Sunday, April 21, 2013

They will be with us always

The house is quiet now. Missy jogged out of her bed to the couch in the front room but immediately curled up there and went back to sleep; the other two - my Bride and the Boy - are our slow risers and have yet to wake. So I get to site here at the laptop near the front window and watch the gray Sunday begin.

I'm not sure whether the brown-streaked song sparrow is one sparrow or two, but it (or they) have been coming regularly to the platform feeder my family has set up outside the window. One of the few gains from the loss of Miss Lily is that Fat Nitty has never been an enthusiastic huntress, and with the Terror of the Backyard biding safe in a ditch we can resume putting out treats for the local birdlife. Nothing exotic; the song sparrows, a pair of chickadees I suspect of nesting in the Oregon grape, and a single massive scrub jay that arrives to standoff with the other local gourmand Mister Eatee the squirrel.

I was watching this little bit of Nature and thinking about the end of the Boston Bombing Week.

With the older brother - who seems to have been what passed for the "mastermind" of this business - full of holes as a colander we may never find out what the hell was going on and why. Certainly the likelihood of some sort of international jihadist conspiracy seems...unlikely. All the jihadi groups have denied these mooks, and their oddball odyssey Thursday and Friday - ambushing a campus cop, carjacking and careening through the streets tossing homemade demo out the car windows - makes them seem more and more like the couple of homicidal losers that Uncle Tsarni called them.

This hasn't stopped any- and everyone from using this episode as a platform for calls for this, that, and the other. My pals Lisa and jim over at RAW have a post up scolding the local security folks for their slipshod laxity in not securing the Marathon finish area better. Various pundits have drawn all sorts of inferences from this; everything from questioning the mental health system, the immigration system (despite the simple reality that the younger Tsarnaev was nine when he arrived here - nine!), to other calls for better security and more thorough assessment of the "threat".

I'm going to add to that but to perhaps something of a different end.

I'm going to suggest that we will ALWAYS have a Tsarneaev or two to strike at us.

For two reasons;

First, because we are and, I hope, will remain a relatively "open" society. I agree with jim and Lisa; the Boston Marathon organizers could have done more to make the route secure. When I go to soccer matches my bag and every bag is searched at the gates, and the gating and exclusion at public venues has become fairly standard. The price of safety is eternal inconvenience.

But I think back to the other big urban events like Seattle-to-Portland. The finish area is almost unsecurable; you have people arriving and departing all through the day. Riders with saddlebags, supporters with backpacks. Vendors, journos, and the whole thing ends in the park right between a mall, a big movie theatre, and the tram stop. To make that area secure you'd make a traffic jam and bottleneck that would make STP and everything around it slam to a stop.

Flick through the pictures I've posted. This is just one year's accumulation of the public events I've attended; me, personally. In one year, in a single mid-sized American city. And every single one of these events was just as open as the Marathon finish area. You could drive right up to them and park within car-bomb radius of a crowd of several hundred. You could walk amid the crowd with a backpack or tote bag competely un-inspected or unexamined.

Street fairs. Bike races. Sunday Parkways. Bridge Pedal. Saturday Market.

COULD make all of them utterly secure? Sure, you could.

But there's a cost there, not just in access but in thought. To really secure all of those venues would be a great deal of cost and personal committment; I'm not sure that anyone has any real idea of how much it would cost.

But, even more significant, you have to get the people, all the people; the organizers, the attendees, the competitors, the law enforcement and security agencies...into the sort of mindset that Israelis have to have; you have to have everyone on the constant lookout for the slightest hint of a threat. Every package, every backpack, every empty vehicle, every "odd stranger" has to be considered a danger.

You have to build that "fortress under siege" mentality into your people. Into your culture.

You have to see every venue as a potential massacre, and everyone as a potential enemy.

And we can do that. Of course we can.

But do we want to?

But, second, the other reality is that there will ALWAYS be human beings who want to do us harm.

They may be simply violent losers, more Tsarnaevs, more Columbine or Newtown shooters. There is almost no way to prevent a person from killing people if they're willing to work hard enough. You can make it more difficult. But stop them? Never.

And - giving consideration to the "Islamic" angle so many people have thrown at this - there are also some mindsets that will never live easily alongside each other.

Think about it this way; even if we stopped the "War on Terror" this minute. If we pulled every drone and every covert agent from every Middle Eastern country. If we halted every dollar and every round of ammunition sent to some loathsome dictator we support because he's friendly to the U.S. or supports our Middle Eastern policy. If we backed away from reflexively supporting the Greater Israel conservative faction. If we became scrupulously "neutral" in the great secular versus sectarian conflict over Islam now ongoing.

Would that bring us "peace" with the sorts of people who want an "Islamic Caliphate" in the Muslim world, the sorts of mad dreamers who founded outfits like Al Qaeda and Hizb-ut-Tahrir?

How could it?

The United States ideal represents everything that that sort of person finds appalling and dangerous. A nation founded on the ideal - often violated in practice, yes, but, still based on the notion - of personal and religious liberty. Open to "dangerous" ideals like the legal and social equity of men and women, the acceptance of homosexuality, even atheism. Tolerant of sexual liberties to the point of libertineism. Women in uniform. Personal choices on everything from abortion to educating women. You can almost hear the conservative mullahs shudder.

So in that sense they do, and will, always "hate us for our freedom". But not in the way that someone like Limbaugh or Coulter or Beck mean it; indeed, the sorts of Islamists who would like to bomb and shoot Americans for ogling nudie pictures and cuddling up to feminists and gays would probably get on famously with Operation Rescue and the boys down at the local John Birch Society.

And to make "peace" with these sonsofbitches really would be to have to change our society in some very fundamental ways, ways I cannot see happening if we are to remain true to our national ideals as I see them.

I hope that the nasty business of last week will, in some way, produce something of value. Some better way, perhaps, to help prevent this sort of brutality from striking somewhere else some time in the future.

But it may not.

Update 4/21: And this sort of idiotic crap doesn't help. "The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorists trying to injure, maim, and kill innocent Americans." And you know this, McCain, how? By your extraordinary political ESP, the sort of brilliance that gave us Backwoods Barbie? And King, do I remember you calling for this when your IRA pals turned up in Boston back in the day? And Graham - is this what you had in mind when you were quoted as saying ”We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” back in August?

Fuckadoodledoo, you gormless pinworms, we don't even know what these two gomers were in business to do, much less why. And you're already insisting on replaying the worst-selling of "Dubya's Greatest Hits" as covered by Obama?

Christ, but we're screwed.


Lisa said...

Chief writes:

I hope that the nasty business of last week will, in some way, produce something of value. Some better way, perhaps, to help prevent this sort of brutality from striking somewhere else some time in the future.

I'm afraid nothing good comes of creating blameless amputees. As you recognize, the good we suggest -- increased citizen vigilance -- requires a certain restriction of our freedom of movement. Any roll back of freedom is not good, but being sitting ducks is not good either.

Pity the U.S. saw fit to project its military power into the M.E. following 9-11-01; we've poked the hornet's nest, and now get to deal with the fallout of all of that angst (within and without us.) I believe we are (were) a profoundly sick society and a tinderbox even before that event, just seeking a correct detonation; then, "Voila!"

FDChief said...

Well, Lisa, there's "good" and there's value. There is value to be had even from misfortune, if nothing else, of the learning not to repeat the mistake.

But I think you underestimate the effects of the sort of "restriction of our freedom of movement" you're suggesting. It's not just the physical restriction; it's bending people's mindsets into the idea that NOT restricting that freedom IS making them into "sitting ducks". It's the way the Army went after Vietnam, by placing "force protection" over and above everything else. It makes everything and anything not completely vetted and "secured" into a potential danger and an enemy.

In short, it forces a nation and a people into a siege mentality. It's warped the hell out of Israeli society; I'd hate to see it develop here. IMO it's bad enough that we have a faction that sees "enemy combatants" everywhere already.

But I guess my question would be, Lisa, is that while I don't like everything I see here in the U.S. I'm not sure I'd call us a "profoundly sick society". What is it you see that leads you to that conclusion? I mean, for all the fulminations of our wingnuts we've avoided Muslim Kristallnachts or internments - can you explain your reasoning a little more?

Syrbal/Labrys said...

I sure hope we continue to avoid Muslim spite of idiots like Ann Coulter calling for the bomber's widow to be "jailed for wearing a hijab"....but I admit, I FEAR how it will go if the Crazy Choir goes on a-singing.

Rolling back our freedoms does not protect us; there IS no protection from ideas....nor from idiocy whipped to a lather with lashes of fear.

Ael said...

I am deeply confused about one aspect of this event that is getting no comment. People are cheering Obama for deciding to try the suspect in Federal Court (as opposed to declaring him an enemy combatant).

But what does the President have to do with prosecution decisions? Surely the only 'proper' response would be to say that prosecution decisions are in the hands of the District Attorney and that it would be improper to comment any further.

Letting a politician decide who and how a suspect should be tried fully corrupts the legal system. You no longer have a system of law, you have a system of partisan politics.

I understand the political reasons why Obama would be saying (and deciding) these things, but shouldn't someone be calling him on it?

FDChief said...

Labrys: Don't get me wrong - I get where Lisa and jim are coming from; these events really are very vulnerable to anyone who wants to kill people. I understand what they're suggesting and why.

It's just that I also see what you're saying, and I tend to fear that more than I fear the danger. In this country "increased citizen vigilance" has usually translated into people getting lynched or shot on sight (at worst) and people getting interned for the crime of being Japanese, or run out of towns, or getting the shit beat out of them (at best).

I honestly think we've got this absolutely backwards.

Dozens of people got killed last week with firearms that we CAN do something to control and regulate and thus decrease the threat. And, yet, even the mildest of suggestions - closing background-check loopholes that even the NRA used to advocate - is now beyond the pale.

And yet here's two guys, who appear to be just a couple of angry assholes who killed three people, who have provoked everything from jim and Lisa's mild suggestion to full-blown bull-goose looney nuttiness from idiots like McCain and Graham.

We seem to be straining at gnats but swallowing camels without so much as a burp...

FDChief said...

Ael: Hard to say.

Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Olympics bomber, was charged under 18 USC § 842 for illegally using explosives. It is very likely that these guys will be charged under the same statute. In general if a person is suspected of a crime that is punishable under Federal statues it will supercede the state laws he or she may be suspected of having broken.

Mind you, Rudolph was ALSO charged in Georgia for murder; it is likely that when the Feds get done with Tsarnaev he will also face Massachusetts charges for murder, including murder of a sworn officer...

I think this goes back to Obama's parroting of the term "terrorism" to describe this. He probably knows (or has been told that his legal team suspects) that these guys are not "terrorists" in the true sense of the legal definition of the term. But he has to use it to prevent being Benghazied by the wingnuts...

Syrbal/Labrys said...

Chief --yes, I, too am more afraid of fear than of danger. And besides, even if we class every pissed off murdering asshat who chooses something that goes "boom" over the typical killer with something that goes "bang" as a "terrorist" and then change our entire society into a horror of paranoia? Isn't that letting the terror win? Isn't that the start of a slide into darkness when light brought to the problem all around is the only faint chance of a real difference?

FDChief said...

Syrbal; In a word, yes. Which is why I said what I said to Lisa. If we change not just the way we congregate and celebrate and recreate but the way we think about all of those events and more, if we begin to construct a fortress-under-siege mindset in our nation and in our people...

(...or, to be just, in the majority of our people who don't already think that way, that is, the 27-percenters, the Limbaugh/Coulter/Beck Faux News-addled minority...)

...then we will have definitively left the building called "The American Dream". We will be something else; something that I would genuinely call a "profoundly sick society".

And where THAT would take us I have no idea. But I cannot imagine it being anywhere wholesome or good.

Lisa said...

Dear Chief,

"Yes" on the gnats-versus-camels focus. As we've discussed before, we really are living in fairly calm times, fewer murderous rampaging tyrants, etc. Current events are so spectacular largely because they are so aberrant.

I would not wish for us a "siege mentality"; the threat is surely not of that level. But if the TSA imposes that level of vigilance at the airport -- that we should watch out for unattended bags -- perhaps we should do the same at seminal events, like Olympics. We cannot see into every garbage can, of course, but we can notice when a person -- esp. a young man -- drops a nondescript backpack and walks away, we might take notice.

The Secret Service protects the President as he is a presumed target. Even though few of us will be targets, I do not think awareness of our surroundings is unwise.

Per the "profoundly sick society" observation, I suppose I was taking a more catholic worldview: we are a profoundly sick species. I want to say something about this in the next day or so. I feel it strongly both in the universal and the individual. This is not to deny nobility to humans, for we are capable of transcendence, too.

FDChief said...

"But if the TSA imposes that level of vigilance at the airport -- that we should watch out for unattended bags -- perhaps we should do the same at seminal events, like Olympics."

Perhaps, but, again, for every public gathering everywhere, like all these events in the pictures? Because, surely, there's a couple of hundred people at every one of them well within the lethal radius of a good-sized bomb.

In order to get the TSA-level of security you're describing you'd need...well, a TSA-level of inconvenience. Are we ready to do that for every street fair, every open-air market, every bike race?

And...should we? Do we want to become the sort of people who WANTS that?

I don't, but I'm willing to listen to the argument that I should...but the issues Labrys raises - that such a people will inevitably BECOME victims of a siege-mentality and begin looking for enemies if they cannot find them - seem more persuasive to me at the moment.

"...but we can notice when a person -- esp. a young man -- drops a nondescript backpack and walks away, we might take notice."

Sure...but, again, that requires a very definite 90-degree turn in people's thought processes; the assumption that putting down a package or a bag is inherently dangerous and an imminent threat.

And there we're back to the whole "siege-mentality" again.

Again; I don't want to say outright that this is a bad idea. But my thought would be that to sell me on it you'd need to;

1. convince me that there really IS a significant enough danger to justify what I consider the high risk of additionally polarizing our society - which I'm frankly not convinced of; exploding fertilizer and private firearms killed and injured more people last week than "islamic terrorism" - and

2. convince me that such steps and the resultant polarization wouldn't just result in increasing the militance of U.S. foreign policy abroad and thus ratcheting up the ACTUAL threat of terrorism, so as the domestic "security" level increases so does the inflammatory effects of an intensified "war on terror" both here and abroad and, in response, the motivation for the targets of our actions to attack us in response.

Lisa said...

You've hit the problem exactly of the possible downward spiral; restraint and reason is not one of our strong points.

I'm afraid we already are a terribly polarized and militarized society, and I can certainly see your concern that suggesting citizens monitor their surrounding would be just another nail in that coffin.

Of course, putting down a package or a bag is not an "inherently dangerous action" nor an "imminent threat". I suppose we shall just have to weather some more such events before people can decide for themselves if they wish to use due diligence.

Speaking only for myself, watching my surroundings will not make me more divided from my fellows, more martial in attitude or willing to enter foolish wars.

To me, it is simply sensible to realize that we have people with grudges, victimhood mentalities and mental illnesses of all stripes 'round us. Though it may be premature to suggest it, ISTM we are entering a heightened cycle of entitlement, shaky economies combined with a culture of ultra-violence, which makes us a just a little less safe.

I don't argue for paranoia, just common sense in possible threat environments. I s'pose it's the Smoky the Bear ideology combined with the Boy Scouts creed.

FDChief said...

Here's the thing, Lisa; try it. Go to a street fair, a Sunday market. And then try and pay attention to everyone who might be at threat.

That guy putting his shopping bag down? The woman in the hijab with the bulky thing under her shawl. The couple leaning their bikes against the wall over there...what's in the panniers?

I mean, you can do it. But it takes a hell of a lot of concentration, especially as the crowd gets bigger. AND it means that it's almost ALL you can do; if you look away for a moment that guy can slip the backpack into the trash can and walk away and you won't see it until the thing goes ka-blooey...

One of the reasons that the Army spoiled my hiking for many years is that I couldn't just relax and enjoy the woods. That movement was someone in ambush, that change in color wasn't a songbird but the muzzle of an RPD.

It's not that I don't understand what you're asking, it's just that I'm not sure you see the degree of difference between what we're used to doing in public - basically assuming that the people around us are benign and doing benign things - and "...use(ing) due diligence."

It's more than just a casual awareness of the people around us; it verges on the sort of constant alertness that gets PTSD guys in trouble; if you're primed to see any possible threat as a probable threat you react appropriately, right? Except that what's appropriate for Ramadi might be a massive over-reaction for Portland or Jacksonville...

If I thought that there was some way to get a LITTLE more "due diligence" that'd be one thing. But I suspect that it's like pregnancy; you don't get "a little bit".

Lisa said...

I do see your point ... is it effective to just be "a little" more observant? Certainly a lot is concealed in our democracy, and that is as it should be.

I am not sure we are in a moment which requires anything more than "carrying on", but that wonderful British poster ("Keep Calm and Carry On") was never employed, and people were running into the underground at every air siren. It sounded good, though.

When I initially heard of the Boston bombings, I thought the greatest concealment for the bomber would be a sports team sweatshirt with a backwards baseball cap, a dark hoodie or a hijab; I was right on one account. We don't want to look for fear of seeming not politically-correct, seeming too right-wing nutter or just too lax, so we carry on.

I think we should carry on, but also put our antennae up a little bit. I am reminded of almost being the victim of some dirty deed in a grocery store parking lot years ago.

I had an odd feeling going to the car -- quickened my pace -- and shut the door quickly and hit the lock. At that moment a quy was knocking on my window which was not completely rolled up (an old '74 VW Beetle, so it took some effort). Another guy jumped on my bumper.

My response (b/c I had game-played such a scenario with my mum) was to throw the car in reverse and exfiltrate. A more naive Lisa would have ... lowered the window? Who knows.

I'm not hypervigilant, but a certain awareness is helpful.

FDChief said...

Certainly. And I think we do tend to be more "aware" in places and times like that; late nights, deserted parking lots, "bad" parts of town.

The trouble is trying to monitor crowds at the sort of events in question. That's a nightmarish job, often beyond trained security people. The sort of hyperawareness you'd need for that would be exhausting; you'd be better off not attending...

I think that the WW2 example (and I did consider including that classic poster in the graphics for this post) is the best we can do. In a sense, the Tree of Liberty is gonna get watered with innocent blood now and then. But the alternative is to become that Fortress Society, and I'm not sure we'd really want that.

Lisa said...

Agreed -- we don't want a fortress society, and I don't trust the potential gatekeepers. The outrage and "Well, I NEVER!" attitude after the murderous events will grow a bit long in the tooth after a while and we will adjust to a new normal.

Many Southerners feel GWB and crew manifested the inevitable onset of "Rapture" (not in Blondie's sense.) Of course, we know it was entirely NOT inevitable, and what we have now is the unfortunate jabs of a beaten-down people who we are beating down (of are fellow travelers or sympathizers of those underdogs.)

Identity and pride require this Mobius strip.

Lisa said...

For the record:

Though I can speak of it with some minor fluency due to local exposure, I think the concept of the Rapture absolute insanity.