Snitches and Headlights: One Year After

(Originally published September 10, 2002)

For our safety, Mr. Ashcroft got the government to spend lots of money to beef up Neighborhood Watch, run by the Sheriffs’ Association, supervised by FEMA. We also got TIPS – the Terrorist Information and Protection System, otherwise known as “Totalitarianism In Place Soon” or “Totally Insane Police State.” Run by the Justice Department, this program encourages truckers, bus drivers, etc. to spy on you. Or, if you happen to be a trucker or bus driver, encourages you to become a ratfink informer. It is claimed that because of objections about possible invasions of individual privacy, postal and utility workers are not to be included in the program. We are solemnly promised that those workers will not be given the special hotline number. This is akin to telling a jury to disregard testimony they just heard. You can’t unring the bell. Assure the citizens it’s right to spy on each other, and some of them will believe it. In late 20th century Russian novels, a recurring character is the ubiquitous Party informant in every apartment building, or possibly on every floor. Being Americans, we can do the government snitch thing better, faster, and more efficiently. Eat our dust, Commies.

A quotation we see a lot these days is from Benjamin Franklin: “People who are willing to sacrifice essential freedoms for security deserve neither freedom nor security.” One freedom I cherish is the freedom to drive around in the daytime with the car headlights off. It’s like this. A chain email has been circulating, regarding September 11, which urges patriotic Americans to have their headlights on. We won’t even go into how meaningless this is as a gesture, since with many recent vehicles “on” is the default position for headlights.

I can see it now. Put the headlights on, drive to the dentist, get held up because the previous appointment ran overtime, stop in the drugstore, go back to the car, and it won’t start because the battery is dead. When you don’t routinely have headlights on during the day, it’s easy to forget to turn them off. So you beg strangers for the loan of jumper cables or wait around for a tow truck and get home to find the kids at each other’s throats because there’s no dinner and they’ve stuffed themselves with sugary cereal.

Here’s the payoff question: What possible connection does any of this have with commemorating mass murder by jet aircraft? Beats me. It’s a dumb idea. So let’s keep the headlights off. Even at the risk of a citizen’s arrest performed by a pizza delivery person who is plugged into the Citizencorps website and proud to be a TIPSter.

Some people think, “I have nothing to worry about. My conscience is clear and I don’t have a swarthy complexion.” When the government started rounding up hundreds of suspicious characters, it didn’t even need to wait for new laws to be passed, but had plenty of grounds in existing immigration laws and the legal power to detain people as material witnesses, etc. In fact we would all do well to remember that we’re all just as vulnerable in some way as a foreigner with a lapsed visa. There are so many various laws on the books that the excuse is there to nail anybody, should the government choose to do so. Now more than ever, everybody’s ass is up for grabs.

About Pat Hartman

Before publishing the two books "Call Someplace Paradise" and "Ghost Town: A Venice California Life", my main project was "Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics. " I wrote extensively for "Scene," a monthly arts and entertainment magazine with a circulation of 25,000. Also proofread, sold ads, put together the music calendar and, for a couple of years, served as editor. Presided over a couple issues of the local NORML newsletter, as well as being featured speaker at chapter meetings. Wrote a complete screenplay; collaborated on another one; worked on a couple of scripts (additional dialog and general brainstorming) with an indie film producer. Booked the talent for a large music festival. Wrote, designed, illustrated and produced various catalogs and brochures for small businesses. Spoke at a high school as a panelist on Women in the Professions; was a featured speaker at the 1991 Women in Libertarianism Conference; presented public programs on "Success in One Lesson" and "The Bloomsbury Group: What's It To Us?" Created the website and wrote many politically-oriented pieces for
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