Friday, October 30, 2009


The following is an LAPD PSA video for their iWatch program.

Ever read Orwell's 1984? Seen the movie? Danced nekkid in yer bay window, worried the neighbor's think you're doing it on purpose? Fackin' mind readers, ain't they?

The intent of iWatch is ostensibly good: have as many eyes-n-ears tuned in so terrorists (and wannabes) can‘t slip under the radar. If you look at the website, actual suspicious behaviors are listed (For example: “People drawing or measuring important buildings. Strangers asking questions about security or building security procedures.”) and had someone been doing that when Timothy McVeigh was in Oklahoma City…. But let’s face at least this fact: most people are too damned lazy to get beyond the PSA and look at what behaviors might be deemed “suspicious,” so the potential for abuse by even well-intentioned citizens is very real…especially in Post-9/11 America….

It's not the intent of iWatch--it’s the execution that causes me concern….

I’m not going to use Tilting to tell too many war stories or talk much about my job (that’s what memoirs are for, eh?), but I happen to be a cop; yet, the very thought of a program like this (much less its implementation) sends shivers up, down and across my spine such that all the Guinness I can hold won't calm because the cop on the street represents the first line of defense for civil liberties. (The fact some officers don’t live by that is another matter.) But when something like this pops up--something that explicitly asks you to watch your neighbors, look for “suspicious activity“ even though you haven‘t been trained--it gives the kooks, idiots, Chicken Littles, abusive exes, stalkers and even well-intentioned citizens legitimate cover to use the police to bother someone only because something “looks” odd.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called out because a breathless caller wanted police to check out someone in the neighborhood, only to find out the suspicious behavior was something not at all suspicious, but based on the caller’s own panic (which I can accept) or bigotry (which I cannot). The worst example, in brief: I was sent to check out someone lingering in a neighborhood one afternoon the caller thought was “suspicious,“ a very common call. I checked the area and found no one, so I spoke to the caller to see what exactly said person was doing that seemed “suspicious.” She said (quoting, here), “He’s black.”

I blinked, and busted out the patented, “WTF?” look on my face. (For those unfamiliar: I arch my right eyebrow, squint my left eye (LEFT ONLY!), and lower my face slightly and fifteen degrees to the left. It’s like a slightly horrified/mildly amused free range Mona Lisa as performance art.)

I asked for clarification as to the actual behavior that made her “suspicious” and she said, “Well, he’s black and he was just standing there.” (An aside: this is where I called in I was going on break, took off the badge, grabbed the nearest red herring and slapped her about the face and shoulders ‘til I gots bored--at least that’s what I did in my mind.) I blinked at her…then, I turned and left. Surely, even a mouth-breathing Twinkie repository like that felt the “ARE YOU FUCKIN’ KIDDING ME!?!” was understood and needed not be spoken….

This country was founded on many principles, but the most basic (and the one from which all the rest flow) is this: each of us has the right to be left alone, unless we’re causing harm to the rights of others. That includes freedom from unsubstantiated suspicion, freedom from being subjected to increased scrutiny for what someone “thinks” another “might” be doing.

For all the panicked talk the Ridic(k)ulous Right throws out about “fer’ners” and “mooslims” and linking Islam directly and inexorably to terrorism, it’s not hard to see how brain-stemmers would translate iWatch to mean iWatch fer Fer’ners. (Didja miss the big-eyed cutie saying “I watch my America.”?) And in this country, we don’t hassle people for something they might do…well, ideally, we don’t do that…there was a time we didn‘t do that. Combine iWatch with panic, toss in a metric shit-ton of Beck-fueled paranoia and jingoism, a dash of bigotry, mix well….

I'm not saying turn a blind eye; I'm saying let's not sacrifice a little liberty for a little security.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bay window to install….

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Journey From Angry Young Man to Old Man Yelling @ Clouds, or; What a Long Strange Trip It Continues to Be

My journey started innocently enough: I plopped outta me mum and began ranting immediately, as I saw the doctor was inappropriately dressed for the occasion. More mewling followed, until I discovered "Language." After that, I waxed rhapsodic on many a topic, my soapbox-of-choice being a rather ungainly and (in hindsight) rickety set of unusually tall monkey bars. Then...the discovery of my true super power: Swearing Mightily!

I was quite the Angry Young Man for a long (some would say, "too long") time. But as the realization of Mortality has set in, I realize what a difficult, strange journey I am on, like the rest, begging the question: how does one transition from AYM to Old Man Yelling at Clouds?

It reminds me of the time I sailed across Lake Superior on a dinghy the size of a very large shoe (why anyone thought to name that lake "Superior" is beyond me, as there are several examples of better in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including a charming, though smaller, example just outside the Fon Du Lac area named for a once proud, though little remembered by history (due to the horribly racist policies of the Jackson administration) Native American tribe, though the name escapes me now as easily and completely as did the rascally cod I tried to wrangle on Day 3 of my excursion...but I digress and wax further rhapsodic....)

Anyway, t'was early on in my water-board adventure when I stumbled upon--rather, nearly sailed over--a merchant marine floating on what can only be described as a pile of rubbish loosely bound together by what appeared to be strands of his own hair. He was resplendent in his own way: well-worn boots that had clearly seen soil from Jakharta, Tripoli, Bangladesh, and more than a few Seattle night clubs at the height of grunge; pants and shirt from an ancient Sears collection; a long, scruffy beard that popped out in every direction from his jaw, complimented by an unusually thin, wispy mustache he must have gotten from his mother's side; no hair could be seen as it was apparently tucked away under a disconcertingly jaunty red wool cap. As I barely steered clear of this unusual sight, this man began swearing at me in the most profane, yet creative, of ways. (He was obviously the Shakespeare of sailor-talk.) Called into question were the following (though not necessarily in this order as his obscene observations looped back over themselves numerous times): my character; my mother's moral certitude and chastity; my father's ability to pick out healthy cattle; my sister's ability in the art of love; the size of my dinghy, and; the legitimacy of my birth.

As I sailed ever further away from this Tasmanian Devil of a Tourette's-afflicted example of the basest human creature ever to straddle a piece of flotsam, I was so stunned I could barely make reply. Finally, my days as Captain of the debate team at a famously prestigious university I need hardly mention (though, if you are interested, I shall send my CV for your perusal) came to bear and serve me well as I crafted the most succinct, cutting, and concise comeback in the history of history. I steeled myself again' the waves of the lake (again, not exactly "Superior," but they presented a challenge to me yet-to-be-developed sea legs, as this was early in my adventure, as I said), put one foot 'pon the edge of my craft, and replied:

"Go bloviate yerself!"

Judging by his stunned silence, I can only conclude it was the first exposure to bloviation as witty rejoinder of which he'd ever been the target.