25 August, 2007

Why I Don't Want EZ Pass, Part I

I recently attended a family event. On the way there I overshot my exit and had to back track a bit before reaching the final destination. When I arrived, still pretty much on time, one of my uncles said "you really should get a GPS device for your car." I offered a tossed-off reply, joking that I would rather not, as I didn't want the government to know where I was at all times.

Now, I know as well as the next person that by having a cell phone and using credit cards, I am totally traceable. I have no alternate identity, no secret underground network to hide me, nor have I burned off my fingerprints with chemicals. All in all, becoming invisible would be tough. The fact that I spend most of my time at home writing or composing, and that frankly, I like attention, doesn't help either. If some G-Men wanted to find me, it's a pretty safe bet even the dumbest of agents could do it. Yet despite this I somehow feel that having a GPS unit or an EZ Pass would be trading personal freedom for convenience.

So, okay, I know this is probably ridiculous, but I am pretty sure I am not alone in my dystopian paranoia. The fact that marketing research (or worse) is being conducted through the guise of things like Facebook doesn't really help convince me that something fishy isn't going on under all the fun and convenience. But whenever I make some knowingly paranoid comment about the government, people seem to react in one of two ways. They either dismissively inform me that the government already has total power to know where I am at all times if they wanted to; or they tell me that the government is so incompetent that they couldn't do it even if they tried. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

to be continued…

13 August, 2007

Favorite Obsession: August 7-August 13

The Fiery Furnaces: Rehearsing My Choir (2005)
(Rough Trade)

06 August, 2007

Favorite Obsession: July 31-August 6

Judas Priest: Painkiller (1990)

03 August, 2007

Speaking Truth to Power: The Story of Ms. X

Nico recently posted about a serious—and totally avoidable—problem in the US military: the firing of highly skilled Arabic-speaking soldiers because of their violation of "don't ask, don't tell". This post struck a personal chord with me. Like many, I find this policy to be problematic to say the least. Unlike most people, however, I actually know one of the linguists in question. Let's call her Ms. X.

Ms. X and I first met in 2004. We quickly became friends, and in 2006, she contributed a wonderfully moving interview to be used in my composition Soldier Songs. At one point in the interview, she told the story of her separation from the military. The exchange seems somehow important to share and so, with her permission, I have paraphrased it below.

Ms. X was at the top of her class in military language school. She had recently been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, for which she was sent to Sergeant school. At the opening convocation, the Commandant told the in-coming class something to the effect of: "If you have any reason that you think you shouldn't be here, you've got until 9 pm tonight to let me know. After that, there is no turning back." Later that night, after some serious thought, Ms. X went to the Commandant's office. Tired of living a lie, she took a deep breath, knocked on the door, and entered.

After the obligatory salutes and yes-sir/no-sir greetings, Ms. X told the Commandant that she was gay. The Commandant turned to his right-hand man: "First Sergeant, did you hear what this Sergeant just said?" The First Sergeant replied: "No Commandant, I didn’t hear a thing." The Commandant turned back to Ms. X and said: "Sergeant, I am going to give you a chance to unsay what you just said." Yet she restated her piece. "You realize what this means, Sergeant?" he asked. Affirmative.

Ms. X was immediately removed from the barracks and went home to her girlfriend, another military linguist. She received an honorable discharge—she "told"; it's only dishonorable if they "catch" you—and left the military life behind. It is worth mentioning that Ms. X’s separation became official in September, 2001. Had she remained silent, there seems little doubt that she would currently be serving her country, likely stationed in the Middle East.

There are many different types of bravery in this world, especially when considering the military. One of my uncles jumped out of a plane into the jungles of Laos. Another was abandoned by his helicopter in the jungles of Vietnam, surrounded by Viet Cong. A good friend from high school acted as a makeshift medic in Iraq after the lead HUMVEE in his caravan struck an IED. These are brave acts performed by brave individuals. Few would contest this.

Ms. X is equally brave. And although one could argue that her bravery is of a different sort, to me, it is no less honorable. She possessed the courage to speak truth to power. How many of us can honestly say we have done that in as direct a manner, and at such high stakes?

01 August, 2007


According to the New York Times, Rupert Murdoch has succeeded in buying Dow Jones & Company, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, for $5 billion. If you have any question as to why this acquisition is troublesome, go turn on Fox News for a bit.

Actually, don't.