There is a curious contrast between the macho, muscular martial grimacing images that are usually trotted out to promote and recruit for the military branches and in fictional representations of our protectors and guardians against terror, aggression and other threats to our “American way of life,” and the slight, epicene, almost frail frames and pasty visages of the now most famous self-recruited “protectors” of the fundamental Constitutional foundations of that life. GI Joe, a la Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Chuck Norris (who were only shot at by Paneflex cameras) versus Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden.
America has long been fed the former as models of the “heroic,” made all but iconic in the swagger of John Wayne in films (he also only “served on Hollywood back lot battlefields) and in countless cop shows, with tough-guy imitators like “bring ‘em on” George W. Bush and serial draft dodge Dick Cheney getting others to do their fighting and dying for them.
Bradley Manning dodged a bullet. His government went after him on a charge of “aiding the enemy,” in effect, treason, but a sentence that could have got him the rest of his life in a prison cell. The government has a bunch of other charges on which they did convict him, and on which the judge has yet to render sentence. He still might end up spending most or all of his life in prison. Manning already has put a good idea of what that might be like, given that he has already done a substantial amount of time isolated in solitary confinement, before he was ever brought to trial.
Many commentators have remarked that the government overreached itself in going for the “aiding the enemy” indictment. But even though they failed there has been what can be called “a chilling effect” on anyone else considering leaking such information to the press and the public, knowing that the government is prepared to go for the highest penalties for such behavior. Put that together with what we now know from the disclosures made by Edward Snowden, and attempts by the government to go after journalists for information about their sources, and the chilling effect cools things down a little further.
Now the average person probably does not feel the chill. The average person does not have access to information and documents that might expose activities of government to embarrassment, and international disapproval. (This is not to say that our government can’t be pretty damn embarrassing right out in the open.) The average person might not feel that the collection and mining of data from their phones and email is likely to put them in some sort of legal jeopardy. The average person, following the exposure of such activities by the NSA, putatively on the basis that such collection of data about our own citizenry is necessary in order to “protect” them, has not felt inclined to grab their pitchforks and rush the NSA building outraged that a Frankenstein’s monster of governmental surveillance has been created in the name of national security. Let’s face it: too many “average” Americans are unquestioning of their government or feel it is outright unpatriotic to do so.
That is where I depart from the average citizen; see for example, if you not already seen them, the following postings relevant to the subject. [See Archives Nos. 83.7, 83.8, and 83.9]. They are also relevant to where I’m going with this posting. Where I’m going with this is that even someone like myself, a rather harmless emeritus professor with, as some say, “too much time on his hands,” a computer, Internet access, and some pretty strong liberal, progressive, secular humanist opinions, does not want to be bridled by “average-ness” when it comes to the exercise of his citizenship. Even though I don’t approve of how it has been twisted, distorted and perversely interpreted, I like this country’s Constitution and Bill of Rights. As a professor, lecturer and writer I especially like the First Amendment.
Occasionally, I have asked my government for some money, to assist in research, publication, or for fellowships to teach abroad. As a professional urban planner I was the recipient of governmental funds at various levels of government. But recently a friend who was writing a letter of recommendation on my behalf to a Federal agency and also happens to be a reader of these pages asked me whether I had any concerns and opinions I have expressed about my government and people occupying positions of authority in it might be detrimental to my application. I confess that such a thought had crossed my mind, but dismissed it with the confidence that Dragon City Journal is not included in presidential daily briefings or memos in the CIA or NSA. I am not a voice in the wilderness; when I think of my government I am a voice shouting at a wilderness. I have expressed opinions in these pages about not only my disagreements with many aspects of both foreign and domestic policy, but also, in recent postings, about governmental surveillance of American citizens amounting to, in my opinion, unnecessary invasions of privacy.
I, of course, am responsible for any opinions that I post and make available on the Internet. I eschew Facebook and Twitter and Wiener like behavior, but I also operate under the assumption that there is something left to my First Amendment rights. Nevertheless, and this is Chill Point No. 1, if something gives you pause, it gives you a chill; that I had the thought that my opinions my prejudice my application was a chill.
Then, while working on my website I stumbled on a disturbing anomaly; someone apparently had hacked into one of my pages in a piece that I had posted on the new Pope and changed the link that I had included to an article about the Pope’s statement on atheists and substituted a link to a porn site. Anyone, and perhaps you, reader, who clicked on that link would have wondered just what I was up to. The hacker was probably trying to make me look silly (something I prefer to do on my own) but ironically linking the Roman Catholic Church to pornography is not much of a stretch at all by my reckoning. In any case, the link has been corrected, and hopefully be portal of accessibility has been sufficiently plugged up, and I am left to wonder what kind of diet or mode of upbringing creates these cowardly asshole hackers who don’t have the balls to attack other than from the shadows of anonymity. Nevertheless, it’s because a bit of a chill, No. 2.
Finally (or I hope finally), there was one of those unsolicited phone calls that we all get now that these annoying sleaze bags have found their way around the now defunct “do not call” listings. This one is, which I shouldn’t have answered since my phone indicated it was a private number, was from a woman who told me that she had information that my computer had a virus. Normally, I would of just slammed the phone down, especially as this woman was having trouble disguising an Indian subcontinent accent and I could hear somebody ordering chicken korma in the background. But I held on those that phone a bit longer because the memory of chilled number two was still lingering in my mind and could there be the possibility of a connection. So I let her go on a bit despite her unwillingness to tell me the name of her company, or indicate how she had come by this information about my computer. My anger finally boiled over when she told me that my “Windows operating system” had been compromised. “You just blew it, bitch*,” I responded and hung up on chill No. 3.
So it pisses me off when I learn that my own government, the one that alleges that it is out to protect my rights while abrogating them, could possibly be sifting through my personal data in a manner that could (I am not saying that it would) prejudice it against me, and could be just one more hacker that I have to concern myself about when I am expressing my First Amendment rights, and certainly does not protect me even from some lying sleazebag business run out of a boiler room in Bombay.
Manning, Assange, and Snowden might not fit the macho model of heroism we have been fed by mass media and our government, but they have literally put their freedom, if not their lives, on the line to disclose truths and expose lies we have a right to know and information we need to know about if we are to remain free. They sure as hell are closer to heroes than Bush or Cheney could ever be and, have more courage than a dozen Bushes or Cheneys could ever have. And that goes for Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Chuck Norris, too.
©2013, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 8.8.2013)
*Now I realize that I have just used an improper form of address to females that makes me sound politically incorrect. But be assured I have comparable expletives for unsolicited male callers. I regard them as intruders, which makes then subject to my extensive scatological arsenal and unfettered political incorrectness. I also realize that the woman I just intentionally insulted probably would rather be doing some other form of work, and better remunerated as well, than calling me from the middle of her night from some Buddha, Shiva, or Allah-forsaken town in India. It’s a cruel world that can turn someone of such an avowable sweet and kindly disposition as yours truly into a nasty piece of work.