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Drivel Politics

A true story of three piglets, a rooster, and their love of cheese

a short story by Todd Bradley

Once upon a time, there were two piglets playing in the tall grass under a tree on a hill not far from Farmer Joe’s house. One piglet was named Verne, and the other was Flick.

“Look, Flick,” said Verne, pointing to the sky. “The full moon is coming up.”

Flick turned to look up. “It’s so beautiful! I hope it comes closer. Chip, the rooster of the yard, told me the moon is made of Gouda cheese. And I love cheese!”

“I love cheese, too,” replied Verne. “Really, who doesn’t? But I’ve got some bad news, Flick. The moon is not made of cheese. It’s just made of rocks and dirt.”

“What? Why do you hate cheese?” asked Flick, quite disturbed by this turn of events. “It’s so soft and melts in your mouth. Yum.”

“I don’t hate cheese. I’m just saying that the moon is made of rocks. People went there in a rocket long ago, and they even brought some rocks back. It’s a fact you can look up in a book if you want.” Verne had even seen an old movie of the moon landing on TV. The people dug up some rocks and took them back inside their rocket, but they could not eat the rocks, so they had to return to earth before supper time.

Flick continued, “But Chip told me the moon is cheese. And why would a rooster lie? Roosters likes cheese, too!”

“I don’t know, Flick, maybe what Chip meant was that he simply wishes the moon was made of cheese?” Verne, being a piglet, couldn’t think of any good reason for the rooster to make up a story about the moon being cheese.

“Fuck you, Verne. I thought you liked cheese like the rest of us. Fuck you!”

Verne’s eyes got big. The piglet was shocked by Flick’s sudden anger and foul language. At that moment, another piglet walked up, named Spork.

“Hi everyone. What’s going on here on the hill?” asked Spork.

Flick tried to explain. “Verne here hates cheese. Must be a member of the Anti-Gouda Brigade.” Flick and Spork both looked Verne over. They hadn’t noticed it before, but now Verne did look like the kind of piglet that would hate cheese, and maybe all dairy products, for that matter.

“Whoa, wait a minute. I do like cheese. I just don’t think the moon is made of it. See the difference?”

Flick and Spork looked at each other. Spork spoke first, “Nope, if you don’t want the moon to be made of cheese, you’re a cheese hater. Anti-Gouda!”

“Cheese hater! Cheese hater!” Flick shouted all over the barnyard.

Spork joined in, pointing at Verne. “Cheese hater! Cheese hater!” Verne wandered off to the barn, wondering why his friends preferred to call him names rather than taking the time to understand his point.

Spork and Flick high-fived each other. Their friendship grew that day. Later, when they saw Verne eating some cheese in the hay, they felt vindicated. Clearly it was they who convinced Verne that cheese was so delicious. Clearly this proves the moon is made of Gouda.

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Drivel

the last four months

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been four whole months since I wrote anything here. I guess you could say I’ve been busy! Let’s see, can I give a reasonably quick recap?

I’m pretty well settled back into Capitol Hill now. My apartment, while still needing lots of work, is liveable and in nice enough shape that I’ve had friends over a few times without great embarrassment. One of the best features is the huge balcony, especially now that I have moved most of my camping gear off it.

I’ve been on a couple camping trips to the mountains this summer. One was my first visit to the Apogaea arts and music festival, and the other was a Bradley family reunion. Those were nice long-weekend getaways. I also took several days off in the spring to work on a photography project around Denver with a friend who visited from Austin.

I still run into old friends and acquaintances who don’t know that Beth and I are separated. It just happened again at a party last Saturday night. I haven’t talked about it much online, and I’ll probably blog about the whole thing sometime. In short, Beth and I decided in September 2015 to split up, but we still finished our Eastern Hemisphere travels. We said our goodbyes after we landed back in the US. She moved to Kansas City in early February, which explains why my apartment is really MY apartment, as in just mine. Getting used to being single, living alone, etc. has been strange after all this time. Like I said, more on that later.

I’ve been working from my office in Broomfield less and less, often going in only once per week. Working from home (or a coffee shop) is so much nicer. I really hate the commute each way. It’s just such a waste of valuable time that I’d rather spend doing something fun, or productive, or just relaxing. Sitting in a car in traffic is none of those things. But the Honda Civic I bought earlier this year is just about as nice of a commuting car as I can imagine.

I’ve been working on a short film series called “Welcome to Earth, Shorty”. I had hoped it would be farther along by now, but writing has been slower than I thought it would be. My main writing partner and I have tried a few experiments that haven’t worked out quite as we hoped, and I’ve been way busier than I expected to be. I hope to have more to tell you about on that later.

I have also done some dating, for the first time in 24 years. That’s definitely weird. Most of the people I’ve met have been through a dating website. Meeting people that way is new to me, and dating in middle age is new to me. But I’ve always liked meeting new people, so even though it’s awkward and strange, it’s been fun, too.

Well, that’s the shortest summary I can give of my spring and the first half of summer. I should make a point to write more often.

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Drivel

back to Capitol Hill

It’s been seven and a half weeks since I got back from my big journey. There have been changes in so many ways.

I wrote about the first few days in an earlier article here.

After a week or so, I went back to work full time. That was a little hard to get used to. Not only had I not done the same thing every day for a long time, but I had six months of progress at my job to catch up on. I tried working on three different projects at the same time initially, but once it was clear that one of them was on track I cut back to two projects. And now I’m mainly working on just one.

I eventually did find an apartment in Denver I liked. I decided to go with location over size, and started a lease in a unit at the Florentine Condominiums on March 15. Moving is happening in fits and starts. As I write this, I’ve spent three nights in the new place now. But I still have stuff in the old place, the room I was renting from my friend.

The apartment is at 700 Washington St, which is in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, only about block from the place where we lived before. There’s a great comfort in knowing the neighborhood pretty well. And it’s especially convenient to be able to walk everywhere again. As I wrote in my blog a couple years ago, within a half mile, there are four supermarkets, nine or ten coffee shops, several restaurants and bars, at least three cleaners, and so on.

But 7th Avenue is a quiet street, so even though the density is pretty high here, it’s a calm place to live. And now it’s especially so because I live on the 8th floor. I’ve got a big balcony that faces east, and I can see for miles and miles from up here.

I’m so glad to be back in Denver.

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Drivel

Secrets of the Serpent Moon — my DCC RPG adventure

I’ve been running a regular Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG game for the past several months. But a different group where I’m a player recently asked if I would occasionally be a “judge” for that game, too. I was flattered and said yes.

DCC has a strong zine community, and one of those zines is called “Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad“. There have only been three issues so far. I’m waiting for the third in the mail, but the first two are hilarious and inspirational. The zine, from what I understand, is mostly just stuff from this one particular campaign that these guys somewhere in the midwest (???) play. In issue #2, there was an article called “Secrets of the Serpent Moon.” It’s not a fully-fleshed adventure, but is more of an “adventure kit” — a template and some various ideas that you can put together to build your own adventure.

Well, one group of PCs in the gaming group I was asked to help judge had just finished play testing a funnel that one of the other two judges had written. And that funnel adventure had a heavy serpent-man theme. So what better thing to chain onto the end than an adventure about serpent-men on the moon? I got to work writing my own adventure based on the adventure kit from the magazine.

One feeling I’ve been getting from the other DCC game I run is that when I create custom-made adventures, I spend too much time writing down every little detail into a nice word processing document. I think I’ve been trying too hard to imitate the really good 3rd party adventures on the market for DCC RPG. But more detail isn’t really making the game better.

So I decided to swing the other way. I wanted to run a game that was 100% true old-school, with no electronic technology whatsoever. No smart phone, no iPad (despite the fact I love Purple Sorcerer’s Crawler’s Companion app), no laptop, no pretty module created on a desktop publishing system. I wanted to write an adventure that would all be presented from a stack of 3×5 note cards, printed (or hand-drawn) maps, the zine, and regular old dice. “Party like it’s 1974” is one of the slogans of Dungeon Crawl Classics.

My Judge Kit

The rest of this blog post is about how I did it. Other people will take the “Secrets of the Serpent Moon” template and go a totally different direction, of course.

The Plot

The article from the zine talks about how to put together a basic plot for what the PCs need to accomplish on the moon. They start as recently-thawed-out mammals that the reptile-men captured some time in the past (57 years ago, in my case, I decided — some of you sci-fi fans will know the significance of “57 years“). There’s a problem at the serpent-men’s moonbase, you see, and only the PCs can solve it.

I broke my story up into four sections, a Prologue and three Chapters. The Prologue section was just meant to update the characters in a couple ways. You see, the serpent-men have been experimenting on the party, and they’ve all had modifications that take them far from the norm. For instance, some have extra limbs, or a parasitic twin, or a new locomotive system instead of legs. Then with the Prologue out of the way, there are three Chapters. I’m thinking each chapter will be roughly one game session. But as I write this, we’ve only finished Chapter 1. The key points of each chapter went onto a 3×5 card.

Maps

Then I needed a master map. The zine article provides tables to randomly Moon Base Mapgenerate the different areas of the serpent-man base. I decided it needed to be bigger and more structured, so I broke the base up into different “sectors”. Some of the sectors have the randomly-generated rooms from the zine, and others have other stuff. Rather than making some kind of detailed map, I just took one 3×5 card and drew a very basic flow chart on it, to show which sectors connect to which other sectors. The PCs would start in Sector F, where they were thawed from the cryotubes (“F” stands for “frozen”), and continue through the base to Sector X. Sector X is where the threat/challenge/danger is (“X” for “unknown, of course, and it sounds cool). The zine article has a table to randomly generate how each sector is connected to the next, so I rolled and wrote those in on my 3×5 map: “matter trans.” and “living door” and “monorail” and “space whale”.

In my case, I decided that Sector X is where a base expansion project was undertaken, but the serpent-men doing the excavation ran into some unknown creatures that killed them all. Let’s call those creatures “Selenites” for the sake of argument (and because they’re actually the same Selenites as in the H.G. Wells story). So Sector X leads to the Selenite caverns, which is a sprawling complex of caves containing moon calves, Selenites, a stoner wizard stranded on the moon, and a few other things.

Example Dungeon Geomorph

So for the caverns, I printed out the pages from the PDF of “Dungeon Crawl Classics #9: Dungeon Geomorphs” that a bought a few months back. Then I chose the geomorphs that looked most like what I wanted, cut them up, and arranged them how I liked. I used a black Sharpie to color over the caves that I didn’t want, since the caverns would continue literally forever otherwise.

After I got the entire cavern complex set up, with improper exits removed, I numbered each printed geomorph on the back with its grid number. I called them A1 through D5. Here’s what the whole thing looked like when assembled:

Caverns of the Selenites

Other Cards

Lastly, I wrote up 3×5 cards for a few other things relevant to the game, like these:

  • Several cards explaining what’s in each of the areas of the cavern complex
  • Descriptions of NPCs the party meets along the way
  • Wandering monsters
  • Key points of ether ships the group may encounter or use
  • Details on treasure items
  • House rules

And that’s pretty much it. That’s how I turned the “adventure kit” for “Secrets of the Serpent Moon” into a runnable adventure with all low tech pen-and-paper components.

My main inspirations:

  • “Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad” zine
  • Paranoia, the role-playing game
  • “Jason of Star Command” on Amazon Instant Video
  • “Land of the Lost” reruns
  • “Aliens” by James Cameron
  • “Message from Space” the Japanese Star Wars ripoff from the 70’s
  • “The First Men in the Moon” by H.G. Wells
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Drivel

have you heard the phrase “the body is open”?

I thought this phrase was a common idiom, but judging from the Google results, now I’m not so sure. I had a boss years ago who taught it to me. The phrase comes from surgery, as I heard the story. If you’re a surgeon and you’ve already gone to the trouble of sedating a patient, sterilizing the room, and cutting open the patient’s body to repair one thing, if you see another thing that needs fixing right next to it, you might as well fix the second thing, too. Otherwise, you’ll have to sew the body back up and let the patient recover from this surgery, only to come back and do another surgery to fix the second problem in the future.

This idiom applies really well to software maintenance, in my experience. Suppose you’ve done the work to analyze and understand a piece of existing source code well enough that you can find and fix a bug that’s been reported. If you see there’s a related bug in the same section of code, it’s cheaper to just go ahead and fix it while “the body is open”.

Have you ever heard this idiom before? Does it apply to your field of work?

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Drivel

back in the hood

Beth and I moved from south Boulder to central Denver about a month ago, but I think it didn’t fully sink in until just today how wonderful it is being in a real neighborhood of a real city. I’d seen some small signs over the past month, like the fact that I calculated there are seven coffee shops within a half mile. And, of course, the fact that it takes 30 minutes to drive to an actual suburb. And the fact we can easily walk to the Fillmore Auditorium, the state capitol, Voodoo Doughnut, Cherry Creek, the Denver Art Museum, and four different supermarkets.

Today's WalkBut today’s experience was special in how mundanely urban it was. I needed to go to King Soopers pharmacy to pick up a prescription refill, but Beth took the car today. So I set out on foot, Audiobook in my earpods. I wanted some lunch, so I decided to stop in at a pho restaurant that I hadn’t visited before. After lunch I walked up to the pharmacy and got my prescription. But then I realized I was next door to one of the coffee shops on my checklist, so I stopped in for espresso and a scone. Refortified against the spring snowstorm, I set out for home.

But then I passed by a little neighborhood Ace Hardware I didn’t even know existed. It’s the exact opposite of Home Depot, more employees than customers, a small shop where you can buy everything you need in 5 minutes, and no parking. I remembered we needed a few things for the new apartment, so I stopped in and picked them up. Then I set out again. Oh, but wait, Beth mentioned the other day we’re out of tonic water, and there’s a liquor store right next store. Another stop. After that I passed by a cleaners (the fourth one I passed on this walk), an antique store, the mysterious walled-off premises of an international religious cult’s mansion, and some other mansions, before finally getting back to our apartment.

I’m glad to be here, in a real neighborhood in a real city.

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Drivel

punk, not punk

Punk

Not Punk

Close to Punk

Even Closer to Punk

That is all.

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Drivel

photos for future posts to Unexpected News for US

atlantatraffic arab-businessman obama3 obama2 obama1MTH_08_0520_061-X2 CNCS_08_0922_MH_024-X2 the view outside my window

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Drivel Travel

goodbye location independent lifestyle, at least for now

Yesterday, Beth and I made some big life decisions for our medium-term future. I’m going to take a regular position with a software company again, and we’ll settle down wherever that company is. We’ve tried a few different lifestyles over the past 18 months, but none of them are really working for us for one reason or another.

Moving to a new city each month, as we did during the “12 Cities, 1 Year” project, was a great way to experience new places.  But I wasn’t in any one place long enough to develop new networks or clientele for my videography business.

Splitting my time  between software contracting and videography, as I did while I was in Denver from January through August, gave me the flexibility to help care for Beth much better than would have been possible if I was working a full-time regular job.  But that won’t cover the increased costs for health insurance that we’re going to have starting January 1, 2013. And I need to have major ear surgery on the left side, which is going to cost a lot of money out of pocket.

Obviously, traveling around the country staying mainly with family and friends, as we’ve done during our current three-month Fall 2012 tour of the East Coast, isn’t sustainable. We never thought it would be. This has been a nice way to see some people and places we wouldn’t otherwise see, but it’s only bought us some time to figure out what’s really next.

One possible “what’s next” was going to be long term housesitting as a way to keep expenses low while we build up some cash reserves again.  But the housesitting opportunities that we’re finding are in places we really don’t want to live. Almost all of the long-term housesits are rural or semi-rural, and we don’t want to live in a place where we’re 30 minutes from town, especially with only one car. We really want to live in places where services are close-by. I want to be able to walk to the grocery story, the doctor’s office, a rec center, a park.

So starting this week, I’m updating my resume and starting the search for a regular full-time salaried position in the software test engineering field again. We are very flexible about location, though we’d prefer to live in Seattle, Albuquerque, Austin, or some other “real city” that interests us. I have a good network in this industry in the Denver area, and we’ll consider Denver again, but we prefer to see someplace new. Work environment is very important to me, and I want to find a job with an organization that’s small enough that I can make a difference, different enough that I can learn new things, and yet similar enough to things I’ve done in the past that I can leverage some of the many hard lessons I’ve learned over the past 24 years. Hopefully I can find a fun job like that somewhere in the US in the next couple months.

My videography business will, very sadly, have to go mostly onto the back burner.  I will continue to develop it into something I can somehow take overseas with us when we move abroad in the future. But it has to go back to being a “nights and weekends” kind of thing for now.  I’ve spent a lot of effort over the past two – almost three – years to build it into something to support us financially.  But that hasn’t worked, for several reasons.  And with our finances depleted from Beth’s cancer treatment and travel, we can’t afford for me to continue to lose money on it.

All this is a bit depressing, and it’s hard not to feel like we are taking several steps backward to the way our life was three or five or even ten years ago. We worked so hard and wanted so badly to make the digital nomad lifestyle work for us, but it hasn’t. At least not yet. We plan to try again in a few years, with a few of the variables tweaked – location, income sources, etc.  Meanwhile, got any good job leads to send my way?  🙂

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Drivel Politics

my own reflections on 9/11

Earlier this month was the 10-year anniversary of the “9/11” jumbo jet terrorist attacks, and lots of us here in the US are reflecting on the events, how things have changed since then, and what it all means. I don’t know what it says about me, but my own feelings about 9/11 are different than those I most often read about.

The Chickens

On 9/11/01, I was essentially unemployed. I’d been laid off my job at a dot-com startup company a couple months earlier, and was doing my best to establish a consulting business. But due to the post-dot-com economy, I was having a hard time of it. I first heard about the airliner crashing into the World Trade Center by email from an acquaintance of mine. Initially, I didn’t have any sense of the scale of the issue, so I didn’t turn on the news. Then, later there was another email about the second crash, and that’s when I tuned into the television coverage, which was all over every channel.

I was astonished by the immensity of the disaster. I don’t think anyone expected the buildings to come tumbling down; I sure didn’t. To this day, I doubt even the planners of the attack expected their mission to be so “successful” (I should note that although I love conspiracy theories, I’ve never bought into the “9/11 was an inside job” theory). I remember feeling numb at the time, but also immediately thinking this must be the doing of Osama bin Laden. Anyone who had paid any attention to international news over the previous decade knew that his attacks were getting bigger and bigger. And so the attacks didn’t really surprise me as I think they did some people.

In the following days and weeks, I kept reading about how the American people were so “shocked” by the attacks. But as soon as it happened, the phrase that popped into my mind was “chickens coming home to roost.” If you’re not familiar with the idiom, it means that if you do enough bad things to someone, eventually they’ll do bad things back to you. From the perspective of many of the downtrodden in the Middle East, the USA had done a lot of bad things to them. And eventually, I felt, all the bad karma of how we’ve treated the locals created an environment where bin Laden could easily get recruits and funding for terrorism.

This idea that we – America – had done wrong to any of the locals in the Middle East never did get much attention in the press. It certainly wasn’t politically correct to discuss in the hyper-jingoistic days that followed the attacks. Most Americans portrayed in the media had an attitude more like, “We never did anything to them, so how could they do this to us?” Well, unfortunately, we had a long history of doing bad things to “them” – at least from their perspective. As of 2001, Americans had…

  • historically supported Israel over Palestine, which essentially means supporting Judaism over Islam
  • exploited local resources (oil in particular) without any compensation reaching the common people of the lands
  • put into power dictators (like the Saudi royal family, the Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein) who were friendly to our extraction interests, and then turned a blind eye when they brutally suppressed factions of their own people

In short, even though we usually don’t think of America as an empire, we acted pretty imperialistic in the 20th century in the Middle East. It shouldn’t have surprised us, the American people, so much when the local commoners in those empires we created rose up. We have our own history of rebellion against imperialism. And yet, we did act surprised.

Leadership and Divisiveness

Another case of my feelings about 9/11 being way different from my friends is regarding the response of our elected officials. It was terrible right from the beginning and never really got any better. Think back to the week following 9/11/2001. This big national shock and tragedy just happened. The talking heads are calling it the Pearl Harbor of our generation. Gas prices spike wildly, based on speculation that OPEC is going to cut off our lifeline. People rush to the grocery stores to stock up on supplies. The airlines are shut down for the first time anyone can remember. Here is the perfect opportunity for our President to bring America together for a unified goal.

Some great possible goals might have gone like this:

  • Our dependence on oil from the Middle East comes at too high of a cost. We as a nation must dedicate ourselves immediately to cutting back.  In the short term, conservation. In the long term, develop local energy sources.
  • Too long have we ignored the ordinary citizens of the Middle East, and allowed a culture of fear and hatred to develop. America will re-dedicate itself to fostering education, health care, and prosperity to being the people of the region into the modern world, where democracy and free speech are treasured.

But instead we got “America is open for business” and repeated messages that it is patriotic to go out and spend, spend, spend. President Bush could have used this opportunity to kick off a program for Americans to achieve any of a number of great things, but he fumbled the ball. All we got was the message to get back to work, and there’s no need to make personal sacrifices. So we launched these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without any belt-tightening whatsoever.

In World War II, that belt-tightening was part of what brought Americans together. Everyone gave up a little for the war effort – gasoline, rubber, cigarettes, whatever. But after 9/11 nobody had to give up anything. Instead, we were encouraged to go buy an SUV and a bigger TV. That’ll show those Muslim extremists!

As the months rolled on, it became more and more clear that Bush’s strings were being pulled by the Vice President, Dick “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy” Cheney.

An acquaintance of mine (an accomplished part-time sports journalist named Tom George) posted a note to Facebook:

If there is one happy memory about 10 years ago today, it’s how we all came together as a nation. Yeah…we argue and fight amongst each other about all sorts of different things. But when someone takes a swipe at us, nobody circles the wagons like the USA can. As somber as this anniversary is every year, this one happy memory probably fills me with more patriotic pride than the 4th of July or any other national holiday does.

Sadly, I don’t see it that way. My impression of the past 10 years it that my country’s response to the attacks has divided the country more than united us. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

And a Facebook note from another acquaintance (Jenny Nunemacher) sums up my feelings better than I think I can:

[…]What is most troublesome to me is that the Patriot Act and all those other militaristic actions in the years since have proven that the terrorists got what they wanted. They assaulted our freedom and WE LET IT CONTINUE TO HAPPEN. We may be incrementally more safe, but we are less free.

Our Legacy

I’m very proud to be a US citizen. I’m patriotic and would rather be in America than anywhere else. I know it probably sounds corny to some of you, but I tear up sometimes when they sing the national anthem at a baseball game (or a roller derby bout). So I think I lot about America’s legacy. What will my generation be remembered for? Are we going to leave this world better than it was before?

It’s because I care so much about these things that I feel so negative about 9/11 and our response to it.

We could have set a great example to the rest of the world of how understanding and compassionate Americans can be. But instead we went on a witch hunt, rounded up anyone who looked like they might be a terrorist, tortured some of them, and held the rest as permanent prisoners, breaking our own laws and international law in the process. We definitely didn’t take the moral high road.

We could have set a great example to the rest of the world of how wise the one remaining superpower can be. But instead we treated the attacks not as a criminal matter, but as an international “war”.

We could have used this as an opportunity to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. But instead we deployed our military and thousands of mercenaries without regard to budgets or funding.

We could have thumbed our noses at terrorism. But instead we played right into the terrorists’ plans. Why did the terrorists hate us? They hate us for our freedom, we were told. And then we turned around and gave up some of our freedom in the interests of “security”.

Why are they called terrorists? Because they accomplish their political goals by causing terror in their enemies. So to fight terrorism, we should do things to make ourselves less afraid, right? But instead we made ourselves more afraid. Don’t believe me? Go to any airport, and stand in the security line. Ask people as they pass through the inspection process, “Do you feel more afraid or less afraid to travel today than you would have in 1980?”

I really hope that this is all just a pendulum, and that it’ll swing back, especially in my lifetime. In the decade that has passed since 9/11 I haven’t seen any signs of it, but I still hold out hope.