The thin line between prudence and paranoia, and how the Post Office is really to blame

I’m ashamed of myself for something I did this afternoon…except that I’m not, not really, and that bothers me, too.  Clear?

I was flying X-wing fighters (on the computer, not for real) when the phone rang, and I was peeved because that meant I was going to have to look away from the screen to find the two-key combination for “pause” and I hoped I wouldn’t get killed in the meantime.  Just don’t answer the phone, you say—yeah, but it might be my wife.

It wasn’t.  It was a man’s voice asking if this was the Ryan residence, and immediately I’m thinking, jeez, some knucklehead selling something or asking for a donation is taking me away from what I want to be doing; the nerve of this maroon.  He launches into what immediately felt to me like the opening of a sob story that had the skeptic in me—OK, the cynic in me—thinking that someone was trying to con me.  So I became very restrained, tried to concentrate and not stupidly reveal that one crucial detail that would let this guy get away with it (whatever it was).

He explained that he was calling because of misdelivered mail: he’d opened an envelope and found a check that wasn’t for him, so he looked more closely and saw it was from an out of state bank –“Do you have an account in Boston?”—addressed to a woman at my address—“Is your wife’s name Florence?”—and that he got in his car and brought it to our house but no one was home except the dogs (who aren’t allowed to open the door to strangers), so he left it hidden inside the Christmas wreath on the front door so it wouldn’t blow away, and he wanted to let us know it was there—“Is it there?”

Of course, I’m way too smart for this: I’m not going to rush over and open the front door, eight entire feet away, to see if there’s an envelope hidden in the Christmas wreath (puh-leeze!) because I think this guy—or better yet, a confederate!—is strategically positioned so he can see me open the door, and then he’ll…well I don’t know what, but something, I’m sure of that!

Since I was in a good mood I didn’t go off on the guy; I asked his name, learned that his street address is not the same as mine (not even close), thanked him for his efforts and ended the call, all with the quiet confidence of a man who knows he has skillfully avoided danger and is eager to get back to fighting the Empire.  A few minutes later I casually opened the front door, and…there’s an envelope stuffed into the Christmas wreath; it’s addressed to my wife, from a bank in Boston, and inside is a check for more than $22,000!

One reason I was suspicious of the call was we weren’t supposed to receive a large check from any bank in Boston, or anywhere else.  My wife’s employer is liquidating its old pension plan, though, and neglected to explain that when she elected to roll it into the company’s existing 401(k) that she would still receive a check that had to be delivered to the mutual fund.

Time to review: a man we don’t know opens his mail and finds a check for $22,000 that doesn’t belong to him; rather than just send the check back to the Post Office, he gets in his car and drives the few miles to our house to put it in our hands; when we’re not home to accept delivery he secures the envelope so it won’t become lost; and when he calls us to make sure we found the envelope, he gets mistrust and skepticism rather than the thanks he deserves.

A couple of months ago during the frenzy over a Muslim group’s plan to build a community center a few blocks from the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood, Houston’s Leading Information Source reported on the local Muslims who were introducing themselves to neighbors and assuring them that they were not terrorists; I thought, have we really become so fearful now that the whole world is guilty until proven innocent?

Today, I’m wondering where I should be drawing the line between prudence and paranoia.

Daily digest 1

Some news of the day, in easy to swallow bites

A Supreme take on tolerance

One cool thing about retired justices of the Supreme Court is they tell us what they really think about things, like John Paul Stevens dropping his impartiality to talk about the community-center-with-a-mosque-near-ground-zero affair that we discussed back in August.

He said that a nation built by people who fled religious persecution “should understand why American Muslims should enjoy the freedom to build their places of worship wherever permitted by local zoning laws.”

(snip)

He called the [National Japanese American Memorial] “a powerful reminder of the fact that ignorance — that is to say, fear of the unknown — is the source of most invidious prejudice.”

Princess Leia inspires boy—to build hologram

Another cool thing—real holograms!

Worst thing about being president was name-calling?

Former President George W. Bush says the lowest point of his presidency was when Kanye West called him a racist over the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.  Really?  It wasn’t September 11, or not catching bin Laden, or the economic crash with the bankruptcies, foreclosures, debt, and job losses?  It wasn’t lying to start a war that’s cost thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, or Abu Ghraib?  Not even the fact you couldn’t help ease the very real suffering of those victims of Katrina?  (And why do you care what Kanye West thinks?  Are you really so self-absorbed that you think that’s the worst thing that happened during those eight years?  Really?)

A lot of that daily 200 mil is for Michelle’s hairdressers

You can say almost anything and be believed, if you’re careful who you speak to.  Citing only a report in one Indian newspaper, which cites only one unnamed source, the geniuses of the political right have been trumpeting their disgust about the “fact” that our government is going to spend $200 million a day on President Obama’s diplomatic trip to India, including sending 34 warships to sit security off the coast of Mumbai.  Yeah, more than the daily cost of the war in Afghanistan, or the full purchase price of the New Jersey Nets.  Talk about your willing suspension of disbelief…

We’ve also just learned that water is wet

No, really: they sequenced Ozzy Osbourne’s DNA and confirmed what had long been suspected: he’s a mutant.

Reality check, comedy break

Just two quick notes on what Tunku Varadarajan cleverly calls the “belligerent unenlightenment” of a portion of the American population:

First, the former assistant manager editor at The Wall Street Journal points out that it could be worse:

I am less worried by the fact that a fifth of the inhabitants of this great country believe that Obama is Muslim than by the fact that 60 percent of them are unwilling, or unable, to accept the scientific basis of evolution….Political bias can be a fleeting sickness; profound ignorance, on the other hand, can be incurable.

And second, because it’s just too damn funny not to share, a peek at what one columnist in Great Britain (a friend from an earlier post on a different subject) has to say on the topics of 5600 foot tall mosques, spatial relationships, and trespassing at Buckingham Palace.

According to a recent poll, one in five Americans believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though he isn’t.  A quarter of those who believe he’s a Muslim also claimed he talks about his faith too much.  Americans aren’t dumb.  Clearly these particular Americans have either gone insane or been seriously misled.  Where are they getting their information?

Where indeed?

Go Army! (Navy, Air Force and Marines, too!)

If you can hear me over the complaining about the “insensitivity” of the plan to build a Muslim community center—including room for religious observance—two and a half blocks from the hallowed ground of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, listen to this: one way the Defense Department responded to the attack on the Pentagon that same day was to build a chapel for religious observance by all faiths—including Muslims, every single day—at the exact spot on that hallowed ground where the hijacked airliner smashed into the building!

Army spokesman George Wright said he is unaware of any complaints about the Muslim services from either 9/11 families or anyone in the building.

(That’s all…talk amongst yourselves.)

Political opportunists exploit Ground Zero, and not in a good way

September 11 is right around the corner, and this year it is likely to spike the hysteria over the planned construction of a community center two and a half blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Doesn’t that sound a lot less creepy and threatening than “a mosque at ground zero”?  That’s the gist of the problem.

A Muslim group in New York City wants to build a community center, including space for religious observance, at 45-51 Park Place in lower Manhattan, a site near the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers stood.  Google the address to see the distance between it and the pit.  There have been complaints from people who find the idea of a mosque at ground zero appalling and insensitive, and in some cases a symbolic victory for the people who carried out the September 11 attacks (and who are, it is true, still at war with the United States and plotting our destruction).  It’s not been made clear (to me) if there are objections to the swimming pool and meeting rooms in the plan, or just that there would be areas for Muslim religious activity.

I don’t follow how building a community center shows insensitivity to the victims of a terrorist or criminal act, unless you blame the builders of the center for the attack.  The man behind the Cordoba House has some questionable beliefs, but no associations with Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda.  If the people behind this proposal aren’t directly connected to the 9/11 hijackers, is the objection some sort of guilt by association?  I’d like to believe that association with Islam is not the cause of the opposition, since Islam didn’t attack us—that was done by some people with a perverted interpretation of Islam.  They’re no more representative of Islam than the (insert name of your favorite religious fringe group here) are of Christianity.

People who commandeer passenger jets and use them as missiles deserve our attention.  The last president let his administration turn that attention into fear, and enough of the fear became irrational enough to be exploited as a wedge to grab power and start a war that had nothing to do with finding the people who attacked us, merrily ignoring civil liberties along the way.  It’s not too big a leap to say that irrational fear, and political opportunism, are pumping up the volume in this case.

Charles Krauthammer makes a compelling point about preserving sacred ground, although he doesn’t say how far away would be far enough, and Ross Douthat has an interesting column about how the constitutional America and the cultural America are in conflict on this issue, and I see his point.  But I’m no culture warrior: no one’s made an argument that the proposed construction is illegal, the necessary governmental authorities have approved the plan, neighborhood and business groups approve, we’re not religious bigots…and it’s two blocks down and around the corner, for crying out loud.  Let’s move on.

Want more?  William Saletan does a skillful job taking down the anti-mosque arguments on their face, and their proponents with them.

How about a joke?  This is ridiculously close to a real news item:

The Statue of Liberty was briefly evacuated today after a faulty sensor in an elevator shaft falsely indicated smoke. While there were no immediate reports of injuries, the very idea that someone might build a Muslim community center just across the water from the site of that undamaged sacred ground was compared to a stab in the heart by a bunch of racist yahoos.