John Kerry and Me

John and I met in San Francisco last night while I was waiting to take the ferry over to Oakland. When I was walking up to the ferry dock, a phalanx of police motorcycles appeared, followed by a convoy of black Chevy Suburbans. Several dozen ferry passengers were being held back by cops, and they already knew why: John Kerry, on a California campaign swing, was in one of the Suburbans, and the ferry at the dock was reserved for a trip he was taking over to a rally Jerry Brown was hosting in the East Bay. Sure enough, Kerry got out of one of the vehicles, and as a Secret Service agent motioned to a guy near me to take his hands out of his pockets, he waved and walked down to the boat, which waited for some staffers and reporters before pulling out of its berth and heading for Oakland. Then our ferry came in. It was only after climbing aboard that I realized how heavy the security was. A couple of Coast Guard helicopters patrolled overhead; at least two Coast Guard Zodiacs, complete with .50-caliber machineguns mounted in the bows, monitored the route across the bay; and a larger cutter was standing by, too.

We passed Kerry’s boat en route, and when we arrived on the other side, the fleet of Suburbans, and a smaller group of Oakland motorcycle cops was waiting.

It turned out that our trip was delayed about five, maybe ten, minutes in getting under way. Even that little bit of a delay prompted a lot of grousing from some of the passengers: “I’m not voting for him now,” one younger guy muttered. “John Edwards just rides around on a bus. He doesn’t need all this bullshit just to travel around.” And as we got off our ferry, one of the crew said, “Oakland that way — your tax dollars over there” — gesturing toward Kerry’s boat, which was approaching.

It’s the bitch and moan of democracy.

Unruly Swell

Sure, the above could easily be mistaken as a description of me. But what it really is is a phrase from a West Coast surf forecast that a colleague, Steve Enders, pointed out earlier today. In discussing the big seas whipped up by today’s storm, observed:

“…It is likely that some degree of very high seas will move close to the coast. In that event a large, unruly, ungroomed and raw swell will impact the North and Central California coasts. …”

Meantime, a thunderstorm is sweeping the well-groomed streets of Berkeley right now. Sounds like it’s hailing, too (a strictly wintertime happening here).

‘Men of Zeal … Without Understanding’

Some snippets from Olmstead v. United States, a 1928 Supreme Court case that considered whether unauthorized police wiretapping is a violation of the Fourth Amendment (“the right of the people to be secure …  against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”) and the Fifth Amendment (“no person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”). It arose from a bootlegging bust in Washington state in which federal prohibition agents had, in violation of a state law, secretly tapped phone lines to get evidence.

The majority, in a pedestrian and short-sighted opinion (by Chief Justice William Howard Taft) that the current administration would love, ruled, in essence, that it was fine for the agents to tap the lines and listen in because they hadn’t physically intruded on the suspects’ property when they did it.

Associate Justice Louis Brandeis wrote the most important of several dissents. He demonstrated the absurdity of the majority’s finding on the nature of wiretapping and added lessons on privacy, the need for individual protections against government power, and government’s responsibility to act within the law. The passage most apt for today’s America: one in which he warns of the danger of government pursuing “benificent” ends — making sure we’re all secure from terrorists, say — regardless of the means: “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

A few passages from Brandeis’s Olmstead dissent:

“… The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone-the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect, that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And the use, as evidence in a criminal proceeding, of facts ascertained by such intrusion must be deemed a violation of the Fifth. …

“… Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. …

“Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means-to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal-would bring terrible retribution.”

Killer Storm Terrorizes Bay …

That’s a headline I always wanted to get into The Examiner, especially when a predicted deluge turned out to be an hour of drizzle. But the last few days, the National Weather Service forecast a big storm, and this morning we got one. But it was of the “fast moving Pacific” variety: We had a big blast that started just before dawn and was pretty much spent by 10 a.m. Streets in the Greater TechTV area were flooded by a combination of heavy rain and high tides that overwhelmed storm sewers. The top picture was taken by another TechTV guy across the street from our building about 9 a.m. The bottom photo is a phone-camera shot I took about 3:30 this afternoon. A picture named henryadams.jpg

Not Blogarific …

February hasn’t been a banner blogging month, despite the recent association of with this here page. Isn’t that exciting.

I was going to write something in connection with Samuel Pepys’s birthday, which was yesterday, the 23rd. It might be au courant to call him the first blogger — though not really, because he was the only one and didn’t want anyone to read what he wrote, and both of those conditions are about direct opposites of what we are up to now. But what I would have written about is that Garrison Keillor does an email/audio writer’s almanac by way of Minnesota Public Radio. The almanac includes a brief essay on one of the writer’s born on the date. The audio version features Keillor readng the mini-essay aloud. Kate and I have noticed he’s given to occasional, slightly goofy misreadings of the text. Yesterday’s piece was on Pepys (pronounced just like the popular marshmallow-based holiday-centric animal-shaped confections, a fact I didn’t pick up on until an English lit doctoral student of our acquaintance filled me in). Talking about Pepys’s personal life, the essay mentioned that, “He was continually resolving to quit drinking, but he never did.” But reading it, Keillor says, “He was continually resolving to quit dancing, but he never did.”

Amusing, eh?

Nah, but it’s the best I can come up with tonight. Unless I get started on Bush and gay marriage and constitutional amendments. I won’t. That’d be an all-nighter.

Your Future, as a G-Person

There’s a good short  piece in the Trib today about the FBI putting word out that it needs to hire 900 new intelligence analysts. I was intrigued — I think everyone secretly wants to be a cop at some time or other, or at least I do — so I looked for the jobs on the FBI’s site. Since the analyst openings require a top-secret security clearance, that means a deep background check. So I took a look at the “final background application” page to see what sort of information the bureau would want from and about an aspiring G-Person. But checking out the application means disobeying this directive:

“Do not download this application unless you are advised by an official FBI Representative who will provide you with a mailing address or fax number.”

But I clicked and downloaded every page. Nothing to do now but await the repercussions.

My Current Rage …

… is only that the Radio UserLand software with which this blog is published is stupid and user-unfriendly. Not that I’m a genius, but here’s the current case in point: I write an item. I get ready to post it. I go to check one of the stupid category pages I’ve set up for parallel posting of my sapient observations, but instead of hitting the check-box, I hit the link to the category instead and am taken to that page. Not a problem. But oh, no! Going back to the previous page, where I had written my post, it’s gone. Again, not that we’re talking about the Sentences that Transformed the Way We See the World — someone else must have written them — but it’s *&%$& infuriating.

Isn’t it?

Speaking of Joyce …

My brother John points me to a BoingBoing post – a post via a post about a post about an article in the Irish Times, actually (don’t visit the newspaper site unless you’re ready to pay) — about the Joyce estate and its swinish stand on copyright: It’s threatening to sue for infringement if anyone dares stage a public reading of ”Ulysses” this coming June 16, the 100th anniversary of Leopold’s, Stephen’s, Molly’s and Dublin’s ficitonal day as recorded in the novel. The lead of an Irish Times story from February 9 (copyright The Irish Times):

Joyce estate warns festival over copyright issuesThe Joyce estate has warned the organisers of the Bloomsday centenary festival, “ReJoyce Dublin 2004,” and the Government that it will sue for any breach of the estate’s copyright.

“The warnings, which have also been given to the director of the National Library, RTE and the Joyce Centre, will prevent certain events from being held during the festival. These include public readings from Ulysses and a proposal by the Abbey to stage Joyce’s play Exiles. …”

Yes, that’s pig-headed. But, before I start gnashing my teeth — already worn down from other gnashings — it’s kind of hard to blame them if you look at the way copyright is being handled in this country. Whatever income  the Joyce estate protects by doing this, or creative ferment it stifles, it ain’t in the same league with the greed expressed in U.S. copyright law, which has been changed and changed again to grant nearly perpetual rights to creators or (more important) the owners of creations.

Commonplace Book

“I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning. …

“…I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.”–James JoyceA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Speaking of the “triangle of wonder,” there’s an actual song on an actual record about an actual place there: “Tolono,” by Utah Phillips. It’s a melancholy train song, but you can tell (I think) that he really went through there.

“I got off at Tolono, just below Champaign,
A flag stop on the edge of yesterday.
The whistle blew a song,
I whispered so long,
And waved my hand and slowly walked away.

“No round-trip ticket, you’re on the final run
This Cannonball is never coming back.
Tomorrow she’ll just be
another memory
And an echo down a rusty railroad track.”

Of the town itself, it can be reported that the public library owns one book by Al Franken (“Why Not Me?”) and one recording of that book, and not a single volume by Bill O’Reilly. So much for those stereotypes about what’s going on in The Heartland.