Militarised Police

In his drive to undo every single Obama policy, Trump has lifted restrictions on police getting military combat gear. This ban was put in place after images came out of the militarised response to protests in Ferguson. The problem with police having military gear is that they will use it in interactions with civilians.

Without a doubt, this is a national issue. However, it is also a local issue. Every police force has it’s own rules about what it can and can’t purchase. Your city can direct it’s police not to buy military hardware.

Many cities are organised into districts, so that every district elects a council member. I used google and my city’s web pages to find my district and from there, found the phone number for my council member’s office. The following is roughly what I said:

Hello, I am a registered voter in [District X] and I’m calling because Trump has just lifted the ban on police forces acquiring military hardware. I’d like to ask that our city police do not get an military equipment and get rid of any military equipment that they might already have.

I vote in Berkeley, and the person answering the phone had not heard of the new rules and was unhappy to hear of them. She assured me that my council member was in agreement and expressed hope that the whole council would feel similarly. It may seem like it’s unnecessary to make this call in Berkeley, but my concern was that some people might think that military kit would be an appropriate way to respond to the fascist violence that’s been rising in the city. However, I would argue that the danger of fascism is part of why we must ensure our police are de-militarised.

Because local politics are smaller scale, our voices are much more easily heard than they are in national politics. Calling about this issue can help make a difference in your community. Moreover, this does have a national effect. Cities refusing this hardware will help repudiate Trump. And keep our cities safer from police overreaction.

for more about local police reforms and reducing police violence, check out the excellent group Campaign Zero.

Tell congress you’re against nuclear war

Dear [Congress Person],

The constitution states that war can only be declared by congress. Launching a nuclear first strike is certainly an act of war. I urge you and members of congress to make clear your necessary role in declaring war and to remove from the president the ability to make unauthorised first strikes.

Best Regards,

[Your name]

[The address at which you are registered to vote]

You can fax your senators for free: https://faxzero.com/fax_senate.php. You do not need to create an account, but you do need to enter your email address. You should contact both senators.

You can also fax your representative for free: https://faxzero.com/fax_congress.php. You only have one representative. You can find out who they are here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

If you are a US resident who cannot vote, you can, of course, still contact your local senator and representative. If you cannot vote in the US and do not live in the US, you should contact your local government representative and express your concerns. Especially if you government is a NATO member or allied with the US in some other way, this could be helpful.

Update

There’s already a bill in congress on this topic, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons act of 2017. Here’s a sample phone script if you want to call congress: https://www.wagingpeace.org/sample-phone-script-restricting-first-use-nuclear-weapons-act/

Air Travel Letter

Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to inquire as to the rules for your airport and the TSA in general in regards to what constitutes inappropriate touching. Yesterday afternoon, 7 April, I passed through security at JFK in Terminal 7 and opted out of the scanning machine. The office who patted me down touched my genitals twice through my clothes, once per leg pat. This experience left me feeling humiliated and angry. I want to determine if I what I experienced conforms to the law or if I should file a complaint of assault.
Thank you for your time.
Sincerely,
Dr. Charles Hutchins

So that happened.
I don’t want to go through the naked scanning machines partly due to concerns about radiation. The machines are not regularly calibrated or inspected and are not held to any kind of standard even approaching how medical devices are regulated. Even if they’re safe when they’re first installed the lack of maintenance is a major cause for concern.
And part of my concern with the devices is that they’re invasive without actually increasing security. That the newer machines, such as the ones installed at JFK, do not actually allow somebody to look at naked images does not allay these concerns. Operators pick a pink or a blue button depending on their guess as to the passenger’s primary and secondary sex characteristics. The machine then takes a scan and compares the passenger’s naked body with an idealised form of naked bodies. Areas of difference are then highlighted for additional scrutiny. Therefore, anyone who has a hidden disability that impacts their physical form or otherwise has an atypical body configuration must disclose this to the TSA workers.
My choices would therefore seem to be discussing my genitals with a TSA worker or having them felt by a TSA worker. Because this discussion would likely be extremely triggering, embarrassing and exposes me to the possibility of harassment, I’ve always chosen to opt out of the scanning machines, as is my right under US law. However, while the screener hopefully was not entirely aware as to the shape of my genitals, having them touched by a stranger under these circumstances also turns out to be more disturbing than I would have expected.
While I understand that not all genital touching is necessarily sexual in nature, this is a fundamentally different experience than one in a medical context. When examined by doctors, they explain what is going to happen immediately before it happens. While the TSA agent did mumble through a list of his prescribed actions, I was not warned of what was about to happen as it arose. Also, medical examinations always at least offer a chaperone or else provide one automatically. Finally, medical examinations are concerned primarily with my health and well-being, which is exactly the opposite power dynamic. Because consent is somewhat unclearly explained and is effectively coerced, this kind of invasive touching invites comparisons to sexual assault. And honestly, I don’t know if I was assaulted, as this has never happened to me before.
One of the oldest rights in the US, even before the Bill of Rights applied to individuals, is the right to travel unmolested. The TSA agent clearly violated that right and my person, so my only question is whether this is condemned or compelled by the law, as it certainly does not fall in between.
In frustration and unhappiness, I asked the agent if it would be easier if I removed my trousers. I then immediately apologised for this comment, saying he was just doing his job, which I assumed to be true at the time. He replied threatening me with arrest if I did so. Even after explaining several times that I was not intending to remove any clothes and regretted my choice of words, he kept repeating threats to escalate, advising me not to make things more difficult for myself.
I deeply regret that I’ve planned two separate trips to the US instead of combining everything into one trip. There is no question this experience will effect how often I visit home. I am a stage where I am not easily triggered by things related to being transgender, but for a lot of people, this situation, if the screener’s action was legal, would be so triggering that it would effectively ban then from air travel. Other travellers are also likely to avoid visiting the us, including tourists, which obviously has economic impact, and academics attending conferences as well as those travelling for business. This thus then increases an intellectual and economic isolation of the US.
For all the people I missed in New York who are wondering when I’ll next pass through, I’m afraid it’s not going to be for a very long while.

So you changed your facebook icon?

The US Supreme Court just heard arguments for two cases involving marriage equality. Up to 57% of Americans now think marriage equality is a good idea and a bunch of people, mostly straight allies, have changed their facebook icons into red equals signs to show this.

The equals sign is the logo of HRC, a gay (and not bi and really not trans) advocacy organisation. They’re run by and for A-gays and give awards to vulture capital firms for not discriminating against gay people while giving bonuses or while making people homeless, jobless and hungry. Not that they’re legally required to avoid this discrimination. In 34 states, it’s still legal to fire people for being gay or to throw them out of their homes. There is no federal hate crimes law. Gay people are not in the Civil Rights Act or the pathetically weak ‘ENDA’ which the HRC has been failing to get through congress for my entire adult life. That bill would prevent discrimination in employment only and only for gay people, as the HRC has specifically lobbied to prevent trans inclusion. Because trans people are icky and they’re sure it’s much more likely to pass if it excludes us. Really. any day now it will pass. … Not that they’re spending much capital on it, political or monetary. A-gays aren’t worried about getting fired.

The HRC wants you to know that gay people are just like you: rich, white and privileged. And normative. Why shouldn’t two men be able to have a wedding reception at their country club? So the legal talent and the money for the marriage cases are coming from freshly outed Republicans. Other funding is coming from straight people who saw Brokeback Mountain and cried. No, really. The single biggest block of people who have been pushing for marriage equality is straight women who liked Brokeback Mountain.

And so marriage equality has become a social barometer. Just like voting for Obama proves you’re not a racist, backing gay marriage and changing your facebook icon means you’re not homophobic. Because gay people are just like you! So if you feel uncomfortable around queeny men or especially around butch lesbians or around people you read as trans, no need to worry about being homophobic if you support gay marriage. No need to worry about having appropriate sex-ed for LGBT kids. No need to worry about the homeless LGBT youth who might want to build a shelter in your neighbourhood and drive down property values. It’s totally ok to think Grindr is icky and condemn it entirely with no first hand knowledge, because you support gay marriage!

And yes, it’s gay marriage. After all, the HRC just told trans people just this last week, to take down their flag, since “gay marriage isn’t a trans issue.”

Did I mention I got the first same sex divorce in the State of California? I can’t say I’m especially proud of this fact. I will say that having a legal structure for divorce made the split a lot easier than it would have been otherwise. I might get married again some day. Aside from everything else, it has implications with immigration law. And if I don’t have to appear in court and change my birth certificate, so much the better. So yes, I support marriage equality, which is also a transgender issue. And so is the staggeringly high rate of unemployment and under-empolyment among trans people in San Francisco, which is probably one of the most trans-friendly cities in the US.

I’m glad that allies are supporting this largely symbolic drive towards equality. But now let’s talk about why lgbt people, tend to be poor. Let’s talk about suicide rates. Let’s talk about bullying. Let’s talk about something that’s not just for the happily ever after, not just for the lucky. This alone doesn’t make everything all right and it doesn’t make you all right either. I know most of the people copying the symbol of a tarns-hostile organisation don’t even know the source of the icon. And that’s why this really is just not enough.

Leaving

Apparently, people disappointed by the recent election results in the USA are so upset they are thinking of leaving the country. I know just how they feel. I was greatly dismayed when Bush won re-election and and also decided migration was a good course of action.
If you want to move, I strongly encourage you to go for it. Not because it effects me, I’m already abroad and you’ll vote from wherever you are, but because immigration is an excellent opportunity for personal growth. It’s also a logistical challenge but manageable. Don’t let property concerns stop you! I own a house full of furniture, but found very reliable tennants.
Where to move? I wanted someplace adequately foreign and distant but that wasn’t bewlidering. I was fairly monolingual. My first choices were EU countries where English is not the dominant first language. I won’t lie: the language gap of living in France was extremely challenging. I’ve ended up living in England and, although this is not because of language, it is really a luxury and a relief to be able to communicate in my native language.
Those of you who have political issues now will have additional concerns, of course. Basically, every developed and many developing coluntries have socialist prgrammes in place, such as healthcare. Still, one of the privileges of being an immigrant is that bizarre or poor chloices of your host country are not your problem. You’re just a guest. Don’t let naysayers stop you when they point out your choice country is lead by an atheist or has social programmes you disapprove of. There is no stable country that has a libertarian government which means that there is no utopia to go to. So what? We live in an imperfect world and you can at least get away from the meltdown of your own homeland.
My advice is to start thinking about how you might immigrate and where you might go. Do you have skills that are in demand? Does your employer have overseas operations? Is there an educational program you can enroll in? (Some countries do not charge fees for students and may even cover your living expenses, although this is pretty socialist and there are usually age restrictions.) Look out for fellowships for career development as many of these are industry funded. Some countries will allow Americans to set up businesses, so if you own a bakery here, you could instead have one there. Many countries have shortages of people in skilled trades, like plumbers and nurses. Some just have demographic worries and will take anybody willing to work. If you’re American, there is definitely a country that will take you!
Once you arrive, don’t ghetto-ize! It’s a good idea to make some American friends where you go, as they’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with you and can help show you the ropes, but make sure to have non-American friends as well. Expats who live entirely in American bubbles seem to get kind of bitter. And no wonder as they are perpetually in between places, niether in America or fully in their new country. Remember, whether your migration is temporary or permanent, you will live where you live. Try to have at least half your friends be non-American and at least a few native friends. There will be people around who want to practice their English or who have experience of living abroad and will have empathy for your moments of confusion. Join a local church. Meetups are also a good way to meet people.
It took me a couple of years to organise my move, so don’t worry if you can’t rush. Moving abroad isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding. Your ancesgtors thought so! Give it a go.

Writing to the New York Times

Dear Editor,

Thank you for your article on January 12, 2012, “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?” I have long suspected that the Times was entirely unconcerned with the truth and was slavishly repeating the claims of people in or seeking power, but it’s nice to have it confirmed as the official policy of the newspaper. This will especially come in handy when I am arguing with others about the lack of merit of your newspaper.

As to your question about whether you should bother yourself with reporting the truth, I would say no. You don’t have any credibility anyway and it’s cheaper just to print press releases without doing research.

Thank you for taking the time to solicit reader opinion,
Charles Céleste Hutchins

Recently, I’ve learned that freedom of the press is much, much better protected in the United States than it is in the United Kingdom. Journalists are free to make claims with good evidence without having to be in fear of overly-strong libel laws. In the UK, you cannot make a claim without absolute proof. In the US, you just need good evidence and the occasional “alleged” and you’re good. UK journalists are jealous of the many press protections afforded American journalists.
And yet, with all the freedom to actually point out lies and fraud and corruption and to let their readers know when somebody is obviously lying – with the freedom to look into things and print what they find, with all of the great and wonderful legal protections the US provides to it’s journalists, the newspaper of record wonders if readers actually expect them to do any journalism. Brisbane, the editor, writes, “I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”
I wish I could say I was shocked.

Ron Paul says he witnessed a murder and did nothing


In the above video, Paul talks of witnessing an infanticide in progress, in a hospital where he was present as a doctor. When asked about this, ‘Paul was briefly taken aback. “I would have had to have… I don’t know,” he said. “It was probably a fleeting, two minute thing. I walked in, took a peek, saw what was happening, because I was visiting there for an operating room. But I didn’t have the facilities! What could I have done?”‘ (Weigel 2011) I dunno, maybe performed CPR, called for assistance, called the police, reported the murder to an ethics body?
Paul is bragging in an advert that he saw a baby murdered and did nothing. Fortunately, he is lying about this.
Late term abortions are exceedingly rare everywhere in the world, but especially in the US, where, if I remember correctly, only two hospitals still do them. There is no hospital in the US where doctors will abort a viable fetus. In the case a of a medical emergency, they might do a premature delivery to save the life of the mother or the child, but they won’t abort a baby that could live outside the womb. Not only would it violate every kind of medical ethics, but the actions Paul describes are illegal. They are murder, not in the sense of overblown anti-abortion rhetoric, but in the sense of having a duty to alert the police.
I don’t believe that Paul is protecting a hospital that murders children, as this story is almost certainly made up. As Fred Clark notes, this isn’t particularly new or original lie and it’s one that both he and I have heard before. And, as Clark writes, “they never include the kinds of details that would make such stories believable — names or places that could be confirmed, or any other such evidence.” (2012) So Paul isn’t covering for a murdering hospital so much as he is repeating something he heard elsewhere as if it happened to him. In other words, he’s telling a lie and just pretending to have covered for murderers. It’s not actually his story. Much like he now says he didn’t actually write his racist newsletters. (Kucinich 2011)
The thing I don’t get about Paul is not his KKK-levels of racism, in which he signed his name to newsletters calling black people “animals” (Paul 1992), and it’s not his making up fabulous stories in which he idly lets babies get murdered. What I don’t get about Paul is how he has any appeal with anyone at all acquainted with the left. Yeah, he wants to let you smoke pot (maybe, depending on your state) (“War on Drugs”) and I guess if you’re a white, middle class man who is never going to get pregnant or have a partner who deal with an unwanted pregnancy, nor are you ever going to want to buy birth control (Somanader 2011), (which he would happily let Walmart refuse to stock, as well as the AIDS drugs, etc) and are never going to need a ramp to access a building (Alder 2011), and you don’t care about anybody else who is not just like you, well, I can see why you might like him. but that kind of makes you a bad person. Yeah, he’s got some anti-war rhetoric (“Foreign Policy”) and I’d like to see the wars ended also, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the civil rights act (Basset 2012) for that. Also, I’m not sure I’d trust a guy who is bragging he helped cover for murderers.

Alder, Ben. “Three Myths About Ron Paul.” The Nation. 27 December 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <http://www.thenation.com/blog/165350/three-myths-about-ron-paul>
Basset, Laura. “Ron Paul: Civil Rights Act Of 1964 ‘Destroyed’ Privacy.” The Huffington Post. 1 January 2012. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/01/ron-paul-civil-rights-act_n_1178688.html>
Clark, Fred. “Say anything to take us out of this gloom”. Slacktivist. 3 January 2012. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/01/03/say-anything-to-take-us-out-of-this-gloom/&glt;
“Foreign Policy.” RonPaul.com Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <http://www.ronpaul.com/on-the-issues/national-defense/>
Kucinich, Jackie. “Ron Paul’s story changes on racial comments.” USA Today. 22 December 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <http://caucuses.desmoinesregister.com/2011/12/22/ron-pauls-story-changes-on-racial-comments/&gt
Paul, Ron. “Blast ‘Em?.” Ron Paul Political Report. 1992. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <http://www.tnr.com/sites/default/files/PoliticalReportOctober1992.pdf>
Paul, Ron. “Life.” YouTube. 12 October 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkAsLPrnJGc>
Somanader, Tanya. “Ron Paul: Greater Access To Birth Control Makes A ‘Mockery’ Of Christians.” Think Progress. 6 October 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <http://thinkprogress.org/health/2011/10/06/338285/ron-paul-greater-access-to-birth-control-makes-a-mockery-of-christians/>
“War On Drugs.” Wed. Assessed 5 January 2011. <http://www.ronpaul.com/on-the-issues/war-on-drugs/>
Weigel, David. “The Ron Paul Fetus Rescue Test.” Slate. 29 December 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2011/12/29/the_ron_paul_fetus_rescue_test.html>

Adventures in American Healthcare

A few days before I left England, my ear began to itch, in the spot where I used to have a cartilage piercing. I didn’t worry about it, but scratched at it, absentmindedly, thinking I really should do something about it but then forgetting. Then I got on a 10 hour flight, followed immediately by a 16 hour train ride. I got to my dad’s house and felt exhuasted and my ear was irrated to heck. I caught a glimpse of it in the mirror and my entire ear was red enough that I could step in for Rudolph and save Christmas, in case a holiday movie suddemly formed around me.
My dad took me to see a doctor at an “urgent care clinic.” This is American for a walk-in clinic. First, a nurse took my contact details and then told me to wait in the lobby. The primary feature of this was a large flatscreen TV showing adverts for prescription drugs. “Feeling stressed? Ask your doctor about Damitol. Damitol can help with burts of impotent rage. Do not take Damitol if you are already taking Fukitol. Side effects of Damitol may include becoming red faced, excessive sputtering and fatigue. Damitol works best when combined with diet and exercise. . . .” Blah blah blah. They had a 5 or 10 minute advert for a diabetes drug. Then they had a minute or two of random health-related information, then another advert. It was all branded as CNN Health.
“This is weird.” I said to my dad.
“I think it’s just general information about insulin . . . oh. That is weird.”
A nurse took me back, weighed me, took my blood pressure, pulse and temperature and asked about allergies. All interactions with healthcare providers in the US start with weight, blood pressure, etc. I explained about my ear, which was significantly less red by then. She took notes and left.
A moment later, the doctor came in and I repeated my story. He looked at my ear for 5 seconds and prescribed sulfa antibiotics. “They’re cheap,” he explained. I asked something about my ear and he said it was probably a staph infection and they tend to respond to sulpha.
“Staph?!” I thought.
“Unless it’s MRSA,” he continued.
I quit listening to his list of dire diseases. I asked about side effects and he started talking about posssible allergic reactions. “In the worst case your mouth and tongue will swell up and . . .”
“I just wanted to know if it was ok to drink or not.” I interrupted.
“If you drink, it will make the allergic reaction hit more quickly . . .”
I stopped listening again. Then I went out to the front to pay. Actually, my dad paid. It was over $100. Then we went to a pharmacy, where the drugs were only $14. They really were quite cheap.
The pharmacist explained that they might upset my stomach, etc. i had forgotten that in the States, you get this information from pharmacists and not doctors. Probably because we were in Washington state, she didn’t mention that I should stay out of the sun.
So I started taking antibiotics, wondering if my British GP would have prescribed them. he certainly would have poked my ear several times first. I also started putting hot compresses on it. It hurt if anything touched it, so no wearing headphones or hats or sleeping on that side.
Last night, on the 8th day, it was bright red again. And still hurting and warm to the touch this morning, so I resolved to go to a clinic. I called the one closest to my house. They weren’t answering, so I called another which was taking a holiday and then another and another. Every clinic seems to be closed today, except for one 3 miles away, which said it was open, but the recptionist was busy. I cycled over. It was closed.
Finally, I tried the Berkeley Free Clinic and was startled when a person answered. I described my woes. “You need to be seen,” he said, but they couldn’t see me before Monday. “Do you have money or insurance?” The person asked. Money, yes. Insurance, no. He suggested that I go to Highland Hospital. “They have an urgent care clinic. Go to the emergency room and they’ll direct you.”
I faffed around for a bit and finally got on a bus. Highland is an emergency-only hospital with a reputation for highly organised, professional helpful staff in the midst of the complete chaos.
I asked for the urgent care clinic and was told it had closed down. They said they just do it all in emergency now. The intake person said it was fine that I wasn’t having an emergency and took my ID and told me to sit.
I got called up to a triage desk and a nurse took my temperature pulse and blood pressure and asked about allergies and past illnesses. “When was your last tetnus shot?” Then she asked what the problem was and gave me a red wristband to indicate that I have allergies. She told me to wait in a different room.
I got called back to a different desk where I was asked for ID again, address, emergency contact information, mother’s maiden name, social security number, whether I had a job and a GP and many other questions. “Did you come by car or bus?” Then, she told me to wait again.
A nurse called me and walked me over to a bunch of cublicles. “Wait here for a moment.” He said and then vanished. A while later, a woman introduced herself as a doctor and I repeated my entire tale of woe. She looked in my ears and then prodded my ill one a bit. She said it was a minor infection and would probably go away on its own, but decided to prescribe me new antibiotics. She told me to keep sitting there and a nurse would come.
The nurse had the prescription forms. “You have to take these every 6 hours, which is a pain in the ass.” She looked at my warm, but no longer red ear and wondered why I had been given a prescription at all. She lead me to wait for a financial advisor. While waiting, I heard an announcement calling the trauma team to assemble, saying a type 2 trauma would be arriving in 8 minutes.
The financial person asked if I had a job and for ID. I said I worked in England. “So you’re not a resident of California?” Well, I kind of am, I’m just studying abroad. I gave her my expired drivers lisence. It has the wrong name on it. This did not help clarify matters. She said I would need to provide pay stubs to prove my income. I said they were in England. She sent me to wait to talk to her supervisor.
I looked at the information provided to me while I waited. “Cellulitis usually clears up on its own.” No mention of staph or mrsa. The financial person called me back.
“You’re not a resident here.” We began again. I finally gave up. She asked what had happened during my visit. “Oh, that won’t cost much anyway.”
“How much will it be?”
They don’t tally it up for a couple of weeks. In my experience, a trip to an emergency room is at least $400, so I really hope this will be billed as if their clinic still existed.
I took the prescription to Walgreens pharmacy, despite knowing that they have a 1000% markup on some drugs, including ones I got from them in the past. 7 days of the new antibiotic cost $60, but if I spend $20 to enroll on their discount program, I could get it for $30. Obviously, they have a large markup on antibiotics also. Charming. I enrolled in the program. The form I got explained that it was not health insurance. No kidding.

Post Script

The bill from Highland came out to $283, which is a lot less than I’d anticipated.

Not Shopping at Amazon

Dear Sir or Madam,

I was distressed to read in the Guardian that you quit hosting wikileaks’s website (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/01/wikileaks-website-cables-servers-amazon). I had intended to do all of my Christmas shopping with Amazon.com, but instead, I’ll find an online retailer who does not practice censorship. I’m very disappointed by this and I hope you change your mind.

Thank you for your time,
C Hutchins

Sooooo….. anybody got any suggestions about from where I should mail-order gifts for my family in the US?
First of all, I think the wikileaks thing is really cool. On the one hand, it is a problem for diplomats if they can’t write frank assessments for fear of seeing them in newspapers. But, on the other hand, there’s so much unnecessary and undemocratic secrecy that the embarrassment of the diplomatic corps is a small issue by comparison.
Also, the leaks don’t seem to be actually making the US look as bad as I thought they would. The bad behaviour (bombing and lying about it) was already fairly well known. I didn’t know, however, that the US was being pressured by Arab states to declare war on Iran. I would have guessed the opposite. So I’m happy to learn the US has been resisting this course of action. Also, the the cables about Sarkozy and others are really fascinating.
I’m also very happy to hear that banks are next. This is whistle-blowing on a large scale.
They keep telling us that if we’ve done nothing wrong, we have nothing to fear. Well, large, powerful organisations like governments and banks actually should be accountable to society at large, so prying into their secrets actually serves a useful purpose whereas CCTV cameras pointing into our windows do not. If the banks hadn’t destroyed the economy, I’m sure the prospect fo seeing their memos leaked would be much less pertinent. So I hope wikileaks keeps it up. Also, Manning is a hero, assuming he did it.
What’s not cool is Amazon giving in to government pressure. This is part of why I’m very wary of using US-based web services. Certainly EU governments do censor things, but the land of the free and home of the brave seems to be full of corporations who cooperate very easily. Also, as far as government goes, the Patriot Act gives them the right to spy on us, which is also not really what you want from your IT provider.
In short, Amazon pulling the plug makes the US, and especially US-based companies, look worse than the leaked documents do.
But seriously, from where should I order Christmas gifts? And what does one get for a 2 year old, anyway?

Body Scanners

Passengers who wish to fly from the UK have no choice as to whether to allow the government to peek at their genitals. However, in the US, you can opt to allow an agent to feel them (through clothes) instead. Speaking as somebody with an unusual genital configuration, I would rather allow myself to be groped than photographed, for a few reasons. One is that nobody can keep a copy of a grope to look at later. Another is that it’s highly possible I would be groped anyway and I don’t want to be singled out for special attention based on an unusual scan. Finally, I don’t wish to increase my risk factors for skin cancer by stepping into a beam of ionising radiation, if I can at all avoid it. For those who are fertile, there are also issues with exposing germ cells to radiation, especially those with testicles, as these would normally be shielded during an X-Ray.
There is a movement afoot to try to get people to ask for a grope instead of a scan, especially on the Wednesday before thanksgiving, when many people in the US will be flying. The TSA is making ridiculous statements about this helping terrorists, however, I’d like to posit that when getting on an airplane necessitates security agents looking at or feeling my genitals, the terrorists have already won. It is your right to ask for a “pat down” instead of a scan. This may be inconvenient for TSA agents, but this is a normal tactic of protesting. It would hardly do any good to launch a protest that nobody noticed.
Today, I read an article in the New York Times, which stated, “Do the imagers, for example, detect sanitary napkins? Yes. Does that then necessitate a pat-down? The T.S.A. couldn’t say.” So some security worker at the airport knows whether or not you’re menstruating. Charming. And they may or may not decide to grope you as a result of that. “Screeners, the T.S.A. has said, are expected to exercise some discretion.” They have little training, no union, low pay and no job protections, but a lot of discretion, I’m sure.
This is just too much. I wrote a letter to my senators:

Dear Senator –,

I am wiring to oppose the new body scanning devices that have been installed at airports. Today, I read in the New York Times that the devices are able to detect menstrual pads and the TSA “couldn’t say” whether this detection would necessitate a pat down. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/business/16road.html?_r=1) This level of grossly indecent privacy invasion is unAmerican. It is an outrage.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the pat down one receives if they opt out (or potentially, if they’re menstruating) involves a TSA agent feeling the passenger’s genitals. All aspects of this policy are horrifying and I hope you take action to change it.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Charles Hutchins

Ok, yes, I did actually call something unAmerican. I know this is problematic. But Americans are, by and large, a prudish people and this is really not prudish at all and hence violates the national character. Also, I am exceedingly annoyed.
I wrote a different letter to my Representative, Barbara Lee, who is a proper leftist and involved with the Progressive Caucus in the House:

Dear Representative Lee,

I am wiring to oppose the new body scanning devices that have been installed at airports. As a transgender person, I am concerned about how these machines peer unnecessarily and invasively at my genitals. I am also highly concerned that once a security screener becomes aware that I’m transgender, I may be subject to discrimination or be publicly humiliated.

I intend to opt to be patted down instead, but as this involves an agent feeling my genitals, it’s hardly better. There is little evidence that any of this makes us safer while flying but it certainly causes me and many others quite a lot of distress. I’m faced with a terrible choice between not seeing my family over the holidays or having my genitals looked at and/or touched by a TSA agent.

I hope you can do something to improve this situation.

Sincerely,
Charles Hutchins