Screenshot from HBO's magnificent "Band of Brothers."

TODAY: interminable screediness about The Whistleblower & Free Speach. Also weather.

It ended quickly: glorious one day and dank the next. For the last week we’ve had temps in the 80s, a long unbroken string of weather so perfect you think you’ve gone to heaven without the messy dying part. Sometimes fall is just glimpsed from behind a car window; it’s cold and wet, and while the colors are nice the nip in the air feels like a chain around your neck yanking you towards winter. But to have the colors erupt the same week the air turns warm again - this boon is rare. “And it was like this for two months in DC,” my wife sighed as we walked to the park, Gnat in the wagon, Jasper sniffing ahead.

“True. But you’re going to go to the grocery store after the park, right? And you’re going to get in the car, drive six blocks, get the stuff, drive home. As opposed to going two blocks up Connecticut to get the car out of the garage, driving north to the Giant in the burbs, driving home, parking in the back, getting the groceries up the elevator, into the apartment, then taking the car back to the garage and walking back to the apartment.”

I had here there, I did. She’s right, though; DC falls were beautiful. I did like the weather; even the punishing summers. But when fall is good in Minnesota it’s like no where else, and it prepares you for winter. There comes that day when all the leaves are gone - raked, bagged, carted away. The trees stand empty. Summer seems half a world away. Yesterday was sunny; today is gray. Then the first cold front rolls in, slays the mums, frosts the lawn, whistles down the chimney and signals the reign of the new season. Every other season unfolds like an orchestra tuning up, a sound you realize became a melody without you noticing it. Winter comes at once. Winter is a C Major chord, fortissimo, across five octaves.

But not yet.

Gnat’s away for the night on a sleepover. Wife’s away for the night on an all-gal retreat. “Have fun syncing your menstrual cycles!” I shouted as they went down the stairs. Just me and Jasper, and just as well; lots of work to do. Book stuff. Lots of book stuff. Last night Gnat and I ate pizza, read books, played in the back yard, enjoyed the last good day; when she went to bed I reminded her that if she stayed in bed all night she’d get a packet of Mickey Snacks in the morning.

Five AM. I roll over. There’s a small child in the bed.

“Actually, daddy,” she said, “I don’t need any Mickey snacks.”

Whatever. Snnnxxxxxx. Up this morning to ballet class at the local community center - 15 little girls, most of which had identical haircuts and pink dance outfits. Just charming.

Okay. Indulge me. Or not. Haven't done this in a while, but this one got my goat.

In Sunday's Strib, under an illustration that shows an American flag with the words “Free Speach” (If the misspelling is intentional, I’m not sure what it means) we have this promising opening:

“I didn’t attend Attorney General John Ashcroft’s speech last month in Minneapolis, but newspapers have quoted him ass saying that Americans are “freer today than at any time in the history of human freedom.

“Well, this American disagrees!”

You know what’s going to follow, don’t you? Yards and yards of specific examples?! Photos of the holding pens! Letters written in blood on toilet paper from the jails where they took those nice old ladies who protested at the courthouse! The smuggled text of a polemical novel - One Day in the Life of Alec Baldwin - that rips the mask off this police-state of ours! Right?

Alas, no: it’s the usual goulash. But it has an unusual pedigree. This American writing this piece is Colleen Rowley, the famous FBI whistleblower. What she writes is rather revealing - but not for reasons she perhaps intends.

Let’s continue.
“This American disagrees!” she says. “And I would venture to say that many other feel on the same way - those who have been put on the ‘Them’ side of the ‘use vs. them’ equation in the context of the administration’s ‘you’re either with us or against us’ mentality.”

Your eyebrow might now be assuming Basic Spock Position #23 - mild curiosity. Has Ms. Rowley just admitted that she harbors and / or supports terrorism, and thus is within the camp of nations who chose to oppose the Administration’s fight against Al Qaeda and other forms of militant Islamic fascism? I mean, she’s referring to a specific line in a specific SOTU speach, which referred explicitly to other nations. But specifics don’t count when you’re parsing the edicts that flow from a “mentality.” If the President puts Syria and Libya on notice, surely he also hopes to send a message to Iowa school teachers.

“It didn’t matter whether you were a career FBI agent, a decorated war veteran, a duly elected congressman or senator, a military general or even a former president, you were labeled a traitor for voicing any criticism of administration policies.”

She forgot Bill Maher, who as far as I know is still nailed to the cross at Golgotha; will someone please pry him down? He has an HBO show to tape.

Google “Colleen Rowley traitor” and you’ll find zero hits of any relevance, although I did find a blog that called Zell Miller “either an idiot or a traitor” for opposing increases in fuel efficiency. Traitors! The country’s lousy with ‘em.

“You were accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, called a friend of Osama bin Laden, and thrown to the wolves (or more accurately, the FOXes.)”

(Polite laughter. Hey, it’s her first time at open-mike night.)

“The intimidation in this country that’s been whipped up by this official fear and warmongering has been far more effective that any Patriot Act in whittling away our civil liberties.”

And yet she dares to write the lead guest edit on the front page of the most widely-read newspaper in town, on the day with the biggest circulation. How she got past the guvment sharpshooters in the book depository across the street from the Strib I’ll never know. Hell, those boys have been eager to ping someone since Ruby Ridge.

She warns of Dark Consequences:

“. . . no ‘whistle-blower protection; exist for public disclosures or articles such as this one. But even without it, the First Amendment should suffice and is what I rely on. However, the official warnings along these lines that I’ve repeatedly received in the course of my attempts to speak on issues of public importance seem little more than veiled threats; or are they perhaps a warning that the First Amendment is not as robust as it used to be?”

Or perhaps your superiors realized that your rhetoric is sloppy, tendentious, jejune and banal, and they think - correctly - that this reflects on your employer, the FBI. If I started making speeches at Klan rallies, I think my employer might have a word with me. I’d be asked to choose. I could have my First Amendment right to make an idiot of myself, or I could continue to represent the newspaper.

No, they’re not analogous situations, but I do have a certain public profile that’s bound up with my employer’s rep, and Rowley is in the same position. In any case, let’s remind ourselves: she wrote the article, the article ran, she got to put her thumb in the eye of whoever gave her the “official warning” and the chances that she’ll be fired are about as likely as Mulder and Scully getting a top-floor office with a corner window. She’s COLLEEN ROWLEY, for heaven’s sake. She was a sainted WHISTLEBLOWER who told us how the FBI dropped the ball on the hijackers. Now, the fun part:

“There’s another large segment of our citizenry who have found themselves cast as ’thems’ by this ‘war’ mentality.”

9/11. Afghanistan. Iraq. And she puts war in scare quotes. Any guess who this “large segment” might be?

“Complaints of discrimination against Muslim workers and reports of hate crimes against people believed to be of Middle Eastern descent have at least doubled.”

No sources, but none necessarily; it’s a given, isn’t it? Bubba done got himself all angered up ‘bout the ragheads, and that’s why all those mosques went up in flames. I’ve read many stories that inflate or deflate the numbers; Malkin has this and this, judge for yourself. CBS said this in 03:

"Hate crimes surged last year against people of Islamic faith and those of Middle Eastern ethnicity in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the FBI reported Monday.

Incidents targeting Muslims, previously the least common involving religious bias, increased from just 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001 — a jump of 1,600 percent. However, anti-Jewish attacks still led the category."

No doubt because of the Administation’s pro-Christer “You’re either against us or goyim” policy. We continue:

“Social psychologists say that the attacks of Sept. 11 and their aftermath have created a real-world experiment which unfortunately indicates that the more positively one feels about the United States, the more likely one is to be anti-Arab.”

This is incoherent. Start to finish, this is drivel. “Social psychologists say.” Who? Where? When? What exactly is a social psychologist, anyway? Is this some sort of hard science, or a high-toned name for people sitting around in college offices drawing conclusions about a nation of 260 million people by reading New York Times editorials? “(The attacks) have created a real-world experiment” - is there a control -group nation out there? Was Canada given a placebo? “ . . . which unfortunately indicates that the more positively one feels about the United States, the more likely one is to be anti-Arab.”

Unfortunately. Turn it around: “Fortunately, the more negatively one feels about the United States, the more likely one is to be pro-Arab.” Sound better? Perhaps it’s not a matter of being anti-Arab, but being opposed to those groups and nations and sects that seem to spend most of their time leaping up and down and demanding that we let them kill all the Jews so they’ll be buff and limber when it’s time to kill the Christians.

I don’t know. Since she doesn’t cite anything, it’s hard to know how the question or conclusions were framed. I do know that I am no more “anti-Arab” than I am “anti-brother-in-law-who’s-a-Frenchman” because his government spent the last two years throwing wrenches in our gears. At the risk of sounding like one of those trogs who dwells in a cave, shouts UGH when a strange clan shows up and waves monkey femurs, and must wait 75,000 years before Nuance is discovered, I’ll admit to being anti-enemy. At present, that enemy consists mostly of lunatic Islamic fundamentalists, many of whom are Arab. So? Before I was anti-Soviet. Didn’t mean I hated Russians.

It’s the ideology, stupid.

But why do they hate us? She knows:

“Although it must be recognized that the origin of this problem was in the horror of the violent attacks themselves and that certain government leaders, such as FBI Director Robert Mueller, have undertaken efforts to reach out to affected Arab groups,”

(deep breath; one only wonders how that read before it was edited)

“ . . . the social scientists point to other government actions following 9/11 (including the government’s roundup and detention of illegal immigrants, the special registration requirements that single out students and visitors from Muslim nations, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) as sending ‘social signals’ that are worsening these biases.”

To repeat: an FBI Special Agent is warning us that requiring Saudi students to register sends a “social signal” that enflames the biases that were intensified because . . . because . . . because . . .

Because a bunch of Saudis on student visas came here, killed three thousand Americans?

To repeat: an FBI Special Agent is warning us that arresting and detaining illegal immigrants sends a bias-worsening message to Americans.

To repeat: an FBI Special Agent tells us that the Afghan and Iraqi campaign send these horrid “social signals.”

To repeat: an FBI Special Agent.

“A specialist in the issues of prejudice and stereotyping has noted that people who perceive themselves under threat -”

Stop right there. Stop. Nevermind that we’ve just had another unnamed expert floated past, another member of the faculty of shades and spirits she summons for this colloquy (Oh, great, now I’ll be accused of calling her a witch, as well as a traitor.) People who perceive themselves under threat? I went to Ground Zero last week. I did not perceive myself as missing two buildings. They were gone, and that’s a fact whether I perceive it or not.

“ - naturally tend to think of ‘who’s with me’ and ‘who’s against me.’ In any event, I doubt that many in the Arab-American segment of the population feel ‘freer today’ as Ashcroft’s generality suggests.”

An utter non sequitur, that. First of all, Ashcroft’s “generality” certainly applies to Arab-Americans. What did he say, according to Ms. Rowley? Americans are “freer today than at any time in the history of human freedom.”

Find me one moment in the history of the Middle East in which an Arab had all the rights he has in America today.

I you take the paragraph seriously, however, it seems to imply that Arab-Americans are feeling less free, thanks to the actions of the government; this would suggest they might perceive themselves as "Under threat,” and that they would then naturally think “who’s with me” and “who’s against me,” and thus gravitate towards some sort of ethnic solidarity that opposes the United States government.

Is that what she’s suggesting?

Of course not. But it’s telling that she doesn’t even seem to recognize the implications of her own inconsistencies. Now, the killer quote:

“I could go on in a more general, abstract way . . . .”

Ma’am. If you were any more abstract you’d make Jackson Pollock look like Watteau.

“ . . . about how ‘Free’ any of us truly is living with the ongoing terrorist threat that will be with us for a long time.”

Spare me the metaphysics. We’re still a free people. Just because someone the FBI ignored detonates a bomb in Times Square doesn’t mean the people killed weren’t living free lives right up to the moment when the murderer pushed the button. To say that the threat of terrorism somehow itself curtails freedom is to say that no one in the West was free because the Soviets had nuclear-armed subs a few hundred miles off the coast.

“For, distilled to their essences, security and liberty are very intertwined, if not the same thing.”

It’s going to be hard to shave around the lump on my jaw I just got when it slammed the floor at Mach 2. If John Ashcroft said “Security and liberty as the same thing” these people would dump lunch in their drawers.

Security and liberty are like beer and TV. They go well together, but they are completely different concepts. Pyongyang is very secure, for example. A Wild West town at sundown after the sheriff had been shot had liberty bustin’ out all over.

“In that sense, how many people in yellow/orange alert America feel ‘freer’ today than they did prior to 9/11?”

This is like asking whether someone felt healthier before they got a cancer diagnosis after a routine lung X-ray. But to answer the question: I feel just as free as I did before. More so, really. I used to hate watching my bags go through the metal detector, and watch the bored sleepy eyes of the screener send my electrical devices, batteries, wires and flasks through without another look. Now my bags are studied intently; I have to turn everything on; my checked luggage is X-rayed. Thank God. In this sense I feel somewhat more free, since the anxiety of travel aloft is mediated by greater security on the ground. And that, like so many other examples of newly deployed antennae, is a result of the attack on New York and Washington.

As for being free to speak my mind about this, let me tell you the number of times any of my employers - a news service, a newspaper, a magazine, and a book publishing house - have told me what I should write, or should not:

Zero. But you knew that. In their guts, I think most of the Rowleys know that.

Deep breath; another Rowley freight train is about to rumble past:

“Ashcroft may be correct on other matters, including that the letter of the law contained in the Patriot Act is, for the most part, not the problem -”

So the reason for this piece is . . . ?

“ - but he is certainly either in denial, out of touch or painting far too rosy a picture by saying that Americans are ‘freer today than at any time in the history of human freedom.’ For our civil liberties can be and are in jeopardy in other ways.”

Can be? Well, sure. Always. Nature of the beast. Are? A heady assertion to make after an utterly fact-free piece. Look: it’s quite possible to be the freest society in human history and still have, shall we say, problems with the details. The United States was one of the freest places on earth while it was shoving Japanese-Americans into detention camps. That deplorable act didn’t diminish other freedoms enjoyed by the majority, who had rights and privileges that exceeded the experience of 99.9% of humanity up to that point. Didn’t mean the internment was right, just as the internment didn’t mean that elections in wartime weren’t legitimate and true. Shades of gray, Special Agent; shades of gray.

Big finish, in which we learn how to solve the problem. You know, the problem the piece has been talking about, the problem of . . . of Fox News calling Bill Clinton a traitor.

“For starters, we must do more to break down the ‘us vs. them’ mindset and the accompanying intimidation that ultimately threaten us all. We must recognize that we are all in this together.”

This would have been a smashing conclusion - if one suspected that she could define “us,” “them” and “we.”

I’m unsure she could even define what “this” is.

I repeat: Special Agent.

Of the FBI.

You still have the liberty to call her a fool. That may or may not make you feel more secure.

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