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Random political thoughts - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Random political thoughts
Okay, I'll comment on the Secret Service thing going around (for the people who haven't heard it, an LJer got a visit from the Secret Service when something on her journal was construed as a threat to the President).

It's the job of the Secret Service to guard the president's life, no matter who he happens to be. This would not be different under Kerry, it was not different under Clinton, it wasn't different under Reagan, and it wasn't different under Kennedy. Given the sheer volume of anti-Bush statements that show up on LJ every day, it's flatly impossible that they're "monitoring what we say" or, if they are, that they particularly care to shut it down. The only explanation that makes sense is that a specific thing was reported to them by someone reading the journal, and the reported statement was of enough concern that they chose to investigate it. They ultimately found it not to be a serious threat.

Was it an over-reaction? It may have been. Probably was. These are people who probably don't spend a lot of time in the hyperbolic world of the blogosphere, and they didn't get the joke it was undoubtedly intended as. I mean, those of us on deleterius are used to daily cries of "Die, Sue, die!" but it could conceivably be alarming to someone who wanders in. The Secret Service isn't really known for its sense of humor--imagine taking a tour of the White House and pulling a squirt gun on the guards. I promise, no matter who's in the Oval Office, that you're going to be grilled. I think it's stupid, but then, I'm not charged with defending anyone's life. The only way I can even begin to interpret it in my mind is if someone threatened a member of my family--my grandmother, maybe--and it was reported to me from out of the blue. I think I'd probably severely freak out.

They deal with letters all the time, and probably with some wacky internet sites (there are some seriously deranged people out there), but there's too much for them to be used to everything. I don't know about you all, but I've had to explain LiveJournal to people older than I am on many occasions... including occasions where I'm re-explaining it to someone I explained it to before. "You mean, you post something, and people talk?" The idea that people are having perfectly normal conversations in this forum is a tough one for people who can't wrap their heads around communities that don't involve sidewalks and local pubs. Therefore, a kind of normal heated conversation about politics which would go unremarked at the dinner table or even at a restaurant table will look vaguely ominous to them. So they go and check it out. And find out it was nothing and take no action. It's not a great thing and it was certainly an overreaction, but it's not the sign of the apocalypse that people are treating it as.

Other political thought today is the depressing realization that it doesn't matter who wins the election. I don't mean that in a "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" sort of way, but in terms of the country. If Bush wins, Kerry supporters will be demanding recounts, talking about voter intimidation, and spinning mad conspiracy theories about why the natural order of a Kerry presidency has been subverted. If Kerry wins, Bush fans will call for a recount (to be petty reaction to mimic the Gore 2000 debacle), spin mad conspiracy theories, and talk about voter intimidation. In no case will both sides simply bloody well accept the weird workings of democracy, because we're split into these absolutist camps who don't accept the possibility that people of good will could possibly disagree about things. David Brooks compared it to sports fandom, and I think he's right... right down to the fact that fans of a losing team will swear up and down that the ump was either blind or on the take. Or that the judges hate/love a particular country and give all the points to it or judge it in an unfairly harsh manner. Or...

My head hurts. I'm tired of the bloody culture wars.
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fiatincantatum From: fiatincantatum Date: October 27th, 2004 02:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
My head hurts. I'm tired of the bloody culture wars.

I'm with you. It makes shipper wars look sane by comparison.
the_jackalope From: the_jackalope Date: October 27th, 2004 02:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Shipper wars, sane? surely you jest, even if by comparison. However you are probably right. I detest politics for this very reason.
bribitribbit From: bribitribbit Date: October 27th, 2004 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Amen, Fernwithy!
lannamichaels From: lannamichaels Date: October 27th, 2004 02:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't speak for anyone else, but my outrage is that someone reported her. I know that the Secret Service was just doing its job, but someone had to tip them off.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 27th, 2004 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
That, I'd have to agree with. We know the LJ culture and what it does, and I know no one on my f-list, no matter how anti-Bush, is an assassin.

(Well, okay, I don't absolutely know it, but I strongly believe it, anyway.)

And it's obvious that some things that show up on LJ can be badly misconstrued by people not familiar with it.

Then again, we spend all kind of time telling kids that they shouldn't keep secrets about things they feel wrong about ("If Jenny is planning to rob the candy store, it's right to tell someone about it before Jenny gets hurt"), so it's not exactly kosher to run around saying, "Don't you dare tattle or we won't like you anymore" either. I don't like either approach.
ashtur From: ashtur Date: October 27th, 2004 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, aside from the cynical question of "can anyone prove this really happened?" (just because you read it on the net doesn't mean it really happened), is the simple fact that these people were just doing their job. A very thankless job, and a job, that if something were to happen, they'd have every chowderhead calling for their heads because they missed a tiny, vital clue. (BTW, as memory serves, they caught John Hinkley headed in the general direction of Jimmy Carter once...)

And, your point is very well taken about rampant partisanship, and with the trash already showing up in Flordia, I don't see much chance of avoiding nastiness, though I'm hoping there is enough wiggle room in the final vote (either way) to avoid a repeat of the silliness of 2000.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: October 27th, 2004 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
The person it happened to talks about it here.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: October 27th, 2004 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
My head hurts. I'm tired of the bloody culture wars.

Me too. I keep trying to remind myself that people were known to throw chairs at each other in Congress in the nineteenth century and we survived.

I am sort of staying back in the lj/secret service thing. I think the Secret Service should have looked carefully at the entry before showing up on someone's doorstep, and that the person who called it in didn't read carefully. (I've seen an explanation of the post, by the poster, not the original.) But I also think that the only way that people who are in a position to fix things can do their jobs is if someone speaks up and tells them what is broken. Yes, I'm the one who calls City Hall to let the Mayor's office know when a mysterious hole appears in the sidewalk, or calls the gas company when I get a whiff on the street. I yell at kids who are committing vandalism and I call the police too, if the damage is serious. I tell the T drivers when I see abandoned packages these days too. I even call 911 for unconscious drunks by the side of the street, unless they have a friend watching over them, because they might not just be drunk. I've been known to ask, "are you all right?" of women who are being harrassed by their boyfriends in public too, and believe me that's a path fraught with landmines.

But we're responsible -- not just for ourselves, but for our neighborhoods and our fellow travellers. I can't see it any other way.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 27th, 2004 03:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Me too. I keep trying to remind myself that people were known to throw chairs at each other in Congress in the nineteenth century and we survived.

Well... mostly. There was a minor civil squabble that century.

But we're responsible -- not just for ourselves, but for our neighborhoods and our fellow travellers. I can't see it any other way.

Which is why I'm not ultimately comfortable with purely condemning the person who reported it. I haven't seen the post, either, but if the person genuinely believed that there was a threat brewing, then it would become a responsibility to report it. My outrage would be quite muted if it were someone who just happened to be passing through and wasn't a regular member on the person's f-list who knew the normal tone of the posts.
narcissam From: narcissam Date: October 27th, 2004 03:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Someone on my flist announced their attention to flee to Canada because of this horrid govt invasion of their lives. I suggested that they make sure not to threaten the prime minister's life once they got here, because our Secret Service doesn't take kindly to that either.

chickadilly From: chickadilly Date: October 27th, 2004 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know if you got my earlier comment or not (because LJ is acting kind of weird today) but I wanted to clarify just in case. I know it's the job of the FBI to investigate what is reported and I wasn't questioning that. I guess my real thing was the idea that someone would just go and report something that one posts on their own LJ. It feels like a violation of trust to me but then on the other hand ...

I do understand how it could happen because like I explained to someone else ... if, for example, I'm posting about something and perhaps not explaining myself very well and someone who doesn't know me reads it, misunderstands and thinks that it might be a threat well then ... they very well might think "better safe than sorry" and report it. DOesnt' make me comfortable with it at all but I do kind of understand it.

I didn't see the original post in question so I can't comment on that but I have heard from people who have seen it and said that it was rather clear to them it was a joke that got completely taken out of context and that's what bothers me. But again, I can understand if perhaps the person in question thought she was serious ... It's hard for me to really judge (and I've had time to think about it and calm down since I first posted about it so if I snapped at you I do apologize ... ) on this issue because, again, I didn't see the original post.

I guess I'm just a little paranoid now, wondering if anything I've ever said could be taken out of context. I rarely post about politics so I know in terms of this sort of thing I've nothing to worry about. It's more of a general impression about how easy misunderstandings can and do occur.

I also feel that whoever did report it to the FBI probably should have talked to her about it first. Sort of a "I was concerned about your post the other day and blah, blah, blah" kind of deal. But ... eh. I'm rambling so I'll shut up. :/ I am sorry if I snapped at you though.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: October 27th, 2004 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Franny on JF found the post in question, I'm copying it over from her.

Please kill George Bush. I hate him so much. I think he is a giant dick and I want terrible things to happen to him. I'm not really big on the specifics of how he dies, but if you could at least arrange it so that the authorities find his dead body on top of an underage black male prostitute surrounded by a mountain of cocaine and child pornography, that would really be super-awesome. And maybe you could have some media people there when the police find the body, so they can take pictures and stuff. That'd be fucking GREAT. Am I allowed to say "fuck" in a prayer? Shit, I just said it again. Ah, well.

Anyway, that's my prayer, Lord. Please, please, please kill Dubya. And Dick Cheney. And everyone else in the Bush Administration. Maybe they can all commit mass suicide together or something. I don't know. You're the one with all the ideas. You come up with something. I need more coffee.

Personally, if I saw this with no context, I wouldn't interpret it as a threat to the president. I'd just interpret it as someone wanking. The OP says it was meant as satire, but obviously not the funny kind.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: October 27th, 2004 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is the comment I left (anonymously, as I have no JF account) over at otf_wank. I think I was a little too harsh, but the whole thing kind of annoys me. (Also, as someone who was once friends with someone who liked to say really outrageous sh*t and then whine his way out with the "I was only jooooooking!" excuse, that excuse tends to get my hackles up).

Yipe. Someone's got election fever!

In all honesty, I can't get horribly worked up over this. Yes, someone was a jerk and reported her for comments that were 99% likely to be not serious (if...overwrought). On the other hand, this is hardly the first time. People on a lot of forums have gotten polite, 15-minute visits after posting facetious death wishes/threats (sometimes there's a fine line between the two) on public forums. They get visited, the Secret Service figures out it's bullshit, OK, nothing to see here, move along. Frankly, I'm surprised Annie hadn't heard of the "don't threaten the president's life online" thing before, because believe me, people got visits back in the late 1990s when they raved about how much they wished Clinton would die. It's what the Secret Service does. It didn't originate with Bush, and it won't end with him either.

I don't get the 1984 comparisons. Or try Stalin's Russia: there, if a neighbour reported that you had even had an anti-Stalin THOUGHT, it was off to the labor camps for twenty years, no kidding. You don't want to know what an anti-Stalin joke could get you.

Look, back when I was living in Russia I had a little incident with border guards when crossing from Estonia into Russia (I had been to Estonia for the week). The guards claimed to be convinced that I had been smuggling something. What did that lead to? Photograph of me, probably still moldering in an archive somewhere, forty-five minutes of interrogation, and - oh yeah - being held at gunpoint the entire time, just in case I decided to do something stupid like get up, or walk away. They had no reason at all, not even an LJ entry saying "Damn, I wish Russians would ease up with border restrictions already. It's so not fair that I can't take XYZ across the border!"

So, I'm sorry the SS visited Annie, and I'm sorry she was freaked out. And I'm sorry someone decided to report her rantings. But I'm not going to get all bent out of shape and OMGFASCISM!!!! or weep copious tears of pity for the poor little girl and her brave, BRAVE defiance of the men who, um, had a polite cup of coffee with her and figured out that it was BS.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 27th, 2004 03:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
copious tears of pity for the poor little girl and her brave, BRAVE defiance of the men who, um, had a polite cup of coffee with her and figured out that it was BS.

Moment to :snerk:

Yes, the question of the Russian border really does put things in perspective. Thanks for sharing that.
alkari From: alkari Date: October 27th, 2004 03:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Secret Service was doing its job. There have been many incidents where apparently 'innocent' comments in diaries or journals were later found to have more sinister implications down the line.

What is more, the SS does NOT just go and 'drop in' on people simply because they happen to have posted a rant against the President. They don't have the resources to do that!! You can bet your last cent that there would have been a couple of other 'risk factors' in poor little Annie's RL profile which prompted the decision to visit. Her family, her friends, where she has been, who she has met recently, etc etc. Of course the internet is being monitored by pretty sphisticated software that is set for various trigger factor words and phrases, and you'd be mighty naive if you didn't think that. But there are layers of filtering elements in place, so I'd say that there is a lot that we DON'T know about that decision to visit.

Anyway, you blame the SS if they DO their job, and you'd blame them if they didn't, and something happened. Poor guys cannot win!!

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 27th, 2004 03:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, hell yeah. There's definitely some monitoring going on in the abstract sense of spider or something, but, as with an actual visit, I'm sure it takes more than a vague mention of the two words in proximity raise a red flag and call in a real person to look.

(Of course, maybe it's working in the public sector, but my faith in the competence of government officials to do anything especially subtle or sophisticated is fairly low.)

It's not our place to figure out what else raised a red flag in Annie's case, but you're probably right that if an actual personal visit was made--as opposed to a computer investigation--there were probably a few other things going on. At any rate, she had a chance to explain herself and they left.
may_child From: may_child Date: October 27th, 2004 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Though I am no fan of Bush, I find it hard to get upset over this matter either. The SS were just doing their job, as they would be doing no matter who occupied the White House, so I don't think this is part of some evil free-speech-squelching plan of Bush's.

I am sure that when similar things happened during Clinton's term, those who got a little surprise visit from the SS thought of it as part of some liberal socialist commie conspiracy to persecute and silence conservatives.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 27th, 2004 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Uh-huh. Having had a foot in the conservative pond at the time, I'll vouch for that. Probably right alongside the sites that listed the Clinton Body Count. :eyeroll: There are a lot of people out there on both sides that you just want to say, "GET OFF MY SIDE, ALREADY."

(Am I the only one who finds it creepy to abbreviate Secret Service to SS? I wish the presidents' guards had some other name to abbreviate.)
azaelia_culnamo From: azaelia_culnamo Date: October 27th, 2004 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
*Bites lip* Well... I kind of see why they reported her. The comment was horrible, and I can see it being miscontrued as a thread.

And I have a feeling it wasn't as much that a friend saw it, as that perhaps a friend of a friend did, or someone who didn't know her that well. And seriously? What she said was disturbing. I don't know that I'd put it in the "potential thread" category, but wishing death on someone is not a joke to me. Maybe the LJ culture finds it funny - fandomers and LJ people find a lot of things funny that I am offended by.

Plus, it is possible this is a hoax.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 27th, 2004 03:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I thought of that first, and also before I posted. But it's a plausible hoax, and the issue deserves some discussion--what if an LJ entry had been reported and the Secret Service showed up?

I had only read Annie's explanation of the post, but if the post that Sonetka shared above was it... yeah. That's more than a little weird.
lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: October 27th, 2004 03:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, using profanity to pray for someone's death...another fine example from the people who profess peace, love, and tolerance.

You know what, I'm GLAD someone reported this girl. Just today, some guy in Sarasota, FL tried to run over Rep. Katherine Harris with his Caddie, claiming he was making a "political statement" and was merely trying to "intimidate" her and her supporters, not actually trying to kill her. Some jokers tried to throw pies at Ann Coulter last week, but a controversial Dutch politician had pies lobbed at him all of the time until the day someone successfully lobbed a bullet instead. Whenever there's a school shooting, we always find out afterwards the perp(s) talked about it beforehand. John Hinckley indicated for a long time he wanted to shoot someone to impress Jodie Foster. Squeaky Fromme talked about trying to kill Gerald Ford before she went out and tried it. In short, it's gotten crazy out there so you can never be too careful.

I'm baffled and unnerved myself at the level of deep personal hatred there is this election season. In John McCaslin's "Inside the Beltway" column last week (washingtontimes.com) he mentioned a woman who saw a fellow customer at a fabrics store wearing a "Kill Bush" button (she reported it to the FBI). I have never in my life heard of anything like this.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: October 27th, 2004 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, and it's on both sides of the spectrum. I've seen Kerry supporters get their lawns trashed and read about newspaper editors who've gotten death threats after saying who they support. My sister lives in Colorado and she says that they've gotten their car "keyed" and their Kerry/Edwards and anti-Bush bumperstickers scraped off in parking lots, and that my cousin, who is a Bush supporter, has had eggs smashed in his door lock and on his windshield. (Those vandals left his bumper stickers alone, though.)

What happened to mutual respect?
sreya From: sreya Date: October 27th, 2004 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, what gets me is that a lot of fuss is being made over the visit.

Hasn't she been to an airport over the last 3 years? Goodness, a lot less than that about the security in the airports can get you dragged into a security booth and end up with you missing your plane, at best. Seems rather logical to me that something like this about the President, during an extremely volatile political season, would be taken seriously when reported.
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: October 27th, 2004 06:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Other political thought today is the depressing realization that it doesn't matter who wins the election. I don't mean that in a "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" sort of way, but in terms of the country.

I have no idea if it will help in any way, much less if it will happen (either that outcome of the election or the plans implemented) but USNWR claims:
The Kerry transition team, hastily planning a Democratic administration should their man win, says it wants to put Republicans in the cabinet. "We want to make it clear that a Kerry presidency will unite," says a Kerry insider, "not divide."

I don't know whether such a gesture would help (at this point, most Dems I know consider Zell Miller Republican in all but title), but one has to hope, right?
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: October 27th, 2004 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Kind of reassuring article I just came across when I was looking for something else.


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