Communion Of Dreams


By the book.

From Chapter 7 of St. Cybi’s Well:

Long training had taught him to put his trust in facts. In objective, testable reality. You didn’t fly a space shuttle – even one which had been stripped down to the bare essentials for transporting sealed sleeper modules – by the seat of your pants. That would very quickly get you killed. You flew it by the book, with close attention to your instrumentation and computer systems. Because your instincts would lie to you. Your hopes and dreams had no place in orbital calculations. The only miracles which existed were the ones created by careful science, proven engineering, and rigorous quality control.

 

And from a great entry today on Bad Astronomy:

The European Space Agency has put together a fantastic and enthralling video that goes through the steps taken to bring the space travelers down. This is seriously worth 20 minutes of your time.

 

Yeah, it is really cool to watch them go through it all by the book. Find the time to watch it.

 

Jim Downey



“They’re afraid.”

“Did you hear about the fire in Joplin?” asked my wife, as she walked into my office. We had just gotten back from a nice lunch with old friends who were in town on business.

“Fire?”

“Yeah, this morning. A mosque burned to the ground. They had a smaller fire last month which was determined to be arson.”

* * * * * * *

Early yesterday morning I chided a friend on Facebook. She had posted that the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin was another example of hatred and ignorance. This is what I said: “Don’t jump to conclusions. This could have been some kind of domestic dispute or something completely unrelated to the appearance of the people at the temple. Wait until some actual news comes out.”

Well, when actual news *did* come out, it was clear that the perp had in the past embraced the White Supremacist / Neo-Nazi movement.

* * * * * * *

From the end of Chapter 9:

Jon thought he should clarify. “Jackie’s got the gist of it, but let me try and explain a little more completely. Sometime during the chaos of the post-flu, there were two marginal groups that got together. One was the heir of something called The Order, a reactionary offshoot of the old Aryan Nation.”

“Ah, neo-Nazis. Yes, I know them.”

“Thought so. The other group was a splinter of the radical environmental organization Earthfirst!, sort of like the far-left fringe of the Greens. They managed to create a hybrid belief system: that true adherence to God’s natural law would bring man back to a state of grace, suitable to be readmitted to the Garden of Eden. To promote this belief, they want to see a complete restoration of the Earth’s biosphere to a natural state, with humans having almost no environmental impact.”

As I’ve said before, the prequel I’m working on, St. Cybi’s Well, is set right at the time of the onset of the fire-flu.

Guess what groups are going to play a part in that story. Right.

* * * * * * *

“Yeah, this morning. A mosque burned to the ground. They had a smaller fire last month which was determined to be arson.”

I clicked open a news article on my computer, glanced through it.  I shook my head.

My wife read the article over my shoulder, asked: “First the shooting in Wisconsin, now this. Why do people have to pull crap like this?”

“They’re afraid.”

“Afraid?”

“Yeah. Of change. Of not being in control. Of things which are different. You know, the usual.”

“Yeah, but it’s so stupid,” she said almost to herself.

“True. And just because they’re afraid doesn’t mean we have to give in to them, give in to their fear.” I sighed. “But it may mean that we have to defend ourselves from that fear.”

Jim Downey

(The travelog I intended on posting today will be delayed. Sorry.)



Well, OK then.

Yesterday I wrote about the latest local battle in the War on (Some) Drugs, which led to the shooting of two dogs, the terrorizing of a family, and the diminution of our civil rights as police departments adopt increasingly militarized tactics. But not like I was alone in this, since the story has been picked up and published in countless posts online as well as getting attention from the mainstream media. Facebook posts, hits to the YouTube vid now over 200,000 (it was 2,000 when I posted the vid yesterday), et cetera.

So, the heat is starting to build. Of course, this can’t be ignored by the local police department, so they chatted with the Tribune to give their side (a bit). And what did they say?

“It was unfortunate timing,” said Lt. Scott Young, SWAT commander. “We were in the process of considering a lot of changes. We were already having meetings to improve narcotic investigations, then this happened.”

Columbia police spokeswoman Jessie Haden said there sometimes was a lag between the time a warrant was issued and when SWAT could execute the warrant. The problem was SWAT members’ primary assignments, such as their role as beat officers or investigators, would take precedence over SWAT and they would have to work overtime to participate in SWAT operations.

Well, OK then. It was just a case of unfortunate timing. The warrant was going to run out, you see, so they *had* to act in the middle of the night when the SWAT team was available.

Er, what?

SWAT teams were developed to cope with particularly dangerous situations – something which presents a major threat to the safety of the public. They train to deploy quickly, to secure a dangerous environment while dealing with someone who is heavily armed. Almost by definition, anything which presents a major threat to the public safety and security requires a very fast response – you don’t want to leave a hostage situation hanging until you can make sure no one is going to be getting in too much overtime. And likewise, if narcotics distribution is going on, if a major drug deal is happening, you don’t want to wait more than a week to schedule your SWAT team.

In other words, if it ain’t an emergency, SWAT shouldn’t be used.

Think about that. If the situation requires the use of such militarized tactics and equipment, then how the hell can you just let it wait until you can make sure that everyone on the team has completed their other routine job requirements?

Yet that is what they did. Again, from the Tribune:

The warrant authorizing SWAT and investigators to enter Whitworth’s home was approved by Boone County Associate Circuit Judge Leslie Schneider on Feb 3., and the raid happened Feb. 11.

8 days. They waited 8 days to act. How the hell does that qualify as the sort of emergency situation for which SWAT is required?

It doesn’t.

Here’s the video, again:

Yet they had been sitting on that warrant for 8 days. 8 days during which they hadn’t even determined that there would be a child inside the home.

Welcome to your police state. When the SWAT team can be used for any police action, so long as there’s a justification of War on (Some) Drugs involved. And time to make sure the bust doesn’t mess up any of the officer’s schedules.

Jim Downey



Now it’s local.

Wait, I thought we were no longer at war with our own people? Seems someone forgot to tell the local cops, who sent their SWAT team out in the middle of the night because of a pot pipe and a misdemeanor’s worth of pot (which is decriminalized here, and subject only to a ticket).

Here’s the video. Warning, it’s tough to watch, particularly for anyone who cares for dogs:

The comments at the local paper’s site are now pushing 500 – that’s easily 2x the size of just about other story I can think of, and I pay attention to what people are thinking. And it’s been picked up by Radley Balko, who is a nationally-read proponent of limiting the militarization of police forces around the country. And folks are posting it to their Facebook pages as well as to other sites. It is, in other words, going viral.

Now, a couple of things. First, the SWAT team was executing a legal warrant, signed by a judge. Second, the warrant was issued because it was thought that the culprit was a drug dealer – not just some low-level user. Third, cops always have to make sure that they secure a site when they go on such a raid, and in doing so will use whatever force they think is necessary.

But . . .

The information provided to get the warrant was extremely poor – the police didn’t even realize the man listed in the warrant was married, nor that there was a small child in the home. This could have easily led to a tragedy. And the video, released due to Sunshine Law requests, is decidedly at odds with how this raid was characterized when it was announced by local police spokespersons (one of whom I know) back in February.

Readers of this blog will know that while I support the police (my dad was a cop, after all), I have often objected to the absurd increase in military tactics and weaponry being used at the local level – which is entirely due to the way the War on (Some) Drugs has been conducted over the last decades. The sort of things shown in this video just sour the populace on their police, and put people (including cops) unnecessarily at risk. And it is frighteningly indicative of a slide into a true police state.

Watch that video. And think – who is served by this sort of debacle?

Jim Downey



“We’re not at war with people in this country.”
May 15, 2009, 10:23 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Constitution, Failure, Government, Privacy, Reason, Society, Terrorism, Violence

A friend sent me this Wall Street Journal article yesterday:

White House Czar Calls for End to ‘War on Drugs’

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

OK, that’s not the same thing as actually changing drug policy, but how you say something matters a lot. As Radly Balko says:

The drug war imagery started by Nixon, subdued by Carter, then ratcheted up again in the Reagan administration (and remaining basically level since) has had significant repercussions on the way drug policy is enforced, from policymakers on down to street-level cops. It’s war rhetoric that gave us the Pentagon giveaway program, where millions of pieces of surplus military equipment (such as tanks) have been transferred to local police departments. War imagery set the stage for the approximately 1,200 percent rise in the use of SWAT teams since the early 1980s, and has fostered the militaristic, “us vs. them” mentality too prevalent in too many police departments today.

War implies a threat so existential, so dire to our way of life, that we citizens should be ready to sign over some of our basic rights, be expected to make significant sacrifices, and endure collateral damage in order to defeat it. Preventing people from getting high has never represented that sort of threat.

The “War on (Some) Drugs” was never really about controlling drug abuse. It was about controlling people, particularly those people who could be easily demonized to give politicians a nice boost amongst their white, middle-class base. It helped to cement the allegiance of local pols and police departments, who got lots of new toys to play with at no cost (local cost, that is), and gave them more power. It eroded our civil rights and constitutional freedoms, and helped to set the stage for further intrusions when the “War on Terror” came along.

Getting rid of the “War” rhetoric doesn’t solve the problems with abuse of authority, but it does help to redefine the relationship a bit. It is a necessary first step in reclaiming some of our freedoms. Let’s hope that it is the first of many.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)