Tag Archives: terrorism

619. The Crash Heard Round the World

Two days ago on the news, a Tesla driver was caught on camera asleep at the wheel on a freeway. We all got to see him snooze, then eventually got to see him jerk awake. Chit-chat ensued. One talking head said, “Someday sleeping at the wheel will probably be legal and safe.” Another replied, “Not in my car!”

When I was ten years old, everybody knew that men would never walk on the moon. In the subsequent decades, the public’s default position on what science plans to do has switched from can’t to can. The public isn’t any smarter; they’ve just changed their prejudices.

Driverless cars have been around for a long time in science fiction. Here is page 2, paragraph 1 of Methuselah’s Children by Heinlein, first published in 1941.

Mary had no intention of letting anyone know where she was going. Outside her friend’s apartment she dropped down a bounce tube to the basement, claimed her car from the robopark, guided it up the ramp and set the controls for North Shore. The car waited for a break in the traffic, then dived into the high-speed stream and hurried north. Mary settled back for a nap.

Good fun in ’41, but no one would have expected to see it happen this soon. Even science fiction aficionados might have said 2119, or maybe 2219, yet here we are, on the brink.

In 1941, the world was very different. Heinlein might imagine driverless cars, but he never imagined something else that is now part of our world — computer hacking.

Hang on, folks, I’m going to make a prediction.

At a near future date every car on the highway will be driverless. The old curmudgeons like me who wouldn’t even trust cruise control will all be dead, mostly from auto crashes with drivers who did trust cruise control. The text-and-drive crew will have won the battle of the public consciousness. Science will have proved that humans are inferior to computers in driving, and science will be right because it will be comparing computers to the text-while-driving generation. Human drivers will be outlawed as unsafe — which they will be.

Driverless cars will talk to each other and to central control, adding another layer of safety to the whole enterprise. Central control will be heavily protected against hacking, for obvious reasons. Science will prove that central control is impenetrable.

Science always proves something like that, just before the cataclysm. See Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

All that was just set-up for the prediction.  Here is the prediction.

Sometime in August of 2035, a kid named Morrisey, who isn’t even born today, will hack the un-hackable central control. No one will notice. He will place a delayed command, and head for a hill overlooking an LA freeway.

On August 26th, 2035, at peak rush hour, central control will send out an order and every automobile in America will speed to 100 mph, then simultaneously make a ninety degree left turn.

Registering 4.6 on the Richter scale, it will be the Crash Heard Round the World.

St. Peter will have to put on extra staff.

607. Who Slammed the Door?

This is a July fourth poem, but everybody will be busy tomorrow, so I am posting it today.

Who Slammed the Door?

Land of the free,
Home of the brave,
What happened to your courage?

We have walked a thousand miles toward freedom.
Where did freedom go?

It is not trivial
             that they come in the night.
It is not trivial
             that they rape and kill.
It is not trivial
             to be hungry.
It is not trivial
             to be afraid.
It is not trivial
             to see your father disappear
             to see your mother disappear
             to know that you are next.

Would you walk a thousand miles             
             for a trivial reason?

In our homeland, they throw us in jail.
             In America, they throw us in jail.

In our homeland, they take parents
             from their children in the night.

In America, they take children
             from their parents in broad daylight.

Land of the free,
Home of the brave,
What happened to your courage?
             
Your compassion?
             Your understanding?
             Your humanity?

Land of the free,
Home of the brave,
Who slammed the door on freedom?

463. Shooters

The University of Texas Tower
photo by Larry D. Moore

===============

Today in Serial, a school shooting occurs in the novel Symphony in a Minor Key. Here in A Writing Life I have explained why it was there.

Yesterday in the world we all inhabit, another school shooting took place in Florida. Since the post below was written a week or so ago, this makes an unexpected and jarring contrast.

I could say, “What are the chances of such a coincidence?”, but the chances of a school shooting on any given day have increased dramatically since I was forced to include one in my novel thirty years ago. As always, I feel for the victims and the survivors, and like everyone else, I have no answers.

I am adding this note of explanation about an hour after the original post appeared.

===============

The original post.

Most American’s alive today have grown up in an era of mass shootings. We had not yet reached that point in 1966.

I was working on the home farm that summer. I had graduated from high school and was waiting to enter college in the fall.

On August first, Charles Whitman shot his wife and mother, then took weapons to the observation deck of the main tower at the University of Texas. Over the course of the next hour and a half, he shot and killed thirteen people on the ground below and wounded another thirty-one; two of his victims died later. He was eventually killed by police.

Like the rest of America, I heard about it on the news. It was a shock. It was something that had not happened before.

Whitman’s position on top of the tower made it hard for the police to get to him. That was not an accident; Whitman was a former Marine sharpshooter. He knew his business.

There are several talking points in this incident for people on both sides of the gun control controversy. None of his weapons would be called an assault rifle by modern use of that term. Several civilians joined the police in returning fire. They probably helped, but did not prevent the tragedy.

It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history, at the time. Today it ranks eighth.

Twenty-three years later, the Texas Tower shooting still ranked seventh. I was teaching school and writing Symphony in a Minor Key in the evenings. I had set myself the task of writing events in my imaginary middle school in exact correspondence to what was happening in the real world.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

On January 17, 1989, Patrick Purdy shot and killed five students at a school in a nearby town, and wounded thirty others, including a teacher. I was faced with the decision of whether or not to include this tragedy in the novel I was writing.

I chose to write it in. That is why today’s post in Serial appears as it does.

407. Where Life Is

This is a repost from very early in the history of this blog.  SL

I was in the shower getting ready for a day at school when my wife called to me. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. By the time I dried and dressed, the second plane had hit.

Twenty minutes later, driving to work, I listened to the radio as the towers fell.

All day long I taught science, keeping to the lesson plan. I didn’t want to teach, and no one wanted to listen, but it was necessary to keep a semblance of normalcy. Every break we teachers watched the television, but we didn’t take any news back to the classroom. Our students needed to be in their own homes, with their parents, before they began to deal with the details of America’s disaster.

At the end of the day, I drove home. I had upon me the need to write, but not of the tragedy. Others wrote that day of what had happened, and wrote well. I needed to write of love and joy and beauty – and of my wife who is all those things to me.

Poems come slowly to me; usually they take years to complete. This one rolled freely about in my head as I drove, and when I arrived at home, I only had to write it down.

                    There Am I

Where there is water, there am I.
In sweet, soft rain and in hard rain,
driving and howling,
or filling the air with luminescent mist.
Water is life, and there am I.

Where there is sun, there am I.
In the soft heat of morning or in the harsh afternoon,
or heavy with moisture, forcing its way through clouds,
or dry as a lizard’s back.
Where the Sun is, is life, and there am I.

Where Earth is, there am I.
Whether dark loam, freshly plowed
or webbed with fissures, hard as stone,
or sandy, or soft as moss.
Where Earth is, is life, and there am I.

Where life is, there am I.
rainforest or desert,
broad plains of grass, or brooding jungle,
Where life is, there am I.

Where She is, there is life,
and sun and rain and earth, and all good things.
Where She is, is life,
And there am I.

The “I” was supposed to be me, of course, speaking of my own love for wilderness, and “She” was, of course, my wife.

However, when it was done it felt more like a religious poem. Strike the last verse, let the “I” be God and it sounds like something written by someone with a great deal more faith than I have. Odd.

361. Take This Test

Berlin WallMexican Wall

TAKE THIS TEST TO SEE IF YOU ARE FIT TO BE AN AMERICAN

Have you ever knowingly committed any crime for which you have not been arrested? [Never mind the fifth amendment. It does not apply here.
Have you ever been arrested? [Whether convicted or acquitted.]
Have you ever received public assistance?
Are you likely to receive public assistance in the future? [As if you could know that.]
Have you ever gambled illegally? [Yes, the Super Bowl counts.]
Have you ever encouraged an act of illegal immigration? [Yes, that includes hiring the maid who cleans you toilet, cooks your meals, and babysits your kids.]
Did you smoke pot before it was legal?
Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? [Yes, Joe McCarthy is dead, and yes, the question can still be asked, and no, you can’t refuse to answer.]
Did you, in support of the Nazi party, aide in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion. [If such aid was to the KKK, answer no.]
Have you ever assisted any organization engaged in kidnapping, political assassination, or any other form of terrorist activity. [If that organization was the CIA, answer no.]
Have you ever left the U.S. to avoid the draft?
Have you ever served in the armed forces?
Have you ever been a police officer?
Have you ever been a prison guard?
Have you ever been been a Boy Scout?

If you answered yes to any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you could not read any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you could not afford a lawyer to help you answer any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you were too repulsed to finish the test, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

Finally: List your present and past membership in or affiliation with every organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society, or similar group in the United States or in other places since your 16th birthday. Include any military service in this part. If none, write “None.” Include the name of each organization, location, nature, and dates of membership. If additional space is needed, attach a separate sheet of paper. If you are unable to remember and list these affiliations, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

—————-

All of these questions were drawn, with snide but accurate rewording, from Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence. If you think this is a joke, click here to read the actual form.

Aren’t you glad you are an American citizen? If you weren’t, we probably wouldn’t let you in.

294. Let God Sort Them Out

Looks like Trump is at it again.

Half the country is protesting his latest executive order. The other half is sitting back and saying, “Keep it up! Don’t listen to those damned liberal punks!”

There is a larger issue in all this, no matter whether Trump’s latest move is brilliant or stupid. Arnaud Amalric said it best back in 1209:

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

You’ve never heard that quote? Of course, you have – translated into English:

Kill them all and let God sort them out.

I first saw the quote on a T-shirt during the Viet Nam era. It was quite popular with a certain part of the population, especially in a war where the “enemy” and “the ones we went to save” were so inextricably intermixed. I later heard it attributed to Oliver Cromwell, and it did sound just like him. I finally tracked the first appearance to Amalric in 1209, but really, it is a universal sentiment.

You might even say that this is the real purpose of war. You can’t just shoot the German down the street, but call him a name, put him in a category, define him as the enemy, and you can shoot an anonymous Kraut.

If you are on the line, rifle in hand, facing a matching line of the enemy, how do you know which of those men deserve to die and which ones do not. You don’t. You can’t. And even if you could, you couldn’t do anything about it. 

If you were on a jury, deciding the guilt or innocence of a man accused of murder, careful judgment would be your primary duty. But in war, it’s a case of, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” It doesn’t matter if you are a trained and committed Seal or a kid six weeks out of high school, barely trained, lost and confused, drafted, and praying to be anywhere else than in line of battle – the moment requires that you kill, and leave the question of justice in other hands.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t just work that way in war. It works that way in everyday life, as well. It certainly works that way in politics.

 When you see a real problem – a true evil – you want to root it out. It is a noble impulse. You want to stop evil before it can act. Of course, you do. We all do. But how?

Pass a law, make a rule, change a procedure. and apply it to the “bad guys”. But who are the bad guys? If they have committed a crime, there are plenty of laws already on the books to deal with them. But if you are trying to keep a crime from being committed . . .

To stop evil before it strikes, you have to act on the groups that harbor the bad guys. (And if you don’t hear the tongue-in-cheek in that sentence, you aren’t listening very hard.)

If you are afraid of Syrian terrorists, ban all Syrians. That’s the Trump version. If some innocent Syrians get hurt, it’s not our problem – he says. He doesn’t say, “Ban them all, let God sort them out.” But it comes to the same thing.

Liberals aren’t any better. They just apply Amalric’s rule to different problems. They say, “We must keep guns out of the hands of crazies.” Okay, who’s crazy? Who decides? Try to implement a preemptive law based on mental health as a criterion, and who would we ban? Psychotics? The delusional? Patients under treatment for depression? Adults from abusive childhoods, working through their issues? No problem, just disarm them all; let God sort them out. And keep them safe.

* * * * * *

Actually, it might just work, (he said, slipping his tongue back into his cheek.) Since every liberal knows that Donald Trump’s supporters are crazy, that would disarm half the population. Since ever Trump follower knows that you gotta be nuts to be a liberal, that would disarm the other half.

Problem solved. Just declare all of America crazy, and let God sort us out.

The rest of the world would not disagree.

* * * * * *

P.S., when Amalric made his famous statement, he was leading Catholic troops against Cathars, whose interpretation of Christianity differed from the Pope’s. Amalric wrote the Pope describing the subsequent battle, “Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt.”

Unfortunately, that takes the humor out of their situation, and ours.

265. The Last Day of Peace

Tomorrow is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was the last day of a peace which American’s had clung to even while war surged across Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The next day came war, and after the war was over America found herself to be a super-power engaged in a cold war with the USSR. Nothing would ever be the same.

I had intended to write a post giving a picture of that last day of peace, but when I began my research, I found that it had already been done, and done well. Here are two examples:

Roosevelt to Japanese emperor: “Prevent further death and destruction”

The day before infamy: December 6, 1941.

There have been other last days of peace. No one needs to be reminded of the day preceding 9/11. We probably ought to remember March 19, 2003, the day before we invaded Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that never existed. We might also consider Viet Nam, but there is no “day before” to a war we stumbled into one foolish step at a time.

The most poignant last day of peace in American history is November 6, 1860. That was the election day which gave us Abraham Lincoln. By December, South Carolina had seceded. By January, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana had followed suit. By May the rest of the South had also broken off, and the Civil War was already underway.

As I write this protesters are in the streets carrying signs that say “Trump is not my President”. They haven’t seceded yet, although there are many who would like to. Yesterday I saw a petition for California to withdraw from the Union.

I opposed Trump. I could write thousands of words telling you why, but that time has passed.

Some of what Trump said during the campaign made sense, if you stripped away the racism, the insensitivity, and the bombast. It was no accident that people voted for him. We were all faced with choosing the lesser of two evils.

The time has come to regroup and become what the Brits call “the loyal opposition”.

Loyal.

And opposed. Oh, yes, very much opposed to the part of his message which was racist, exclusionary, and backward looking. That was the bulk of his message, but it wasn’t all. Not quite.