Once upon a time

A few years ago, I vigorously defended the power of the  government to use warrantless searches as an intelligence gathering tool against foreign nationals and their collaborators living on American soil who our intelligence agencies believed were enemy agents. I defended that action based on precedence (e.g.: forms of warrantless searches for intelligence purposes have been conducted since the Lincoln administration) and the fundamental lack of better tools (e.g.: federal laws do not adequately provide for domestic intelligence gathering methods). I stand by that defense, yet I also stand by my observation that it was only necessary because there were not better tools.

These years later, our intelligence agencies still do not have the better tools they need, and the government has taken even more obtrusive steps in its efforts to secure intelligence through ever-looser definitions of the laws that govern what it can and cannot do.

At the risk of taking a black eye from my opponents in the warrantless searches debate, I must now say that the government has proven incapable of using the powers it possesses by precedent and function in keeping with the ideals of federal republicanism, the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, and fundamental individual liberty. While I still believe that the warrantless search tool was one the government had the right to use in the proper time and place, I also now believe that the time has come for the people and the government to specifically spell out the type and scope of powers the government has to use for domestic intelligence gathering and to define a meaningful process for due process and appeal against intelligence gathered on US soil.

At the heart of this–partial–reversal in thinking is the following evidence:

“The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.”

If suspicion is the only threshold for placing anyone, especially citizens, under surveillance, then the system is broken. Suspicion is not probable cause, nor will it ever be, even in the shadowy world of intelligence gathering. This new threshold represents a fundamental change in thinking on the part of the government, and because it has proven itself so prone to abuse, it also represents a fundamental threat to liberty.

If we are going to bother to call ourselves a nation, we must accept that our government needs tools to act in our national interests, and effective intelligence gathering is one of those tools. Yet, we can now see that the government cannot be trusted to use loosely defined tools responsibly, so the time has come to create limits so that the liberty of the people can be preserved from government abuse.



A week from now, National Novel Writing Month begins, which endeavor challenges its participants to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Success requires writing 1,667 words a day.

Many people, mostly non-writers, ask why in the world anyone would want to do such a thing.

For me, the answer is that NaNoWriMo represents a chance to establish a daily writing habit or to exercise a habit already established. To be a successful writer, one has to write, and the most successful writers do so every day. And, I believe that intelligent people write.

That second reason offends a lot of people, yet I think that no one can avoid the clear link between intelligence and writing. We spend as many as 21 years of our lives or more learning, most often through the study of the writings of intelligent people. We entertain ourselves by reading the writings of intelligent people. Even if we chose only to watch TV or listen to music, those scripts and songs were written by intelligent people (that is, people intelligent enough to write, at least).

The written word is a powerful force, and has been for most of mankind’s history. The written word has created nations and destroyed them. It has the power to inspire and encourage millions. It has inspired acts of courage and imagination and acts of treachery and abomination. When it is the right words, I believe the written even has the power to save people’s souls or destroy them.

I believe that our modern society does not give enough credence or respect to the written word or to the people who write them. Civilization has been built, in part, on the shoulders of writers, their ideas, and their actions, yet today too many people think of writers as some sort of underclass to the people who have ‘real’ jobs.

If what I say about writing, the written word, and history are true, though, there is no question as to why our modern society struggles. Without intelligent people writing and intelligent people reading, we are not adding to the legacy of the civilization that got us where we are now. What will that say about us to future generations?

As for me, I have no intention that those generations should have to speculate about me, and I hope that many other intelligent people will join me in establishing that legacy. It can all begin in 7 days.