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Who was Cassandra?


  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.

MY SMALL PRESS


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December 14, 2007

Comments

Maybe you have to be an older and less idealistic Canadian to see our neighbour as it really is, as it has become. Every word you write here, Beth, chimes with me and reinforces my feelings of sadness and fear. I don't have a political blog either though I'm very politically aware. I'm glad you are voicing this here in the hope it's not already too late here in Canada.

Thank you, Marja -Leena, for saying this -- and supporting me in my own hopes about not repeating the same mistakes here in Canada.

Thank you for this writing. I cannot tell you how ashamed I am to be an American at this time. I don't have a political blog either but I'm getting close to to it as I read things like this. I see little hope in the coming elections that will change the situation. Very few of those who have been elected take action. The more money that lines the pockets of congress the less they do.

I'm puzzled by the surprise. Is it that we have short memories? The paranoid mindset that was America hypnotised by McCarthyism is not that long ago. It is tempting to attribute a particular mindset to an entire nation but it is understandable. It may not in the genes but it's obviously a part of the culture.

From what I can see from here in the UK, the general USA policy is one of anything-is-justifiable-as-long-as-it's-for-the-greater-good-which sounds okay but America is not a mother fighting to stop someone slaughtering her child – I'm sure they would snap up the metaphor in a jiffy – America is a nation. Embrace the metaphor – fine – but remember it is only a metaphor and metaphors have a habit of greatly simplifying the facts.

I don't get politics. It was one of those things I expected to understand when I grew up. Somehow that didn't happen. Now it all seems so childish. When did we swap places?

I don't think we Americans are expressing surprise, per se, on the basis of short memories, because what you say is true - one can project current American political behavior from past experience, and the roots have been there for a long time. What's different and distressing is how much has changed in the culture and general atmosphere since 9/11. Friends from the UK who have lived here before recently visited for the first time since 9/11 and were shocked. Really shocked. It's probably something I can't even describe very well, and it's much more evident to people who have been away and then come back, or people like us who move between countries. Stay-at-home Americans themselves don't see it as clearly: like the proverbial frogs getting hotter and hotter as the water they're in approaches the boil.

No right-thinking person should accept that this Scandinavian-American Princess's self-pitying and self-aggrandizing version of what happened as definitive, or even authoritative. Because of one bureaucratically-exacerbated incident an affluent international jetsetter angles for Martha Stewart New Media martyrdom -- and no one, not even Beth, asks hard questions....

Where's the concern for what my government's assigned agents go through every day to protect me and other American citizens, residents, and visitors from real terrorist threats? We just can't tell from the woman's version of events what other factors may have led to her detention: a perceived haughtiness or evasiveness in responding to questions? (Women who go in for intercontinental, first-class shopping sprees to Manhattan are not likely to be the most docile interviewees.) Perhaps her passport reveals travel to countries named by my State Department as sponsors of terrorism? Perhaps her luggage contained items that aroused concern? Perhaps they'd discovered and detained someone else from that flight who'd aroused even more suspicion, and therefore they were examining others with even greater scrutiny? Yet people rush compare the girl who's gotta have Gucci to a guy in Guantanamo....

Like most people, I know what it's like to be an international traveler and not an immigration agent; like most I'm prone to "identify" with her first (or only). But think -- just once -- in terms of the challenge, even art, of what these government agents do: there's tedious conformity to regulations but also a need for je ne sais quoi snap judgment that snuffs out irregular or eyebrow-raising traits. If you've ever taken pleasure at watching a fictional crime drama, from Mickey Spillane to Law & Order, then you know what it's like to root for the "good guys" to finger the bad ones. In this day and age, there's no excuse for not rooting for my good guys. That doesn't mean approving or being comfortable with everything they do, but it does mean approaching the subject with even-handedness and rigor.

"Detention, humiliation, and deportation" is the best thing that ever happened to that woman.

* * *

Another thing: Palestinians, Syrians, and Iranians deserve the most intense scrutiny when seeking admission to my country. The governments of all three entities are at war with or have committed acts of aggression, directly or by proxy (which can be taken as grounds for war) against democracies including the United States, Israel, Lebanon, and the struggling Iraqi republic. Palestine, whose government is committed to destroying Israel... Syria, who has occupied neighboring Arab territory longer and killed thousands more Arabs than Israel ever has, who assassinates democratic Lebanese democratic politicians (where's the "Arab Graham Greene" to write a novel about "The Ugly Syrian"?)... Iran, which is committed to the destruction of Israel, either by proxy (Hezbollah) or by nuclear strike.

The revealing irony here is that despite the literary credentials of some who deplore the scrutiny of certain Middle Eastern nationals, there is nary a word about the vast contributions of Israel to modern, democratic culture -- its cutting-edge high-tech industry, its army of Nobel Prize winners, its wealth-producing economy -- nary a word about Israel and the threats facing it and its citizens every day.

Since another commenter mentioned "McCarthyism"....

"The long-awaited Blacklisted by History, based on six years of intensive research, dismantles the myths surrounding Joe McCarthy and his campaign to unmask Communists, Soviet agents, and flagrant loyalty risks working within the U.S. government. Evans’s revelations completely overturn our understanding of McCarthy, McCarthyism, and the Cold War."
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&endeca=1&isbn=140008105X&itm=6

It's all there in the previous commentor's repeated use of the word 'my', isn't it? This incomprehensibly horrible behaviour starts to happen and to seem defensible as soon as we divide people into 'us' and 'them'.

That is why I believe even the most personal, anecdotal kind of blogging - but especially if it's a real sharing of the heart and mind - is politically progressive in the deepest sense if it increases our sense of other individuals far away as someone just like 'us'.

I was about to start answering some of Jeremayakovka's points, and questioning others, like:
- "this Scandinavian-American Princess's self-pitying and self-aggrandizing version of what happened": What basis do you have for any of these labels?
- "Yet people rush compare the girl who's gotta have Gucci to a guy in Guantanamo": Where is such a comparison made? Of course any such comparison would be baseless.
- "In this day and age, there's no excuse for not rooting for my good guys. That doesn't mean approving or being comfortable with everything they do[...]": Is any behaviour by "your good guys" then acceptable?
- etc.

But then I came to this sentence: ""Detention, humiliation, and deportation" is the best thing that ever happened to that woman." And reading this I realized that Jeremayakovka just proved the larger point: The admirable strength, optimism, and humanity of American society really is giving way to fear, anger and knee-jerk reactions.

The only relevant question left to ask is: Jeremayakovka, can you really not see the hate flowing in your own speech?

So sad. So truly sad.

Correction: could be the best thing that ever happened to her -- but only if she, and people who read her words, are committed to presenting all the facts involved.

Hatred is just as legitimate as love. You can take your condescending "sadness" and shove it, "HHH".

He says it better than I:
"It's been nearly six long years since a catastrophic attack on our shores, and we've understandably turned to infighting and second-guessing — about everything from Guantanamo to wiretaps. But this six-year calm, unfortunately, has allowed some Americans to believe that "our war on terror" remedy is worse than the original Islamic terrorist disease."
http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson091007.html

He says it better than I:
"It's been nearly six long years since a catastrophic attack on our shores, and we've understandably turned to infighting and second-guessing — about everything from Guantanamo to wiretaps. But this six-year calm, unfortunately, has allowed some Americans to believe that "our war on terror" remedy is worse than the original Islamic terrorist disease.... All this tail-chasing comes only with the illusory thinking that the present lull is the same as perpetual peace. Have we forgotten that experts still insist that another strike will come, carried out by those already here or shortly to enter the United States?"
http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson091007.html

If our friend in Iceland wants the privilege of a haute couture holiday shopping spree, she may have to have her items shipped to her or else go to London. Unfortunate, but not tragic.

I don't really see myself, much less a nation, as having a soul, but if I, or a nation were to have one, how would it present itself? Hurt, loss and fear, all evoke in me a feeling of pity and self-recognition which seems soulful enough. All are vividly portrayed by the flailing, desperate, baffled figure of xenopobia.

I guess the answer to my previously stated question is evident.

But here is the thing: It is an easy way out to simply yield to every "take your [insert at will] and shove it". For those that are unhappy with the turn the US is taking, it is probably simplest to lose interest, to unplug, to withdraw. Leaving the stage free for the "shove it"-people. So I am not going to take that route. Instead, I am going to continue to state my concern, calmly and peacefully, and refuse to be shouted into submission.

There is nothing condascending about my sadness over the state of affairs. It is quite genuine.

Oh and by the way, Jeremayakovka: I categorically disagree with your statement that "Hatred is just as legitimate as love". There is nothing legitimate about society or any other any company of man that is ruled by hate. It is telling about the current times that we actually seem to need to debate that.

I happen to be wearing a brown shirt today, and I suppose that if costume makes the man, I should applaud Jeremayakovka's remark about hate as a legitimate emotion and ask what's the problem with Iran wanting to obliterate Israel. I don't think that way at all, though, and I think grownups ought to take a more nuanced view of affairs.

Consider that, thanks to security concerns, our northern border will soon be closed to Americans who can't afford to lay out hundreds of dollars for U.S. passports for the family. Or that Canada, with new access to U.S. data, is now turning back Americans with records for such crimes as shoplifting and drunken driving -- reasonably, perhaps, but they're solving a problem no one had noticed before. The Icelandic woman's story about humiliation at the border need not even be true to have a lot in common with stories other travelers give the media or post online.

Beyond that, consider the spectacle of airline passengers padding through airports without shoes. Of people carrying sample-size shampoos around in Zip-Lock bags. Or of famous people and children trying to prove they're not terrorists even though their names appear on a "watch" list. At the Congressional Ball last weekend, an Ohio representative was found to be carrying a constituent's "Flat Stanley" paper cutout, which he hoped to "introduce" to the president. No way, says Security, he's not on the guest list (The White House made up for it later, but still). One doesn't have to be indifferent to the dangers of hate in the world to feel that something has gone wrong.

What's that line about evil triumphing if good people remain silent? The only reasonable response to haters like Jeremayakovka is to bury them in words and votes, and the only way to do that is to sit up, take notice of what's happening, and speak up.

Thank you, Jean, HHH, and Bill for your considered and polite responses to Jeremayakova's remarks. i have little to add except to say to Jeremayakova directly: comments such as "Hatred is just as legitimate as love. You can take your condescending "sadness" and shove it" are just as unwelcome on this blog as they would be in my house, and I will not allow them here. The reason I don't write often about politics is because some commentators, nearly always from the conservative side, seem to be unable to discuss these issues calmly and with respect for other points of view. If it is impossible for me to maintain an atmosphere of respect for myself and my guests here, I will have to stop posting about controversial issues, or ban the people who cross the boundaries of behavior that I find acceptable. You are entitled to your opinions; I don't agree with them, in fact I deplore them and find in them the root of much of what is wrong. If this blog and my writing are about anything, they are about love being far more legitimate than hate, and being a choice which each of us makes in our own lives. I feel compassion for those who cannot find it in their hearts to live that way; this blog is written for and about those who struggle toward another way of life in spite of all the forces which push human beings in another direction.

Thank you, Peter. Our posts seemed to have crossed!

The laws were changed long before 9/11, I think under Reagan, but the increased scrutiny being applied these last years is why she got picked up and why, in part, she was treated so appallingly. All persons entering the U.S. who have been in violation of their visa would be rebuffed, on the premise they represent what, in Australia, are called "queue jumpers", i.e., illegal immigrants. In years past, these people would be interviewed and likely put on the very next plane home, albeit without the use of handcuffs, etc., except in cases where they, for example, arrived without a passport/visa or forged documents. In those cases, the drive over to Jersey would have taken place in shackles and detention imposed until such time as a determination could be made of their status, since, often enough, they'd claim to be refugees at that point, and hearings, judicial or otherwise, would have to take place. I can recall hearing of terrible conditions in those jails and even riots, again, well before 9/11.

What happened in this case represents the escalation we have allowed with the introduction of such measures as the USA Patriot Act and other post-9/11 legislation. It's harsh, but it isn't personal. Everything she describes was meant to ensure the safety of the personnel managing her case and to prevent her from escaping custody and gaining entry to the U.S. What's hard to excuse, nearly impossible, is the attitude. It's understandable, nevertheless, for customs and immigration officials working at border-crossing points to act with bureaucratic focus to the point of impersonality. While they effectively act as the official welcoming face of the U.S., they manage thousands of foreign arrivals, and they're not only not all friendly, many really are trying to get one over on them, whether bringing in prohibited items, over-the-limit items subject to tariffs, or sneaking in themselves. A certain amount of impassivity seems requisite for getting the job done without being overwhelmed, although, obviously, a smile and a joke or two never hurt anyone.

The experience of this particular woman was, I'm sure, very distressing, and I am sorry for that. It was, in this case, over the top. But it isn't always and it isn't all GWB's fault, although I hate like hell offering anything like an apology for that man. I'm not in agreement with Jeremayakovka, who I think has responded most churlishly, but there is a balance to be found, and I hope this woman is able to find some room for understanding what took place eventually. Sorry to go on so long; I fall into a bit of pedantry sometimes.

What a terrible, sickening story. My Indian husband doesn't want to visit the US because he assumes that he will be humiliated, and who can blame him. I don't know if you can blame the administration for everything, though - what about the individuals who carry out its policies with such enthusiasm? People are not inherently good, and the tendency to go wrong may be greater in a country which believes that it is the greatest in the world, and that god made it so. (The US is not alone in this, of course.)

Hi Nancy - thanks for the comment. Yes, I think this kind of behavior results from national insularity and self-aggrandizement, which is not only sad but very dangerous wherever it occurs. Another factor is the increasing militarization of U.S. society. Willing henchmen are drawn not only from civilian life but from former military people. All soldiers are not inherently violent or authoritative, of course. But every society contains people who are drawn to police and military work for various reasons, and some of them will use and abuse the power they are given over others because they like that feeling. When the government gives them an excuse to act on these tendencies, and arms them, and sanctions their more extreme behavior in the name of "national security" the results are what we have seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and, more and more, in airports and detention centers. This is not a country that is good at examining cause and effect.

Beth,

The sudden rise in your readership is my fault, but I think it's worth it in the long run. Thanks, and best.....

First, before anything else, I want to wish you a wonderful holiday season, Beth. And to thank you for all the years of your friendship. This next year should be another step toward a deeper fine-aging of our lives. May the days bring more cherished memories and adventure.

As to the comments above, well, you really to be or know a non-American who went through all the horrors of the American immigration system to appreciate just what kinds of things can happen. It is not always so, but the general experience can be simply awful. In my travels I've rarely had the kinds of hassles and humiliations that the American immigration system has put me through.

After the horrible stories that I'd heard ever since the New York tragedy, I wanted nothing more to do with the the United States, and refused to make the effort to come and visit, even though my family lives here. I was so angry about all that had happened that it would have been deeply against my convictions to allow myself to be subjected to the indignities that immigration and customs officers in the U.S. so often feel they have the right to inflict on people. And just to be on the same soil as a people who officially sanctioned an "unjust" war and (as opposed to those who "unofficially" protested against the war) made me feel sick to my stomach. It's not that I hate anything or anyone here; it's just that the sense of wrong was so overpowering and so blatant, while there was nothing, as a non-American, I could do about it.

That being said, I was dumbfounded by the treatment I received just four days ago when I arrived at JFK in New York. I had expected unacceptable treatment and had steeled myself for keeping my outrage to myself. Instead, the entire immigration hall was quiet and well-organized, a friendly and informative welcome message from one of the staff greeted all visitors, and the immigration officer who reviewed my wife and me exchanged friendly banter and jokes. He even turned up the sound of a Josh Grober song he was playing on his iPod, asking if we had heard this wonderful music. And though I had to contain my rising bile at having to be fingerprinted, he apologized for it and made me feel that he was human and just doing what he had to do. I don't know if this treatment came about because I had arrived on a Japanese flight and the Japanese government and the All Japan Airways staff had requested better treatment for the money-carrying Japanese passengers, but it was a pleasant surprise. It took all of 15 minutes to pass through immigration; in my experience with American immigration over the years, an unlikely first.

Maybe American immigration is finally realizing just how bad America's reputation outside the country is? Or maybe all that money being lost due to more and more non-Americans being completely unwilling to deal with the humiliation and therefore not bringing in the tourist money that New York and other tourist destinations survive on? Is there a sea change? I don't trust it yet with this one experience. But it would be a truly welcome change if it was.

All I have to do now is turn about and face Japan's immigration next... following America, last month Japan implemented a new immigration law that ALL non-Japanese, even those who are permanent residents like me, must be fingerprinted each time they enter the country. The process takes about an hour and a half from what I hear. Of course, the only terrorism that has ever been commited in Japan is by Japanese themselves, but none of them are being fingerprinted.

First, before anything else, I want to wish you a wonderful holiday season, Beth. And to thank you for all the years of your friendship. This next year should be another step toward a deeper fine-aging of our lives. May the days bring more cherished memories and adventure.

As to the comments above, well, you really to be or know a non-American who went through all the horrors of the American immigration system to appreciate just what kinds of things can happen. It is not always so, but the general experience can be simply awful. In my travels I've rarely had the kinds of hassles and humiliations that the American immigration system has put me through.

After the horrible stories that I'd heard ever since the New York tragedy, I wanted nothing more to do with the the United States, and refused to make the effort to come and visit, even though my family lives here. I was so angry about all that had happened that it would have been deeply against my convictions to allow myself to be subjected to the indignities that immigration and customs officers in the U.S. so often feel they have the right to inflict on people. And just to be on the same soil as a people who officially sanctioned an "unjust" war and (as opposed to those who "unofficially" protested against the war) made me feel sick to my stomach. It's not that I hate anything or anyone here; it's just that the sense of wrong was so overpowering and so blatant, while there was nothing, as a non-American, I could do about it.

That being said, I was dumbfounded by the treatment I received just four days ago when I arrived at JFK in New York. I had expected unacceptable treatment and had steeled myself for keeping my outrage to myself. Instead, the entire immigration hall was quiet and well-organized, a friendly and informative welcome message from one of the staff greeted all visitors, and the immigration officer who reviewed my wife and me exchanged friendly banter and jokes. He even turned up the sound of a Josh Grober song he was playing on his iPod, asking if we had heard this wonderful music. And though I had to contain my rising bile at having to be fingerprinted, he apologized for it and made me feel that he was human and just doing what he had to do. I don't know if this treatment came about because I had arrived on a Japanese flight and the Japanese government and the All Japan Airways staff had requested better treatment for the money-carrying Japanese passengers, but it was a pleasant surprise. It took all of 15 minutes to pass through immigration; in my experience with American immigration over the years, an unlikely first.

Maybe American immigration is finally realizing just how bad America's reputation outside the country is? Or maybe all that money being lost due to more and more non-Americans being completely unwilling to deal with the humiliation and therefore not bringing in the tourist money that New York and other tourist destinations survive on? Is there a sea change? I don't trust it yet with this one experience. But it would be a truly welcome change if it was.

All I have to do now is turn about and face Japan's immigration next... following America, last month Japan implemented a new immigration law that ALL non-Japanese, even those who are permanent residents like me, must be fingerprinted each time they enter the country. The process takes about an hour and a half from what I hear. Of course, the only terrorism that has ever been commited in Japan is by Japanese themselves, but none of them are being fingerprinted.

For honesty's sake...I lived in Montreal one week each month for four years [2002-2006] (some of the best years of my life). Upon re-entering the USA at some point mid-way in those years, an agent asked me for the names of my friends. I was so startled at the question that I "choked". At which point, he told me that, of course, I had met my friends "in the bars", and there was a sinister (with apologies to my left-handed friends) assessment of my visit. Nevermind that I had very good friends in Montreal, and an apartment of my own there. I love this country and it's founding principles. God grant that we may have the strength to uphold them [they are very much in danger...next election will tell].

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