10 years ago, and 10 years on

by the Night Writer

Ten years ago I wasn’t blogging, but I was writing. On Sunday, September 16 I published the first essay below –  “When the Towers Fall” – in the monthly handout I prepared for our men’s ministry at church. It was based on my observations of the past few days and the role of faith and biblical understanding in those circumstances. A month later I followed up with a second essay, taking off from the words of a certain televangelist to examine the nature and purpose of judgment. I share these two essays below for a picture of that time. Later this week I’ll come back and share how I think things have – or haven’ t – changed for me and my nation in the intervening years.

When the Towers Fall

Ultimately, America’s secular façade crumbled even before its material symbols collapsed. I first turned on my radio – and heard the first words regarding Tuesday’s disaster – moments before the second tower was struck. The voices of the national news team were already urging Americans to pray for the safety of those involved. It sounded almost glib at first, but as the unreal became real and the horror increased by the minute, the references became more heartfelt, even desperate.

As our true helplessness and vulnerability became apparent, the call to pray was in every report and every story. And pray we did: alone, with our families, and in special services and vigils that themselves became news. All of this flying in the face of a culture and media that has said for years that faith and divine intervention are, at best, inappropriate if not impossible. It must have been like discovering that the kooky old aunt you’ve been keeping in the attic is the only one who knows where the family silver is buried.

But which is the true picture of America? Are we a secular society that merely pays lip service to faith when a crisis looms, or are we a nation of quiet faithful who allow ourselves to be cowed by society until circumstances give us a chance to break out? I know how our attackers would describe us.

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Now the TSA wants to reach into your wallet

by the Night Writer

Janet Napolitano is claiming that because the airlines have started charging bag fees, air travelers are carrying on more baggage, which is somehow costing the TSA extra money; so much so that she thinks her agency needs another $600 million or so. While inspecting more bags may take time away from the TSA’s preferred activities of ogling naked scans and crotch-groping, it isn’t clear to me how the carry-on situation is increasing the TSA’s costs.

1. Passengers are still limited, typcially, to one carry-on or one carry-on and a “personal item”. They are not suddenly bringing extra bags.

2. These bags may be more densely packed but there are still size limitations; there really is only so much you can jam in there.

3. Are the TSA agents charging by the bag, or are they paid hourly? If you work a shift aren’t you paid the same whether you check one bag or 100?

Methinks this is rent-seeking, pure and simple. I know, it’s hard to believe a government agency could do such a thing, but so far Frau Napolitano’s argument simply doesn’t scan.

I also had the opportunity to take a couple of flights this past week. Returning via Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, I shuffled through a narrow corridor to the x-ray machines at Security. A couple of guys about my age were in front of me and one asked the other if he knew whether this airport had the body scanners. The other guy didn’t, but asked his companion if he’d go through one or not. The first guy didn’t know.

I interjected, “I’m not going to go through a body scanner. The government can treat me like a criminal, but I’m not going to let them treat me like a guinea pig.” When the guys looked at me a little askance, I said “There’s no way they’ve had enough time to actually test out the health affects of those machines.”

“They’re supposed to be safe to use,” one of the guys said, a bit nervously.

“That’s what they said about Thalidomide, too,” I replied.

We shuffled on. There were no body scanners waiting at the end of the chute.

Lan astaslem

by the Night Writer

Pakastani Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbazz Bhatti was assassinated this week by radical Islamists over his opposition to the blasphemy laws. It was the second assassination in two months of a leading opponent of the blasphemy laws.

A Catholic, Bhatti’s life had been threatened many times since he accepted his office in 2008. He was undaunted in the face of these threats, honoring his faith and openly citing his desire to live up to the example of Jesus Christ. “Jesus is the nucleus of my life,” Bhatti said in 2008, after accepting the Minority Affairs portfolio, “and I want to be his true follower through my actions by sharing the love of God with poor, oppressed, victimized, needy and suffering people of Pakistan.”

In an interview with the freedom of expression group First Step Forum four months ago (and broadcast here, I believe, by Al Jazeera), he spoke of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus Christ made for the oppressed and that he understood “the meaning of the cross.” He vowed not to give in to the “dark forces” of extremism and said he was ready to lay down his own life for the sake of his fellow Christians and all other oppressed minorities in Pakistan.

Naturally, he was too dangerous to be allowed to live.


With the deep, unconscious sigh which not even the nearness of the telescreen could prevent him from uttering when his day’s work started, Winston pulled the speakwrite towards him, blew the dust from its mouthpiece, and put on his spectacles. Then he unrolled and clipped together four small cylinders of paper which had already flopped out of the pneumatic tube on the right-hand side of his desk.

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.

Winston examined the four slips of paper which he had unrolled. Each contained a message of only one or two lines, in the abbreviated jargon — not actually Newspeak, but consisting largely of Newspeak words — which was used in the Ministry for internal purposes. They ran:

page 25 – So I signed it and left. Miss Watson’s nigger, Jim …  rectify

page 68 – You know that one-laigged nigger dat b’longs to old Misto Bradish …  rectify

page 84 – But by night they had changed around and judged it was done by a runaway nigger named Jim … rectify

times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling

HTs: 1984. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New edition of “Huckleberry Finn to lose the ‘n’ word.

The Revolution has begun

by the Night Writer

“When just one man says, ‘No, I won’t,’ Rome began to fall.”

— Spartacus

I think just about everyone is aware by now that Homeland Security and the T&A — I mean, TSA — has decided that it can look at you naked or aggressively grope you as a prerequisite of flying from one place to another in the land of the free. With the new, so-called “Naked Scanners” TSA agents tell you to “assume the position” with your hands over your head as if you are already guilty of something. Then they irradiate your body from the front and back so they can see under your clothes to determine if you’re packing weapons, explosives or just a little too much of Grandma’s fruitcake.

Sure, you can “opt out” of sharing X-ray-ted imagesof yourself but if you do then  the snap of a rubber glove signals that you are now subject to what Big Sister Janet Napolitano calls an “enhanced pat-down”, or what we used to call a “feeling up”.  TSA agents used to do these with the backs of their hands but now they get to palm your inner thighs, crotch, butt-crack and breasts because that will really show the terrorists.  Seriously, just think about it: we’ve had to go along with taking off our shoes, our belts, chucking our shampoo and deodorant, and now we have to submit to being molested just to fly. No wonder that all the would-be airline suicide bombers since 9/11 have been stopped not by the TSA but by pissed-off passengers. As Napolitano says, “the system works.”

The Christmas Day Knicker-bomber incident (where the nut-job’s father tried to alert the U.S. government of his son’s radical affiliations but was ignored) proved that Homeland Security can’t handle information, so they’ve decided to “handle” everything else, and they’d sure appreciate your cooperation. As Napolitano wrote in an open letter to the people who pay her salary,  “We ask the American people to play an important part of our layered defense. We ask for cooperation, patience and a commitment to vigilance in the face of a determined enemy. We also ask that you turn your head and cough.” (Ok, I added a few words at the end.)

Signs are, however, that after years of progressively greater indignities the public is starting to push back. The airline pilots and flight attendants unions are protesting and now passengers are saying “you touch my junk and I’ll have you arrested.” That’s what ticketed passenger John Tyner said in San Diego the other day after “opting-out” of the Nude Scanner and being faced with a government “grip and grin”. He demurred, and also happened to record his experience with his cell-phone:

A supervisor is heard re-explaining the groin check process to Tyner then adding “If you’re not comfortable with that we can escort you back out and you don’t have to fly today.”

Tyner responded “OK, I don’t understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying.”

“This is not considered a sexual assault,” replied the supervisor, calmly.

“It would be if you were not the government,” said Tyner.

“By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights,” countered the TSA supervisor.

“I think the government took them away after 9/11,’ said Tyner.

“OK,” came the reply.

Mr. Tyner didn’t get to make his flight to South Dakota but he was able to upload the 30-minute audio of his encounter to YouTube.


Mr. Tyner’s decision to opt-out of the scanner treatment was based on concerns about radiation exposure. Big Sister assures us, however, that these concerns are unfounded. After all, the government has had  hours to test these machines and are confident that there are no short-term or long-term effects. Hey, if you can’t trust your government, who can you trust? Big Sister even says that Johns Hopkins has signed off on the safety of these scanners. Apparently, not everyone at John Hopkins got that memo, as described in this article, Naked Scanners At US Airports May be Dangerous: Scientists:

“They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays,” Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University school of medicine, told AFP.

“No exposure to X-ray is considered beneficial. We know X-rays are hazardous but we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner,” he said.

A group of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) raised concerns about the “potential serious health risks” from the scanners in a letter sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology in April.

Biochemist John Sedat and his colleagues said in the letter that most of the energy from the scanners is delivered to the skin and underlying tissue.

“While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high,” they wrote.

The scientists say the X-rays could pose a risk to everyone from travelers over the age of 65 to pregnant women and their unborn babies, to HIV-positive travelers, cancer patients and men.

“Men’s sexual organs are exposed to the X-rays. The skin is very thin there,” Love explained.

The Office of Science and Technology responded this week to the scientists’ letter, saying the scanners have been “tested extensively” by US government agencies and were found to meet safety standards.

But Sedat told AFP Friday: “We still don’t know the beam intensity or other details of their classified system.”

The high-handed actions of Homeland Security and the TSA have even led to calls by some for a National Opt-Out Day on Wednesday, November 24 where travelers are asked to “opt-out” of the scanner treatment and accept a public groping in order to demonstrate opposition to these unreasonable searches. As the Opt-Out Day website says:

It’s the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government’s desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an “enhanced pat down” that touches people’s breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner.  You should never have to explain to your children, “Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK.”

The goal of National Opt Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change.  We have a right to privacy and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we’re guilty until proven innocent.

If you can’t avoid flying on the 24th or  some other time, you might find this video helpful when someone comes up to you and says “I’m from the government and I’m here to grope you.”


Spend ’em if you’ve got ’em

by the Night Writer

The FDA will soon be mandating graphic anti-smoking warnings on packages of cigarettes, the result of a law passed last year giving the Feds authority to regulate marketing and labeling of tobacco products.
Cigarette graphic

Apparently the current anti-smoking efforts and warnings have only been able to reduce the number of smokers in the U.S. population to around 20%, a level that has held steady for the past several years. The thinking now is that gruesome, graphic images taking up half of the packaging on a pack of death sticks will gross the die-hards out. I already don’t have a desire to smoke so I don’t know how effective this might be, but apparently those pushing this measure think this will help until they’re able to pass a law requiring smokers to wear distinctive patches sewn on their clothes in order to make it that much easier to shun them.

If graphic photos are effective, though, then I’m excited about future possibilities. What if we were to put gruesome images on the front of everything dangerous? What if, for example, we were to require the cover page of every trillion-dollar deficit budget submitted to Congress to have a picture of, say, gutted Detroit or the Greek riots?

Abandoned Detroit

Greek riots


They may not take time to read the bill itself, but they’d at least see the cover. Do you think it might work?



Atlas Shrugs, PayPal blinks

by the Night Writer

On Sunday Powerline had a post about PayPal (an eBay company), the on-line money and commerce service, deciding that the popular conservative blog Atlas Shrugs was a hate site and subsequently informing it’s proprietor, Pamela Geller, that it was restricting her account last Friday. Atlas Shrugged isn’t on my list of sites I read regularly but I look in from time to time. Pamela even linked to me once back in the day. From what I’ve seen the site is dedicated to reporting on the violence and evil done in the name of Islam, but certainly hasn’t issued death threats, called for the execution or oppression of others or celebrated the actions of those who attack, shoot or blow-up people with different beliefs. Apparently, in PayPal’s eyes and in Powerline’s words, “truth is the new hate speech.”

Over the weekend, however, PayPal received a lot of calls, emails and forum commentary criticizing their decision. Monday afternoon Pamela was contacted by a PayPal executive who apologized for the mistake and lifted the restriction.

As many of you know, on Friday of last week, my paypal account was “restricted.” After a recent review of my account they said, “it has been determined” that I was “currently in violation of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy. Under the Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for items that promote hate, violence, racial intolerance or the financial exploitation of a crime.”

I posted it over the weekend and received over a thousand letters of support, hundreds of ccs of paypal account cancellations…….. the people spoke. Love that.

And so today, about an hour ago, a very pleasant and rather deliberately clueless executive called me from paypal to say it was all a big misunderstanding and Atlas would be reinstated (and the subsequent restriction of SIOA and FDI removed also).

Pamela asked the exec why her blog was designated a “hate” site, by whom and on what basis. The exec didn’t know. Why were aggressive Muslim sites such as the one that called for the deaths of Comedy Central executives, or one selling DVDs of the radical imam Anwar al Awlaki still allowed to be PayPal vendors? Not sure. Other answers were conciliatory but not illuminating or encouraging in the event others are accused of the same thing in the future. As a result, Atlas Shrugged is not going back to PayPal, and has already joined an alternative service, GPal (motto: “friendly payments”) and already has the GPal button up in its sidebar.

g-pal buy-now-buttons-small-donate

It’s all a simple misunderstanding

 by the Night Writer

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s attorney, Sam Adam, Jr., stated yesterday that Blago “didn’t take a dime” and simply trusted the wrong people. He went on to say that, “The guy ain’t corrupt” and that “not a single penny of ill-gotten money went into Mr. Blogojevich’s campaign fund or his own pockets.”

I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. In fact, I’m sure I’ve heard it explained before. Oh, right — it was all laid out in the musical, “Fiorello” that dealt with the break-up of the Tammany Hall machine. The song, “A Little Tin Box” explains it in a way so easy to understand that you’ll wonder why you never thought of it yourself:

JUDGE: Mister “X,” may we ask you a question?

It’s amazing, is it not,

that the city pays you slightly less

than 50 bucks a week,

yet you’ve purchased a private yacht?


WITNESS: I am positive Your Honor must be joking.

Any working man can do what I have done.

For a month or two I simply gave up smoking

and I put my extra pennies one by one…

into a Little Tin Box,

a Little Tin Box

that a little tin key unlocks.

There is nothing unorthodox

about a Little Tin Box.

In a Little Tin Box, a Little Tin Box

that a little tin key unlocks,

there is honor and purity,

lots of security,

in a Little Tin Box.


JUDGE: Mister “Y,” we’ve been told

you don’t feel well,

and we know you’ve lost your voice,

but we wonder how you managed,

on the salary you make,

to acquire a new Rolls Royce.


WITNESS: You’re implying I’m a crook and I say no sir!

There is nothing in my past I care to hide.

I’ve been taking empty bottles to the grocer,

and each nickel that I got was put aside…

into a Little Tin Box,

a Little Tin Box

that a little tin key unlocks.

There is nothing unorthodox

about a Little Tin Box.

In a Little Tin Box, a Little Tin Box

there’s a cushion for life’s rude shocks.

There is faith, hope and charity,

hard-won prosperity,

in a Little Tin Box.


JUDGE: Mister “Z,” you’re a junior official,

and your income’s rather low

yet, you’ve kept a dozen women

in the very best hotels.

Would you kindly explain, how so?


WITNESS: I can see Your Honor doesn’t pull his


and it looks a trifle fishy, I’ll admit,

but for one whole week I went without my lunches

and it mounted up, Your Honor, bit by bit…

It’s just a

Little Tin Box,

a Little Tin Box

that a little tin key unlocks.

There is nothing unorthodox

about a Little Tin Box.

In a Little Tin Box, a Little Tin Box

all a-glitter with blue-chip stocks,

there is something delectable,

almost respectable,

in a Little Tin Box!

It appears Mr. Adam will use an intesting line of defense that combines purity and sentience:

“You have to be comatose not to figure out how to get a dollar out of $52 billion,” Mr. Adam said, referring to the state budget. “But who didn’t? Him!” he said indicating his client.

Rent to ride

by the Night Writer

Last summer when we were in Barcelona we saw a lot of bike racks strategically placed around the city and near the beach, with each rack featuring small, distinctive red and white bikes bearing a “Bicing” logo. Bicing is the name of the municipal bike rental program in Barcelona where potential riders buy a one-year subscription via credit card – I believe it was 6 Euros at the time – and then receive a Bicing card that lets them unlock Bicing bikes at one of the kiosks. If they returned the bike to another kiosk within 30 minutes there was no charge, with longer rentals resulting in nominal costs being assessed to the Bicing-members credit card already on record. Similarly, if the bike was never returned, the replacement cost was billed to the credit card as well. I remember thinking the plan was kind of neat and might have even tried it on some of those leg-weary walking days if there had been a way to get a membership card quickly (they are mailed to you). I thought the idea had some merit in Barcelona where it is balmy pretty much year round, but I figured the climate of Minnesota made this idea a non-starter for the Twin Cities.

bicing 2


Apparently, I was wrong.

A program called Nice Ride MN is rolling out in Minnepolis this week that is very similar to the Bicing model I saw in Barcelona. As with Bicing, the memberships are pre-paid ($60/year) with credit cards as security and trips less than 30 minutes are free (keep it more than an hour and a half, though, and you’ll be billed $6/hour). The bikes are funky-looking but functional; blue and green here instead red and white, but not the kind of ride you’d likely want to steal other than for the sheer perversity of it. They are most definitely short-trip bikes, with smaller wheels and frames clearly not meant for cruising. As the Nice Ride MN site says:

Nice Ride bikes are designed for one job, short trips in the city by people wearing regular clothes and carrying ordinary stuff. All Nice Ride bikes are the same size, the only thing you may have to adjust is the seat, and it’s easy!

I can see them being especially popular around the Chain of Lakes (where biker/walker/jogger relations are already touchy), downtown and the University, though it appears from the program map that there just a couple of kiosks near Lake Calhoun and none around the other lakes. It cost $3.2 million to get this started with roughly a third of that coming from a donation from Blue Cross-Blue Shield, a third from the federal government and a third from the City of Minneapolis and various corporate donors.

More utopian versions of this concept have been tried here before, such as the infamous “White Bike” program in Minneapolis. Here white bikes were left around the city with the idea that people would use the bikes as needed and then leave them for other people to use. Of course, those bikes soon disappeared or were trashed. This latest version addresses that with the credit card subscriptions and billing.

Oh, and forget about using these bikes in the winter — they’ll be removed from the streets and the program shut down December through March (your annual subscription is actually more like an 8-month subscription).

Personally, I think that if this was a truly great idea then some private company would have come up with the plan and the capital. Instead, the government with some private help is funding it and while I might like the same money to go to, say, fixing pot-holes, I suppose you could classify it as an amenity that makes the city more “liveable”. It will be interesting to see how expensive the program is to maintain and administer and how people here respond. The Barcelona Bicing program began in 2007 and the bikes we saw last year all looked to be in good shape but I have no idea how often a bike has to be repaired or replaced. I might even consider using the program myself if I had such a need in the downtown area, though I’m afraid that design and colors of the bikes, along with my physique, might cause people to think a bear had just escaped from the circus.

Hey, kids!

by the Night Writer

Dudes…are you discouraged because those adult-sized condoms are too big? Well, you don’t have to let it affect your self-esteem any longer! Unfortunately, you have to live in Switzerland, though, where a company is now offering kiddie condoms:

At first glance, the Ceylor Hotshot condom might appear similar to others in the market.

But this smaller-sized condom, thus far marketed only in Switzerland, is designed to deal with the specific problem of teenage pregnancy and the spread of disease among boys as young as 14.

Nysse Norballe, a spokeswoman for Swiss condom manufacturer Lamprecht AG, said the company was approached by the AIDS awareness organization AIDS-Hilfe Switzerland with the idea to produce and market a condom for a younger age group.

The organization “had carried out many studies which found that a lot of young people — i.e. teenagers — had trouble finding a suitably sized condom,” she said. “They needed a smaller-sized condom and asked us if we could manufacture it.”

Norballe disagreed with the idea that the new condoms would increase rates of teen sex.

“We are not advocating that young people have sex,” Norballe said. “But you cannot prevent young people from having sex. Whether our condom is on the market or not, young people will have sex. At least our condom will create some awareness about protecting oneself.”

So, you can’t stop kids from having sex. Yet we’ve arbitrarily established that kids younger than 16 aren’t mature enough to drive a car. Given the death tolls among young drivers due to lack of experience and judgment, some states are even floating the idea of raising the driving age to 18. Somehow or another, though, we manage to keep the vast majority of under-16 kids from driving even though just about every family has at least one car sitting around. If, however, there’s an outbreak of 13 and 14-year-olds driving and dying are we going to give in and say, “how are you going to stop them?” and begin offering driver’s ed to middle-schoolers? Come to think of it, they’re already building Smart Cars just their size.

By the same token, we probably can’t keep them from drinking and driving, either, so maybe we should have classes on how to hold their liquor? For that matter, I’m tired of all the teenage gang-bangers shooting innocent by-standers while they try to kill each other. Why don’t we start teaching fire-arms safety and proper target acquisition and aiming techniques in schools to save lives? Do it for the children! I can definitely see making some of these young bravos stay after class to write 500 times on the chalkboard, “I will not hold my semi-automatic sideways when shooting. I will not hold my semi-automatic sideways when shooting. I will not…”

As a society we understand that young people don’t have the maturity and decision-making skills to drive, drink (and even vote) and have laws to restrict this; yet in the area of sex we act as if we’re helpless.