, and how all that compares to my other options. Without knowing that, I can’t say.”

“There’s no right or wrong answer,” she assured me. “This is an opinion poll.”

“I know, but I have no opinion right now and don’t have the information I need to form one.”

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested would you be in buying coverage with That Company Connecticut Insurance and Healthcare?”

“I don’t know. How much would it cost me?”

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested would you be in buying coverage with Other Company Connecticut Healthcare Insurance?”

I told her I still didn’t know, and suggested she use that answer for the rest of the 1-to-10 interest questions and skip to the next batch. Of course, she couldn’t deviate from her script. So I told her I was sorry, but I wouldn’t be finishing the survey since I obviously couldn’t give her any useful answers, and I hung up before she could say anything.

You know what’s scary? Whichever twit of a lobbyist wrote that useless, monotonous cookie-cutter survey has more political influence and outright power than you or I ever will.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

More On The Loss Of J sub D

His official name was John D. Hannah—I think the D stood for David—but most of the friends he had at the end of his life knew him as J sub D. That was the name he used to post online, at Reason’s Hit and Run, Radley Balko’s Agitator and a variety of other blogs; if I recall correctly, he originally planned to go by his initials JD when he started at Hit and Run years ago, but modified it upon discovering a regular poster by that moniker already there. That’s good, though, because it’s easy to find his old thoughts online when searching for “J sub D,” while JD commenters are a dime a dozen on the web.

Over a thousand people who don’t normally check this blog visited in just over 24 hours to read about J-sub. Ironically, as DA Ridgely points out, none of us, J-sub's online friends, would have known the details of his death if not for the Detroit Free Press column mourning how he died forgotten, but “Far from forgotten, John had simply become temporarily disconnected from his family and his many online friends.” Many indeed; over a thousand at my last count.

I think I made a mistake in my last post, though; I said he’d been homeless the last few months of his life, but after reading Mitch Albom’s article again I think he was actually homeless for the better part of a decade:
Hannah, as near as I can piece together, grew up somewhere in Wayne County. He served years in the Navy, reached the relatively high level of E8 (in the Navy, that would be a senior chief petty officer). At some point, perhaps a decade ago, his wife died, and he took it hard. He didn't want to live anymore.
He just dropped out of sight," said JimHoffner, who oversees the kitchen at Pilgrim Church/I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministries in Detroit, where, for the last five or six months, Hannah had been sleeping among other homeless men, on vinyl mats beneath wool blankets. "He was a helluva nice guy. Intelligent. He helped with the chores here. At some point every day, he would walk up to the library at Wayne State. I think he used the computers there."
Yeah. He did. That’s when we’d talk.

I guess he just lost interest in life after Donna died. I knew he still mourned her, but never realized how hard. With a military pension and health insurance, I don’t think “lack of money” put him on the street … but I can definitely imagine his depression over Donna draining so much of his mental energy that even minor matters like “taking pension money and paying bills with it” became impossibly Herculean tasks. At least with us, his friends at the forum and the regular commenters from other blogs, it seems he did find something interesting again, at an energy level he did not find draining.
He was Caucasian, thin, 5 feet 5 or so. He smoked and had lung cancer, which he accepted.

"He said he came here to die," AnnetteCovington related. She is the wife of the church's late pastor, Henry Covington. She knew Hannah as a quiet, decent man, who, after the kindness shown him at the shelter, said he changed his mind and wanted to live.

It was too late.
Maybe we, his online friends, helped him change his mind too. I like to think so. He obviously didn’t want us to know how what was going on with him, though. Maybe he wouldn’t have wanted Mitch Albom to write that Free Press column, or for me to find it and connect John Hannah with J sub D. But he should not be forgotten.

John/J-sub’s memorial service will be today at 1 p.m. (Detroit time). Representatives from the military are supposed to be there, as well as some people from the shelter and a family member or two. I doubt any of his online friends will make it on such short notice.

From the “reads differently in retrospect” archives, here’s the transcript of a little chat J-sub and I had at the forum on March 27, four days before he stopped posting for good:
JENNIFER: Regarding Earth Hour, I'm sympathetic to the whole "Let's reduce waste and save the earth" kind of thing, but hate all symbolic gestures because people think making the gesture equals actually doing something. On the other hand, given that these are many of the same people who banned lightbulbs and dish detergent that actually works without your having to add trisodium phosphate to it, it's good for them to be distracted by meaningless symbolic gestures rather than continue pushing through their horrible legislation.

J SUB D: My favorite, by far, meaningless gesture ever attempted was Hands Across America. I found it im-fucking-possible to avoid mocking it from conception to failed attempt.

JENNIFER: I'd managed to forget all about that! Wasn't it supposed to be some symbolic "homelessness is bad" thing?

J SUB D: I think it was about peace on earth or kill the A-Rabs or something.

please hold, googling, googling ...

The wild and wonderful wiki wrote:
“Hands Across America was a benefit event and publicity campaign staged on Sunday May 25, 1986 in which approximately 6.5 million people held hands in a human chain for fifteen minutes along a path across the continental United States. Many participants donated ten dollars to reserve their place in line; the proceeds were donated to local charities to fight hunger and homelessness and help those in poverty.”

Since homelessness and poverty are no longer the major problems they were back in the '80s, I guess we have to call it a success.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

“Life’s A Joy That Has To End”: John Hannah, Rest In Peace

A friend of mine died a couple weeks ago: alone, in pain, homeless in Detroit. I think a friend of mine died, anyway. I’m 99 percent sure it’s him, but lack firm knowledge to banish that one percent uncertainty.

Damn the internet, sometimes. Hard enough to keep abreast of everything important that happens to folks you care about in real life—but what of those you only know online, if they can’t go near a computer?

I belong to a small, semiprivate forum with roughly 70 active members, over half of whom have met each other in meatspace at various times. We all feel we know each other, to an extent … but how well can one person truly know another? Even those you see every day hold secrets in their private lives, and it’s even easier to keep secrets from those who only know you online.

One such person I’ve known for years through various fora (though never met in real life) went by the online moniker “J sub D.” His real name was John Hannah: a retired Navy chief; a widower still mourning Donna, his second wife and the love of his life until she died; a Detroit native who settled back there after he retired.

We got along smashingly well in our online chats, since we had similarly sarcastic tastes in humor. He always encouraged the give-em-hell articles I wrote for various papers and magazines, and would often quote (and link to) them in comment threads where he chatted online, though he never told me about his attempts to help my career; I only learned of them one day when I checked my personal blog stats and saw visitors from unfamiliar websites.

Last September, he told the forum he’d been diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer, but forbade us all from “making a fuss.” It was easy to pretend he was okay since we only read his online words; his typing always looked the same so we never noticed him wasting away. He also told us, “Someone once said 'Life’s a bitch and then you die,' which is only half-true. 'Life’s a joy that has to end' might be a better way to put it.” His attitude did, and does, make me ashamed of myself sometimes.

On March 25 he posted this:
Woot! Woot! I have now entered the uncharted (by me) waters of Stage 4. Just finished a week of R&R at the hospital for testing, testing and more testing. The docs discovered (via MRI due to numbness in face) three small lesions on my brain and tumors in my sinuses. I turned down "relatively minor" brain surgery (WTF is "minor" brain surgery?) and start getting by head blasted with radiation on Tuesday. I'll let you know if I turn green and grow monstrous muscles.
“Tuesday” would have been March 29. March 31 was the last day he ever posted at the forum. His word-of-the-day subscription had emailed him the definition of “dauphin,” which he posted. That started a rambling little discussion thread about word history and dolphins and old French nobility, and J sub D’s final post in that forum — his final post online anywhere, so far as I can determine — was a picture of the last Dauphin’s family crest, and his observation “ETA I really enjoy the etymologies.”

We never heard from him again.

Two weeks later I emailed him. He never responded. What I didn’t know — what none of us knew — is that somehow, despite his military pension, John lived in a homeless shelter the last few months of his life. To go online, he’d walk to Wayne State University and use the library computers.

I could’ve given him the old laptop I don’t use anymore, with a prepaid wireless subscription or something on it, if I’d known he had to walk outside through a Detroit winter for internet access. I could’ve given him more than that, if he’d only let me know he needed it.

I learned about the homeless shelter—and John’s death—today, when I found this two-day-old story by Mitch Albom in the Detroit Free Press:
John D. Hannah died once.

Now he is dying again.

The second death is the death of being forgotten. And Hannah, who served his country for years, has been forgotten.

His body lies alone in a cooled room in the Gates of Heaven Funeral Home in Detroit, thanks to the grace of its 66-year-old owner, Joseph Norris, who said, "My heart told me I had to do this."

Norris is keeping Hannah unburied, in a donated coffin, until someone from his family, some brother, sister, child, uncle, cousin -- even a friend -- comes forward to say they knew him.
Does “we often exchanged jokes and debated political matters online, and I miss him terribly now that he’s gone, but I have no idea what he looked like” equal “I knew him”? What about “I already knew every single personal detail mentioned in the story, except the minor piddling little detail about his living in a homeless shelter?
For two weeks, no one has, despite Hannah's years of service in the Navy, despite an honorable discharge, despite calls and a letter to the U.S. Military Retirement Pay Division. Bureaucracy and privacy concerns (ironic for a man whom no one has claimed) bog down the process.

Meanwhile, Hannah's corpse remains unvisited. Surely, there is someone reading this who knew him? A man can't simply die in the state where he was raised, in the city where he lived and have no one to stand by his coffin, can he?

Sadly, he can. In the world of homelessness, one can die as quietly as a falling leaf.
That’s the first mention of homelessness in the story. Also the first mention of homelessness I ever heard in relation to my online friend J sub D, the retired Navy chief with whom I’d chat online. I knew he had his pension; he mentioned it to us and its existence is strongly implied in the story. The Navy career, the beloved dead wife, the lung cancer, the birthday on August 11, 1955 … I knew that. I knew all that. I just didn’t know he was sleeping in a homeless shelter.

He died alone. Some of us talked about making a road trip to Detroit, but by the time we reached out to ask him, he was already out of internet access and thus out of reach forever.

So I didn’t know him as well as I thought, but I know he was smart and funny and responded to tales of injustice with an outraged sarcasm I effortlessly empathized with. I know—from reading Albom’s story and the comments on it—that he died homeless, and apparently estranged from his family; I only speak to one or two relatives anymore myself, so it looks like we could empathize in ways I never knew.

At least not when he was still alive and it could do him any good. None of us at the forum, his friends from the internet, knew anything in time to do him any good. Perhaps the relationship was merely “virtual,” yet the loss I feel now is entirely real.


ADDENDUM: Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings suggests making donations to I Am My Brother's Keeper, the homeless shelter where John spent his last months before going into the hospital.

ADDITIONAL ADDENDUM: It's also worth considering a small donation to Joseph Norris, the funeral home operator who donated the coffin, took care of J-sub's body and notified the reporter; without him, none of us might ever have known for certain what happened to our friend. Norris is a small business owner, and I doubt he's rich enough for such to be mere pocket-change expenses for him.

Joseph Norris
Gates of Heaven Funeral Home
4412 Livernois Avenue
Detroit, MI 48210
(313) 894-2427

THIRD ADDENDUM: The funeral service was today (Thursday, May 12), at 1 pm Detroit time. Members of the forum called the funeral home yesterday, and heard that military representatives, shelter workers and a couple of family members were planning to attend on Chief John Hannah's behalf. Meanwhile, this post has started getting hits from people who knew or were looking for John Hannah, but maybe never heard of J sub D. If that's you, here are some sites you might want to check out where J sub D's friends remember him, in the posts themselves and especially in the comment threads:

J sub D, RIP (Jesse Walker at Reason Hit and Run)
J sub D, Rest in Peace (Radley Balko at The Agitator)
Sad News (Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings)
John Hannah (J sub D), RIP (DA Ridgely)

Friday, May 06, 2011

Crazy Trains

I have no violent or vandalistic intentions whatsoever -- I feel compelled to start with a disclaimer, in contemporary America -- but if I wanted to derail a train I could do so in less than three hours, starting right now: ten minutes to steal steel from a construction site, five minutes to get to the active train tracks nearby, and another couple of hours to walk along the tracks until I'm deep in relatively isolated woods along various steep embankments, lay the steel along the track just so and wait for the passing train to derail itself.

I'm oversimplifying a tad -- in reality, a piece of steel heavy enough to derail a train would probably be too heavy for me to move without a hand truck -- but if I really were of a murderous mindset, I doubt I'd need long to think of something. I doubt anybody would, which is why I'm unimpressed by reports that Bin Laden's computer held word of a possible train-derailment plot on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

There's over 140,000 miles of standard-gauge train track in the USA (according to a quick Wiki search) and no way in hell anybody can watch it all. But we don't need to; for as long as railroads have existed, anyone with access to a big stone or metal bar, and the will to cause harm, could derail a train anytime they wished. And al-Qaeda's been reduced to train-derailment plots; i.e., the sort of stunts I personally could pull right now if I wanted to derail a train in lieu of finishing this post and going to bed. It is good that they finally got Bin Laden, but in the same way it's good when Germany still arrests the occasional incontinent ninety-something-year-old ex-concentration camp guard: yes, he's responsible for great evil and deserves to face consequences; yes, it's a travesty of justice that he remained free as long as he did; but no, we didn't make the world safer by taking him out of it.

The terror threat is the same as it's been since the aftermath of 9/11: negligible. The 9/11 attacks happened because terrorists exploited a loophole that will never be opened again, at least not while anyone who personally remembers that day is still alive. Ever since then, the only thing we've had to fear is fear itself -- and the nasty things fear is leading America into.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Bin Laden’s Dead And Chocolate Rations Are Up

Hooray! Now that the big bad scary threat to America is dead, we Americans can have our civil liberties back, right? No more TSA fingerbang patdowns in the name of preserving freedom, right?

Wrong, of course; Eternal War doesn’t end just because Goldstein is dead. Indeed, the government wants us to be more afraid of terrorists than ever:
U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world were placed on high alert following the announcement of bin Laden's death, a senior U.S. official said, and the U.S. State Department should be sending out a new "worldwide caution" for Americans shortly. Some fear al Qaeda supporters may try to retaliate against U.S. citizens or U.S. institutions.
A few days before they caught Bin Laden, self-described “advice goddess” Amy Alkon had her own TSA encounter. Perhaps that explains why US forces finally caught Bin Laden. It definitely explains why she wrote a blog post advising her readers, “Don't Give The TSA An Easy Time Of Violating Your Rights,” and added “It shouldn't be emotionally easy, earning a living by violating people's rights.”

TSA hasn’t commented on Alkon’s case, so far as I know, though if it did, I’m sure they’d insist Alkon’s groping followed proper procedure, just like the groping of six-year-old Anna Drexel, Miss USA Susie Castillo, and every other person molested by TSA agents (except the cancer survivor who wound up drenched in his own urine after a TSA agent broke his colostomy bag; a TSA spokesman admitted that agent screwed up, just not severely enough to be punished or even identified for it).

The TSA isn't going away just because they caught Bin Laden. The Patriot Act isn't going away either. The “terrorist threat” hasn’t been about Bin Laden for a long time now, if indeed it ever was; America’s Eternal War is fought against its own citizens. And many of those Americans who cheered in the street after hearing Bin Laden is dead doubtless believe TSA is a noble organization doing a necessary job, and I’m convinced the majority of my fellow Americans these days will eat any crap the government shovels their way, so long as there’s an authority figure to assure them “That’s not shit you’re eating; that’s Freedom Chocolate.”
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