October 5, 2001
A Clutch of Nettles
By Virginia Dare
My hard drive is
the Federal Authorities.
What is yours doing to help?
I'm really sorry that an exposé of Disney's reality-warping factory revealed The Truth About Lemmings. Turns out that the little fluff-brained darlings don't hurl themselves over cliffs in mass-suicide pacts. It was all special effects, staged for the 1958 documentary "White Wilderness." Lemmings, it transpires, are much more likely to kill each other than to self-immolate when their environments become too intense. Rather than go to all the trouble of buying Arctic rodents from opportunistic Eskimo kids, the producers would have been on much firmer ground if they'd just used their fellow Americans.
I'm starting to become deeply fond of the "quick polls" on CNN's Web page, as one is wont to favor anything that reinforces his deepest primordial fears. A recent little gem asked, "Do you think law enforcement needs extra powers to fight terrorism?" By a whopping 78 percent to 22 percent, the response was yes. I would have been bitterly disappointed in our lemming herd had the response failed to register at least 3-to-1, and so that evening I lifted a glass of single malt, O Best Beloved, to the blessed predictability of the ninety and nine who stay within the fold.
On the same page as the poll was a link to a story explaining that the Federal Trade Commission has decided against seeking stronger consumer-privacy laws protecting personal information on the Internet. It appears that since September 11, many companies have been sharing their consumer data with the Feds and with each other in an attempt to identify "suspicious coincidences." Just who in hell are the terrorists in this continuum, anyhow? Surely couldn't be our friendly minions on the FTC's payroll (bankrolled by our tax dollars, yours and mine): after all, that outfit is ramping up its staff dedicated to "privacy issues" by 50 percent. On the other hand, the official line about "working on privacy issues" may not exactly represent the highest and best use of the English language, since those extra bodies on staff will enable the FTC to police more Websites and bring lawsuits against violators.
Banks, supermarket chains, airlines, and car rental agencies, to name just a few helpful elves, are cheerfully breaking their privacy policies, or at least seriously bending them, as they hand over great masses of data to various law enforcement agencies. And they're doing it not necessarily because they were asked or ordered to do it. They're doing it voluntarily and proactively, as we Newspeakers like to say in order to assist the terrorism investigations.
The law enforcement agencies in question need extra powers like a moose needs a hat rack. The vast American public is threading itself on the spit, basting itself placidly, and offering to carve off the most succulent chunks of its rights as a burnt offering to the Gods of War. I purposely didn't make a note of the returns on the survey asking East Coast Americans whether they favored internment camps for persons of Arab extraction in the United States. Be glad I didn't. Some things are really better imagined than described.
In case you haven't picked up on some of the clues and hints that my comrades here in the depths of the Ditch have been tossing out to you, we are fighting for survival in authentic Chinese Curse territory, living, since September 11, in what can only described as "interesting times." Never has the totalitarianism been more polite: strangers are hugging each other, Dan Rather is teary on camera, candles are glowing, flags are waving from every conceivable cranny, and if I hear "God Bless America" one more time, I cannot be held responsible for my actions, because even free will and self-determination can only go so far.
In the (smiley) face of so much love-of-country solidarity, I feel like the Grinch getting ready to despoil the Fourth of July, but we need to cultivate a bunker mentality and not trust any of these morons with the cute little flag lapel pins. In our righteous anger at the violence we've watched, live and on tape, in recent weeks, we have to cling very tenaciously to our sense of proportion and remember that the typical neighborhood patriot is not our friend, but the sworn enemy of our freedom, or at the very least the dupe product of our political and educational indoctrination mills.
I frequently despair when I "converse" with acquaintances whose deepest life lessons are culled from prime-time sitcoms or Hollywood blockbusters, but movies and television do give us some easily recognized phrases that convey, in just a few syllables, an extraordinary amount of plot synopsis. (Or, if you prefer, baggage.) In a column with certain space constraints, such mantras can be useful. So I leave you with a couple or three parting images:
There are pods growing in the basements, dear ones; if not your basement, then probably the one next door or down the block.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
And stay away from cliffs.
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