The Liberty – Security Question

In my last post I pointed out that President François Hollande’s impassioned push for the extension of a state of emergency in France was just the opening of the abyss for French civil rights. And if that extension is granted, which it likely will be, what then? Will the emergency truly be over in just three short months? Does the defeat of ISIS now have a timetable? And, once it is defeated, will civil liberties be restored?

I doubt it. The fear propaganda train will just keep rolling into the night of uncertainty. After all, it could happen again. Best leave things as they are.

Our own experience with civil rights curtailment run amok is an excellent example. The Patriot Act was passed in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and we didn’t get rid of most of it until June of this year. Perhaps the most sinister aspect of the law was Section 215, which authorized law enforcement to seize any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)” deemed necessary to a terrorism investigation. Edward Snowden‘s revelation that the NSA was using Section 215 to collect bulk phone data from millions of unsuspecting Americans was the coup de grâce to Patriot, which was ultimately gutted and reborn as the Freedom Act.

Now Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, wants to delay the reform of the Freedom Act. As it stands now, the NSA’s unfettered access to the phone records of most Americans ends on November 29. Rubio wants to delay that in the name of national security, and in fact wants to bring back parts of the Patriot Act. Rubio’s rationale is thus:

The Paris terrorist attacks remind us that no corner of the free world is safe from these savages, and it is our duty to defeat them by any means necessary. The USA Freedom Act signed into law earlier this year left our intelligence community with fewer tools to protect the American people and needlessly created more vulnerabilities and gaps in information gathering used to prevent terrorist attacks at home and abroad.

I have no argument with President Hollande or Senator Rubio that ISIS is a threat and must be defeated. But that is not the issue. The issue is that citizens of any country should not be expected to suspend or renounce their civil liberties in exchange for feeling secure. If a government cannot protect her populace without robbing it of its inalienable rights, then it is a very sorry one indeed. And if a country’s population is willing to surrender its liberty for security, then it deserves neither.



The Price of Security

This is how the terrorists win.

French President François Hollande has asked for an extension of the state of emergency that now exists in France, and as of this morning the government was debating extending this condition by three months. Such a declaration would not only grant the police new and sweeping powers, it would write them into the constitution. Specifically the law would allow

… severe restrictions of civil liberties and could involve curfews, restricted movements, house arrests, closing public establishments, expanded powers for police to make arrests and to control the press and broadcast media, all of which are liberties the constitution is meant to guarantee.

RFI English

In other words, ISIS has caused the French government to spread terror for them.

The terrorist’s objective is to spread terror, and ISIS got the ball rolling on Friday night when suicide bombers killed 129 people. But it was the reaction of President Hollande in asking for an extension of emergency powers that keeps tensions high in France. And NPR reported today that the French are okay with sacrificing some of their rights in order to be secure.


Sorry, but you can’t make me believe that you really feel free of the specter of terror when cops can tell you where you can and cannot go at any time and for any reason or stop and frisk you because you might be a terrorist (you do have a beard). And you may say you feel secure, but when the government controls the media, you’re being told what to think. And it wants you to think you’re secure today.

That’s real terror, when the enemy has done such a whammy on you that your government finishes the job by suspending your rights for your own good.

This brand of terror was visited on the United States on September 11, 2001; the draconian Patriot Act became law barely a month later. It, like Patriot Act à la française, was debated and passed quickly in the heat of passion over the violent attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We gave up our rights, like dutiful little citizens, and wondered why on Earth our government would want to read our email. It’s just so boring!

But the point is that they – like ISIS – can do it at all, whenever they want, and for whatever reason.

And that’s reason enough to say non.


The Ascension of College Football

The main takeaway from yesterday’s twin resignations at the University of Missouri is that college football teams have power, and lots of it.

Think about it. Former university president Timothy Wolfe had been confronted by students before – notably the ones who surrounded his car during homecoming – and ignored their demands, but only when faced with the loss of football revenue through forfeit penalties, ticket sales, concessions, and television coverage did he finally go.

I don’t think Wolfe ever got it.

As a former graduate student, I can understand the ire of someone who teaches classes at the university and who suddenly finds that said university will no longer pick up the tab for health insurance. As a teacher of students who face discrimination and prejudice because of their color, I can sympathize with students who endured obscene expressions of hate. But what I cannot understand is how Wolfe thought that none of this applied to him, that it wasn’t his fault, that if he ignored the students who demanded change, they and the problem would go away.

He brought about his own coup not because of what he did, but because of what he failed to do. His “let them eat cake” attitude meant nothing while Jonathan Butler had no bread.

And even when he resigned, it wasn’t about the students, not really. He made his decision after meeting with the donors and alums who had their collective hands on the money faucet.  It was HP and Carly Fiorina all over again. He had to take one for the team that was about to walk out. He had to go.

And so he went. Graduate students and football players cheered, while Butler said he would resume eating.

And now college football teams across the nation are left with the realization that they have more power than they ever dreamed of having, and not the power that comes from winning championships or getting lucrative NFL contracts. This wasn’t the power of a few superstars throwing a tantrum or LeBron’s decision. The team, acting as one, brought down a university president and a chancellor!

And all leaders – not just those of universities, but of corporations and of governments – should take note of what highly motivated individuals who band together can accomplish.

Because this is just the beginning.

Read more.


Sketchbook Has Changed, And So Did I

For those of you keeping score at home, this is Sketchbook 2.0.

Sketchbook 1.0 was all about music. I use the past tense because once upon a time, about five years ago, I wanted to be a working musician. And things were going well. I had my day job, of course, but I was in a pretty good band that was gigging regularly. I did a few other things to make some money (“diversified my revenue streams” is how they’d say it in Wall Street-ese): I taught piano, played weddings, and played at church. I made some extra money, but it never seemed quite enough.

I knew the odds were long, that it would be beyond a stretch to replace my teaching salary with that of a gigging keyboardist (I say that realizing that, to some, those salaries might be about equal). But I was determined to try, and my blog about the music business became a source of motivation for me. It was like studying for a test. If I wrote about it, I would learn it, and if I learned it, I would do it.

Then at some point I realized a sobering truth about the music business: it’s a younger person’s game. I’m fifty-five years old now, twelve years away from retirement. Who was I kidding? Did I really intend to plug away at bar gigs weekend after weekend? Keep dragging home at 3 AM while fighting sleep? Walk into my house smelling of smoke, stale beer, and sweat? And for what? A C-note per night – if that?

But those were all secondary reasons. The real epiphany was the day I realized that my goal in music was completely different from that of my bandmates. I wanted a career in music. They saw it as a hobby. And I knew I needed them. I’m a sideman, not a soloist.

So I tried to step away, but I couldn’t completely. I left the bar gigs and weddings behind, but I still play for my church. That’s important to me. And I still accompany my school’s chorus, because I teach most of those kids, and they’re important to me.

And has anything else captured my attention and given me something to do in all of my free time? You betcha.

I use my camera to keep my creative edge sharp these days. I bill myself as a photographer, and I do mean bill. I’ve shot a couple of weddings, portraits, model portfolios, and I shoot for my school’s yearbook. It’s loads of fun, I make money at being creative, and maybe it’ll become a full-time business for me one day. Who knows?

And I also realized I’ve missed writing, although this piece has been no picnic. I debated writing it at all, but in the end I decided that I should give my working musician days some sort of coda in case I still had some readers left.

The blog remains, but the direction has changed. My plan for Sketchbook 2.0 is simple: write an interesting blog about interesting stuff that interesting people find interesting.

To followers who are still with me, thanks for sticking around, and I hope you enjoy the new blog. To those just joining, welcome to my adventure.