Letters from Berkley

BY ALLISON MARGOLIN

I came to Berkeley to know that I wasn’t crazy. I came here because I knew that there are crazier people than me, and that I can learn from them.

Nothing is as it appears. That’s why we go to Harvard; it’s why our parents want us to go there.

Maybe that’s a good thing right now. Maybe going to Harvard gives us the right to comment on the propensities of those in power to look for greater power whenever possible, and of those not in power to manipulate every situation. Maybe it gives me the right to say that I could have predicted, when I read George Bush’s speech praising Muslims for their peaceful prayer, that the federal government would propose to detain foreigners for indefinite periods of time. Nothing is as it appears.

Not even Congress’s “toning down” of the administration’s reckless anti-terrorist bill, still targeting “terrorist suspects” as the nonpareil criminal class but failing to identify what constitutes a terrorist suspect. If the description used to identify these “suspects” looks anything like the “official” clues used to determine whether an airline passenger is a drug-courier suspect, that definition will include things like “arrived late at night, arrived early in the morning, or arrived in the afternoon.”

And for the rest of us that the federal government doesn’t deem “terrorist suspects” — the administration wanted to be given the legal capacity to read our emails and look at the websites we use at public terminals and, perforce, at private ones.

The only thing that is as it appears is the people in the government who want to sit around and spy on everyone. They already suffer from over-information, and the reality is that any more information they get will only confuse them more. Fortunately for them, the legislation they are trying to get passed will probably streamline news and information. We’ll use the U.S. mail, where we’ll still have Fourth Amendment rights.

Somehow, within a few weeks, we went from being shocked out of our complacency by hijackers whose existence had aluded us to a universe where we’re pretending that our laws facilitated the act. We want to pretend that had we intercepted and covertly listened to information, we would have been able to do something to stop this, and that we will be able to in the future.

But we had absolutely no idea who these people were before they crashed into our buildings and instigated more than 40 billion dollars of military funding. We would not have detained them or listened to their calls or tried to get the emails of their friends if we could have, even under our old laws, because we didn’t know that we needed to.

Nothing is as it appears. I wonder if anticipating disaster will bring it about.

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