Counting the Costs
Isn't That His Job?

At My Age I Shouldn't Have to Prove Anything to Anyone

All Pop wants is to cross the border for a few hours to visit a relative. You wouldn't think that's asking too much. But it is.
A distant cousin lives in a St Catherine nursing home, just across the Canadian border. We run up to visit her once a year or so – my brother, Pop, and myself. A driver's license and birth certificate has always sufficed for crossing the border. (or rather, for return crossing, back into the U.S.) But, as of last June, only an “enhanced” license will do – that or a passport. With only minor fuss, my brother and I obtained ours, but no such luck for Pop. State (and perhaps Federal) clerks looked askance at his out-of-state birth certificate from the 1920's – it's old and crumbly – you have to handle it as if it were an ancient Bible manuscript. it a certificate or just a 'notice'? And....does it have a raised seal or is it just a flat one? Go get another one, they tell him.
But record-keeping in New Jersey wasn't so hot 90 years ago, and the department has changed hands or moved any number of times since. They don't seem able to come up with anything to readily satisfy New York. Yes, for a certain fee and substantial inconvenience, if Pop can dig up some old coot whose been around forever, who knows him from long ago, and who can testify that, yes – Pop is indeed a person, he was born here, he is a citizen, and if you can get that person to testify to that effect before a notary, then the wheels of progress can slowly move ahead once more. But the old coots are dead, or far away and long forgotten. The guys Pop hangs with now, bowling and golfing buddies, for the most part, don't go back that far. They can testify he throws a good strike ball, but not much else.
Pop's been on the phone with a series of persons, but he gets frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy he must plow through, and he gives them a piece of his mind. (no doubt ringing alarm bells everywhere) “I've had a driver's license for 70 years,” he grouses. “I fought in the world war. At my age, I shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone.”

'Why don't you take charge yourself, Sheepandgoats?' one might ask. 'Why don't you help him out?' Yeah, well, maybe that will happen. But it's not so easy as it sounds, for Pop is quite competent. He takes pride in being self-sufficient, and doesn't like to be helped....might not accepting help imply he is helpless? Besides, would I do any better? I've had my own struggles with (local) bureaucracy, untangling an ancient web regarding property rights, which also entailed tracking down old coots who could remember how things used to be, parading them to the bank notary public, hiring a lawyer (who opined that submitted documents had only to “weigh enough”) and persuading certain other interested parties that there was nothing more to be done till the gods of real estate had spoken.
Moreover, I've had my own border trouble. It happened some months after 911, as Mrs Sheepandgoats and I were driving home from Quebec City. Rounding the final bend on Rt 137, a long long line at the NY-Canadian border came into view - endless cars waiting for customs. 'Rats!' muttered I to my wife, and then 'well, as long as I have to sit here, I'll read the newsmagazine in the car trunk.' But as I opened the trunk I noticed all eyes in the control booths ahead were upon me. 'Sheepandgoats, you idiot!' Now they think I'm hiding drugs – they'll tear the car apart!

So I waited my forty five minutes, and when it came my turn, the first words from the officer's mouth were: “what were you doing in your trunk?” Getting something to read, I said, adding I instantly knew it was a mistake and they'd all be thinking I was hiding drugs. “Drugs, hell!” the fellow snapped back. “One wrong move and you would have been shot!” That's how it was after 911. They were edgy there at the border, cautious, supposing I might emerge from the trunk with a machine gun.

Now, we don't complain, mind you. Well....Pop does a's more evidence that 'the world has gone to hell in a handbasket,' he grumbles. But I know it's all a consequence of terror and the “war on terror.” People die or are maimed all the time through terror, so it's hardly sporting to gripe over a just a bit of inconvenience, even though we live in America, are all spoiled, and have long taken our “rights” for granted. One must keep things in perspective. Still, when Tom Whitepebble was a boy in Niagara Falls, NY, he'd routinely walk across the bridge to Canada and back, after a day of fun at the falls, and nobody asked him anything. Nobody had to see any papers at all.
I write this just after police have arrested some fellow who'd hoped to blow up Times-Square with a car bomb. It might have been a much bigger story, complete with dead bodies and burning buildings – T-S is always mobbed with people - had not his crude bomb fizzled. Such events are routine in the world but (so far) relatively rare in the U.S. Who of my generation would ever have imagined it would come to this, that killing civilians indiscriminately would come into vogue, and even strapping on bombs and delighting to die if only you can take out a dozen or two with you. Tell really don't think it's not evidence that “in the last days” people will be “fierce,” and without “natural affection?”  (2 Tim 3:3)  And did the July Watchtower really say that the recent upsurge in graphic movie, TV, game and media violence might be a satanic ploy, stoking people up for fratricidal warfare?

It steadily escalates. In Russia, “two female suicide bombers killed at least 38 people on packed Moscow metro trains on Monday, stirring fears of a broader campaign in Russia's heartland by Islamists from the North Caucasus,” says the March 29th Washington Post. They call these female bombers “black widows,” and they've struck many times, with great loss of life. They've generally lost all their menfolk to war and all their womenfolk have been raped. They're pretty much crazed, without any social net to fall back into, and it's a sinch to recruit them for suicide missions. The Post names a certain Chechen “warlord” who, a decade ago, “pioneered” the use of women to strike civilian targets. And why? Reprisals for the 1940s transportation of Chechens to Central Asia, with enormous loss of life, by dictator Josef Stalin. [70 years ago!] In recent decades, Islamist militants have joined the fray, giving it new import.

Now, horrible as such grievances are, in past decades people weathered equal atrocities without suffering destruction of their natural affection for humankind. It often broke them, it often broke faith in God, it often left them with hatred for the perpetrators, but not for humankind in general. Jews and other emerged from WWII concentration camps, for example, without dedicating their future lives to revenge, or at least revenge against non-involved persons. A century before that, blacks in this country similarly emerged from brutalizing slavery without goals of hatred and vengeance to all. But times are different today. People are surrounded by hate, and when they escape from one hate-filled situation, they simply enter another one. There is no respite. There is no consolation. It ought to be quite clear that this world produces and promises to produce no end of persons like the Chechen black widows, so increasing violence seems absolutely assured, until God brings about an end to the entire system of things, a forerunner to ushering in his own kingdom.

Under such circumstances, one doesn't gripe about inconveniences at the border. It's more or less to be expected.


Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'



Hey Tom,

For my two cents, I might make brief note of the Nat Turner rebellion and the backlash against the rebellion during the antebellum period. Also, I would note the description that Primo Levi gives in, I believe, The Drowned and the Saved (or perhaps If This is a Man) of groups of Jews from the concentration camps stealing vehicles and weapons to go hunt down Germans in nearby towns. One could also perhaps include the Kamikaze bombers, or perhaps Jack the Ripper as well, among others. We could also go through the long history of warfare on this planet (the Assyrians in particular come to mind) to find acts, sometimes by lone individuals, sometimes by small groups, sometimes systematized by entire nations, that are filled with atrocities of, at least in my mind, an equally horrible nature. What of the Spartan procedure of exposure? I think if anything could qualify as being destructive towards the "natural affection for humankind," it would be that, yet it was more than 2,000 years ago.

I think overall I simply disagree with the premise that things, in this way at least, are worse today. If nothing else, I think we have a clear continuation of humanity's ability to be very affectionate and close with those that they consider within their own group, and very hostile and brutal to those who are seen as outsiders. As brutal and horrific and suicide bombers are, they too often have families and friends. I would say that, excepting certain sociopaths, they do not lose affection for all of humanity, but rather come to hate a specific group.

Anyway, that's my two cents, good to hear from you again.


tom sheepandgoats

Potential victims of the T-S bomber might easily have been Muslum, even radical Muslum. There's a lot of them around today. This is even more true with bombings in Europe and the Mid-East; potential victims might well be expected to include ones from the same "group" as the perpetrators - sharing the same cultural and even political views.

The examples you cite are all ones where an enemy was clearly isolated and targeted; perpetrators didn't just play the odds that 'we'll kill more of their people than ours.' And such incidents hardly typified the time periods from which they sprang. Moreover, to parallel the Chechin situation, you'd have to have TODAY'S Jews targeting TODAY'S Germans for Hitler's atrocities 70 years ago.

But we'll enter a contest, if you like. I bet I can document more such deadly incidents in the past 20 years than you can in the 200 year prior to that.


Might all this hatred be an offshoot of Satan's "great anger, knowing that he has a short time left," (Rev 12:12)? If he has a strong influence over the entire inhabited earth (Rev 12:12, 1 John 5:19) then it stands to reason that the more intense his emotions, the more intense his actions would be upon mankind.

tom sheepandgoats

You never quite know what is Satan and what is man; we're fully capable of doing horrible things all by ourselves. But, yes, I agree, increased Satanic anger is likely to be reflected in increased hostility on earth.


Aren't all wars premised on the idea of playing the odds that "we'll kill more of their people than ours?". I suppose recently at least you can ratchet up the idea to "We'll kill more of their people than ours before our people get tired of sending people to die," but from a historical perspective at least, you're always playing the odds and trying to stack the deck in your favor.

As far as particular incidents, let's run briefly over the past 200 years.

If we start at the American Revolution, indeed things do seem a bit more civilized. You have large standing armies engaging each other mostly in the field. There is some spill-over into the general population, which I'm sure affected both sides (Tories were likely harmed intentionally or unintentionally by Brits, and Whigs were likely harmed intentionally or unintentionally by the Continental Armies). But, yes, indeed, it was much more civilized.

The French Revolution eventually took a much darker turn, however, and you begin to have a lot of executions of people who don't share your views "enough." The likely response of a radical Muslim who wants to blow up Time Square when informed that he may harm other Muslims would be "Yes, but if they are truly Muslim they will be glad to die for it." If they would not be glad to die in such an explosion, likely they would not be viewed as radical enough.

I would say we could also take the World Wars for a few potential examples - carpet bombing by the Brits across Germany, and "close air support", which has always been a risky maneuver. Even though these actions could kill allies or innocents, they were undertaken to end the war. The Kamikaze pilots flew their planes into ships, where Japanese prisoners could well have been held. Gas attacks and artillery shellings always come with the potential for "friendly fire".

Now, you might say, World Wars I and II were large-scale wars that were targeted against enemy combatants, and some violence spilled over into the civilian or allied population. Fair enough.

With the rise of Stalin you of course also get his purges. Now, the State would say, and indeed everyone eventually confessed, that those who were purged were actually traitors and didn't share the Party's idea...but we know for the vast majority that simply wasn't true. Here you have a state whose dogmatically held ideology leads them to create another "them" group from among their own populace. Just as today, many radical Muslims (and radical Christians) see their less radical brethren as "other," or falling short. I would also guarantee you that many of these radicals would view it as an honor for their brethren if they happened to die in a terror attack - they will become part of something bigger.

In Vietnam, you had isolated guerrillas, sometimes women and children, who would wire themselves with explosives and detonate anywhere where there were soldiers - if they took out some of their own population, no matter, getting rid of the enemy was more important.

You also have the Khmer Rouge, with wide-spread genocide against their own people, and, as happened also in China and Russia (in Russia due to Lysenko's insistence on Lamarckian genetics), widespread famines that killed millions of people who supported the government.

Even more recently (and I'm sorry to begin stepping into your 20 years frame), you have bishops in Africa who renounce the use of contraceptives, or the Pope who claims that condom use increases the transmission of HIV, likely condemning millions more who whole-heartedly believe, love, and follow these people to their deaths.

The idea of a "suicide mission" has been around forever, and in these kinds of situations, collateral damage is always acceptable, so long as the mission itself is accomplished - that's the entire point. With the invention of high explosives, such suicide missions have taken a much more gruesome and potentially harmful turn. Nowadays, even the most unfinanced of guerrilla groups can buy a few sticks of dynamite and get someone to blow up a town square and kill indiscriminately. I would say that recently, the technology with which these people carry out their attacks has changed more than the ideas behind them. Their tactics have adapted to the availability of more deadly weaponry, but I don't think that the base ideas have changed, and indeed, I think that throughout all of warfare, there has been the over-arching, though likely mostly unconscious idea of, "Well, we can kill more of their guys than they can kill of ours."

Now, I'm going to call a bit of a foul on the 200 year limit that you imposed in your contest. It's a touch unfair. In those 20 years you get most of the really interesting stuff - the fracturing of large states, the rise of fundamentalist and radical religious groups, massive development of new technology that can be disseminated cheaply, etc. Going back 200 years, what do I have? The Enlightenment? The foundation of the Age of Reason? It's a bit unfair. There is indeed a long lull in this kind of violence starting about 200-300 years ago, with the formation of the first modern states, conventions for warfare, the creation of true standing armies, etc. But if we go back much before that, we see that the same sort of things going on now have been happening for a long, long time, with vastly different technologies. Protestants and Catholics have murdered one another, terrorized one another, tortured one another, and killed their own members for not being fervent enough in their faith. The Inquisition tortured those who were even suspected of bad thoughts or bad behavior. The Sunnis have always killed the Shiites, and vice versa, and both have always killed the Sufis. Civilians and innocents were often caught up in the wars of the princes, kings, or states, and suffered horribly for it, regardless of if the army was technically allied to them or not, especially when kings began hiring out mercenary troops.

My argument would be that people have always had a propensity for justifying and accepting collateral damage if they see the gains as large enough. As Arnaud Amalric advised a Crusader soldier trying to distinguish Catholic allies from the Cathars, "Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are His."

What I'm not going to argue with at all is that it seems that we have been sliding more and more into factions, tyranny, and brutality recently. What I do argue against is that this is anything truly new. We had a brief run of a slightly more progressive and civilized era, and now it seems that it is slipping away and we're going back to an Iron Age mentality. It's that issue that I find more depressing than anything else.

tom sheepandgoats

No sooner did I lay down my challenge than I began to fear you might actually take it up. And bring your formidable powers of reason to bear. Moreover (are you still a "disaffected grad student"?) make it a class project, for university credit, a thesis, perhaps, and thereby employ number-crunching university computers and an army of undergraduates to pound me into mush. Not that I doubted I would win, mind you, but I foresaw you obligating me to do a lot of documenting, which, alas, I would be obliged to do the old fashioned way - just myself, working late into the evenings, clipping newspapers.

I even thought you might gripe about the 'stacked deck' I presented you, but for a different reason. Perhaps you would find it difficult to track back news reports 220 years back. So I was prepared to cut both our time periods in half - 10 years for me, 100 years for you. In our local library, newspaper microfilms go back into the late 1800's - it must be so everywhere. I believe I could easily document more violence in my times than yours.

However, I should have explained, I don't count wars. These have long been "time-outs" in civilized behavior, much like Mardi Gras is a time-out from normal standards of propriety. After war's end, human standards revert pretty much back to where they were before - there may even be periods of reconstruction - and past acts of barbarism are rationalized as "well....that was during WARTIME." And, of course, when a dictator gathers power, they can be mean sons of bitches and commit many horrible acts - but that, too, is an aberration from 'accepted' rules of living. It doesn't infect the general populace much, at least in the cases you cited - people become mostly concerned with lying low or self-defense.

I don't claim barbarism is new. But it has generally been mostly confined to "wartime." Idealists have long hoped to someday stamp out, or at least reduce, war. It was onetime hoped that the League of Nations would do this, then the United Nations. Instead, conduct that at one time would be "acceptable" only in wartime increasing spills over into peacetime. "Killing more of their people than ours" was at one time thought to be a strategy involving military targets. Civilians might suffer greatly, but they were generally not the intended targets. I don't agree with your statement that intentionally taking out your own people has long been thought doable. Instead, governments, armies, and criminals have long grabbed civilian hostages, often scattering them in their midst, convinced (usually rightly) this will afford them protection from attack. But today civilians, more and more, BECOME the targets. This is new, and, as you point out, depressing.

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