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THE POPE’S GAY PANIC:
By FRANK BRUNI
I have many questions for and about the “gay lobby” in the Vatican, but I’ll start with this: How can you be so spectacularly ineffective?
You wouldn’t last a minute on K Street; the Karl Roves of the capital would have you for lunch. Despite your presence in, and presumed influence on, the upper reaches of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, church teaching still holds that homosexuality is disordered, and many church leaders still send the preposterously mixed message that while gay and lesbian people shouldn’t be admonished for, or ashamed about, their same-sex attractions, they should nonetheless elect cold showers over warm embraces. Look but don’t touch. Dream but don’t diddle.
“It’s like saying, ‘You’re a bird, but you can’t fly,’ ” cracked Sister Jeannine Gramick, an American nun who has long challenged the church on this issue, when we chatted recently.
“That’s not original,” she quickly confessed, referring to her analogy. “It’s been around awhile.”
I called her after the news reports last week that Pope Francis, in a private meeting with a Latin American religious group, had wrung his hands about a network of gay clerics at Catholicism’s command central. “Gay lobby” was the phrase he used, according to the group’s notes, but it wasn’t clear whether he meant a political faction per se.
What was clearer was his acknowledgment — rare for a pope, and thus remarkable — of the church’s worst-kept secret: a priesthood populous with gay men, even at the zenith. And that underscored anew the mystery and madness of the church’s attitude about homosexuality.
If homosexuality is no bar to serving as one of God’s emissaries and interpreters, if it’s no obstacle to being promoted to the upper rungs of the church’s hierarchy, how can it be so wrong? It doesn’t add up. There’s an error in the holy arithmetic.
The answer that many church leaders now give is that homosexuality isn’t in fact sinful, not in and of itself, not if it’s paired with chastity, which Roman Catholic priests of any persuasion are supposed to practice. Church leaders also stress that they don’t mean to disparage gay people or deny them full human dignity.
“The first thing I’d say to them is: I love you, too,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, told ABC News earlier this year. “And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And we want your happiness.”
“You’re entitled to friendship,” he went on, laying out the ground rules for same-sex longings and pairings. As for sexual love, he added, “that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”
Let’s leave aside the legions of straight people, Catholic and otherwise, who aren’t tucking their sex lives into a box that tidy, tiny and fecundity-minded.
Let’s focus on something else. There’s no way for a gay or lesbian person not to hear Dolan’s appraisal as something of a condemnation, no matter how lavishly it’s dressed in loving language. It assigns homosexuals a status separate from, and unequal to, the one accorded heterosexuals: you’re O.K., but you’re really not O.K. Upon you there is a special restriction, and for you there is a fundamental dimension of the human experience that is off-limits, a no-fly zone of the heart.
It’s two-tiered thinking, which is present as well in American political life, where many people who say that they have no problem with gays and lesbians and no intent to discriminate against us also say that we shouldn’t be allowed to marry, because, well, that’s the tradition, and marriage is an accommodation too far.
The Supreme Court is poised to weigh in on the matter in the next two weeks, and while the smart money is on a toppling of the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in any of the 12 states that have legalized it, there’s little sign that the court will compel all the other states to get with the program.
And so we gay and lesbian people will be told: you’re O.K., but it’s up to states to decide just how O.K. There’s an asterisk to your supposed equality, a margin of difference between what others deserve and what you do.
That’s not really acceptance, and that may explain some of the findings of a Pew Research Center poll of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans that was released last week. About one-third of the respondents said that they’d not told their mothers the truth of their lives, and an even greater fraction had not told their fathers. In other words, fear and secrecy — not to mention the potential psychological damage associated with each — persist. And you can’t divorce that from marriage inequality’s insinuation that gays and lesbians have less honorable relationships, and are lesser creatures all in all.
Nor can you divorce it from the Catholic Church’s wildly contradictory signals. Although the church doesn’t deem homosexuality paired with chastity to be sinful, the Vatican decreed in 2005 that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” shouldn’t be ordained as priests.
And yet many such men have been ordained. The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and an editor at large at the Catholic magazine America, told me that he’s seen thoughtful though not scientifically rigorous estimates that anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of Catholic priests are gay. His own best guess is 30 percent. That’s thousands and thousands of gay priests, some of whom must indeed be in the “deep-seated” end of the tendency pool.
Martin believes that the vast majority of gay priests aren’t sexually active. But some are, and Rome is certainly one of the many theaters where the conflict between the church’s ethereal ideals and the real world play out.
I lived there for nearly two years, covering the Vatican for The Times, and while I got no real sense of any “gay lobby,” I was given my own lesson in the hypocrisy of clerics who preach one set of morals and practice another.
Every so often, I’d have lunch or dinner with the Rev. Thomas Williams, who was the dean of theology at a pontifical university and belonged to the Legion of Christ, a conservative order. He liked to expose secular news organizations to the order’s philosophy, and over time his classic, square-jawed good looks — he resembled some ecclesiastical man of steel, ready to star in “Superman Genuflects” — led to television time as a Vatican analyst.
Last year he took a leave from ministry, amid accusations of affairs with several women. He admitted to one of them, and to fathering a child.
The friends with whom I’ve shared that story invariably ask: “Doesn’t that make you angry?”
No. Just really, really sad.
THE NOT-SO-GOOD OLD DAYS:
By STEPHANIE COONTZ
My column last month about the dangers of nostalgia inspired many readers to write to me about their family memories of the 1950s and ’60s. Some shared poignant stories about the discrimination they encountered as blacks, women, gay men or lesbians. Others described how much easier it was for their working-class fathers to support a family back then.
Manufacturing workers have reason to regret the passing of an era. Between 1945 and 1978, their real earnings almost doubled — rising by 95 percent — but then, over the next 34 years, they actually fell by 2.3 percent. Supporters of women’s reproductive rights might feel nostalgic for an era when three former presidents, the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Democrats Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson, were happy to serve as honorary co-chairmen of a Planned Parenthood fund-raising committee.
But you can’t just stroll through the past, picking the things you like and skipping the ones you don’t, as if historical eras were menus, and you could pick one from column A and one from column B. They are, rather, interconnected social, economic and political systems. Whether someone would really want to return to a particular time depends on socioeconomic class, age, sex, race and health.
In 1950, a young man, with or without a high school degree, would have found it much easier than it is today to get and keep a job in the auto industry. And in that year, according to Colin Gordon, a historian at the University of Iowa, the average autoworker could meet monthly mortgage payments on a median-priced home with just 13.4 percent of his take-home pay. Today a similar mortgage would claim more than twice that share of his monthly earnings.
Other members of the autoworker’s family, however, might be less inclined to trade the present for the past. His retired parents would certainly have had less economic security back then. Throughout much of the 1960s, more than a quarter of men and women age 65 and older lived below the poverty level, compared to less than 10 percent in 2010.
In most states, his wife could not have taken out a loan or a credit card in her own name. If she wanted a job, she had to turn to the “Help Wanted — Female” section of the classifieds, where she might learn, as one 1963 ad in this newspaper put it, that “you must be really beautiful” to be hired. In 42 states, a homemaker had no legal claim on the earnings of her husband. And nowhere did a wife have legal recourse against marital rape.
A couple with a disabled child would surely not want to return to an era when such kids were regularly warehoused in institutions, where they might be sterilized or lobotomized. Not long ago I drove past one such former hospital in Winfield, Kan., the long-closed Asylum for Idiotic and Imbecile Youth.
Nor would most black workers want to revert to a time when, on average, they earned 40 percent less than their white counterparts, while restrictive racial covenants largely prevented them from buying into the suburban neighborhoods being built for white working-class families.
Today, new problems have emerged in the process of resolving old ones, but the solution is not to go back to the past. Some people may long for an era when divorce was still hard to come by. The spread of no-fault divorce has reduced the bargaining power of whichever spouse is more interested in continuing the relationship. And the breakup of such marriages has caused pain for many families.
Yet, according to the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, whenever a state adopted a no-fault divorce law, the annual rate of female suicide there dropped by 8 to 16 percent, and the incidence of domestic violence declined by roughly 30 percent.
It would certainly help if we could reverse the deterioration of real wages and job security that so many Americans have endured in recent decades. But even if we succeeded, we will have to accept that family life will never again be as stable, universal or uniform as it was when few women could support themselves, when couples who divorced or lived together outside of marriage faced widespread discrimination, when gay men and lesbians were often pressured into sham marriages and when victims of domestic violence or child abuse had few avenues to escape from their tormentors.
The growing diversity of family life comes with new possibilities as well as new challenges. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, more than 80 percent of Americans believe that their current family is as close as the one in which they grew up, or closer. Finding ways to improve the lives of the remaining 20 percent seems more realistic than trying to restore an imaginary golden age.
EGYPT’S PERILOUS DRIFT:
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
On Tuesday, I visited a bakery in Cairo’s dirt-poor Imbaba neighborhood, where I watched a scrum of men, women and children jostling to get bread. You have to get there early, because the baker makes only so many subsidized pita loaves; he sells the rest of his government-subsidized flour on the black market to private bakers who charge five times the official price. He has no choice, he says, because his fuel costs are spiking. You can watch the subsidized-flour bags being carried on shoulders out the side door. “This is the hardest job in Egypt,” the bakery owner told me. Everyone is always mad at him, especially those who line up early and still leave with no bread.
These are difficult days in Egypt. It is running out of hard currency and can’t buy enough gasoline and diesel for power stations. Long lines are forming at gas stations, worsening Cairo’s titanic traffic jams, and electricity cuts are commonplace. Around the corner from the bakery, on an unpaved street, a small knot of men have two manhole covers lifted, exposing a sickening black sludge that has backed up almost to street level; they’re fishing down the hole for the blockage with a long, thin rod. There is much arguing about how best to solve this problem. In the background, through an open window, you hear children in a Koranic school cheerfully repeating verses for their teacher.
This is Egypt in miniature — so many problems built up over so many years that are all about to spill onto the street. No one can agree on what to do about them — and the only tool they have looks like a 30-foot-long, jury-rigged, straightened coat hanger.
As if things weren’t bad enough, who should show up to add to Egypt’s stresses but Mother Nature herself. Climate, water, food and population pressures are now interweaving with the political and economic ones in ways that would challenge even the best of leaders, and Egypt today has far from the best. In the last month, Cairo has seen temperatures as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, 20 degrees above the daily average high.
And the headline news in Cairo last week was Ethiopia’s construction of the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa, on the Blue Nile. As the reservoir behind the dam is filled up, the water supply to Egypt is likely to be reduced, and since Egypt’s 85 million people get 97 percent of their fresh water from the Nile, this has become a huge issue. Some senior Egyptian officials speak of possible military action to prevent the dam from being completed. President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, on Monday declared publicly of Ethiopia: “We are not calling for war, but we will never permit our water security … to be threatened.” Egypt, he said, will keep “all options open.” Ethiopia has responded with defiance, with its prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, saying “nothing and no one” would stop construction.
Invading Ethiopia may be Morsi’s only open option. His government has been a huge disappointment for many Egyptians. Many non-Islamists voted for Morsi — it was the only way he got elected — because they felt they could not vote for the candidate favored by supporters of the former dictator Hosni Mubarak, and because they believed his promise to be “inclusive.” These pro-Morsi non-Islamists are known here as “lemon squeezers,” from an Egyptian expression — when you are forced to do or eat something unpleasant you say: “I squeezed lemon all over it first.”
When you talk to these lemon squeezers today — the liberals, conservatives and nationalists who make up the opposition — you can feel a palpable hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood and a powerful sense of theft: a widespread feeling that the Brotherhood tricked the lemon squeezers and the poor into voting for its members and now they have failed to either fix the country or share power, but are busy trying to impose religious norms. This opposition has mounted a nationwide petition drive that has garnered 10 million signatures so far calling on Morsi to resign and to call new elections. On June 30, their campaign is set to culminate in a nationwide anti-Morsi protest. Morsi still enjoys support in the more traditional countryside, so this could get very ugly.
What to do with such a mess?
In trying to answer that question I did something different on this trip. I did not talk to any politicians, but focused instead on Egypt’s impressive but small group of environmental activists, many of whom were also involved in the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak. I focused on them because I believe that while they may not know what is sufficient to fix Egypt (who does?) they do know what is necessary:
Egypt needs a revolution.
Wait, isn’t that what happened two years ago? Not really. It is now clear that what happened two years ago was more musical chairs than revolution. First the army, using the energy of the youth-led protesters in Tahrir Square, ousted Mubarak, and then the Muslim Brotherhood ousted the army, and now the opposition is trying to oust the Brotherhood. Each, though, is operating on the old majoritarian politics — winners take all, losers get nothing.
But the truth is that any faction here — the youth, the army, the Muslim Brotherhood — that thinks it can rule Egypt alone and make the others disappear is fooling itself. (Ditto in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya.) Because Egypt is in such a deep hole, and the reforms needed so painful, they can be accomplished only if everyone shares in the responsibility and ownership of the transition through a national unity coalition. In that sense Egyptians today desperately need a “peace process” — not with Israel, but with one another.
Everyone has to take responsibility for the commons, rather than just grabbing their own. That is the real cultural revolution that has to happen for Egypt to revive. And that’s where the environmentalists here have such an advantage over the politicians, because all they think about is the commons — resources that have to be shared. Egypt’s commons — its bridges, roads, parks, coral reefs — are crumbling.
I’m here looking at how environmental stresses contributed to the Arab Awakening, as part of a documentary for Showtime: “Years of Living Dangerously.” This week we traveled to Marsa Alam, on the Red Sea, with Ahmed el-Droubi, a campaigner for Greenpeace in Egypt, and Amr Ali, the head of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association, or Hepca, a Red Sea conservation group, to look at how overbuilding, overfishing and rising water temperatures have led to the bleaching of some of the Red Sea’s spectacular coral reefs. As we set out for a dive to look at these reefs, Droubi tried to explain Egypt’s central problem to me by using the example of Cairo’s jammed traffic, among the worst in the world.
“The other day,” Droubi said, “I was standing on a main intersection in downtown Cairo, where two one-way roads meet. As I stood there, I saw cars going both ways down both one-way streets — cars were coming and going in four different directions — and other cars were double-parked. I was standing next to a shop owner watching this. ‘This is a complete mess,’ he said. ‘No one has any civic responsibility. They each only care about themselves getting to where they are going.’ ”
A few minutes later, Droubi continued, a car that was parked right in front of the man’s shop drove away and a new car tried to slip in. “This same owner came out with a chair, put it in the parking space and told the new driver not to block his store but to double-park and block part of the street instead!” Droubi told me. “So, the shop owner saw the problem. He knew the reasons for the problem. He knew the solution, but he wouldn’t do his part because he thought others would not do theirs. The net result was that the traffic was worse for everyone. We have to break this cycle — to show people if they act in the common good they will each benefit more.”
What happened on Cairo’s roads happened along the Red Sea coast. Each hotel owner looked out for himself, while a corrupt government looked the other way. Some hotel owners, to expand their land or gain some beach, simply put landfill over the coral reefs on their shores. Marine activities were unregulated, stressing dolphins in their own resting areas, where they try to sleep safe from the sharks. Fishermen overfished — especially for sharks, which they sold for meat and for fins — and they used dynamite and mesh nets that killed the multicolored reef fish, along with the grouper they were trying to catch. As a result, the whole reef ecosystem became less resilient to global warming.
“In 1997, one of the hottest years on record, coral bleaching became a problem around the world,” but not in the Red Sea, Ali told me. Coral bleaching means that the photosynthetic algae that give the coral its rainbow of colors and nutrition are evicted by the coral after it is stressed beyond certain natural limits and it all turns bone white. But in 2012, when water temperatures in the Red Sea rose by about two degrees Celsius above their average, said Ali, the coral died “all over the place,” especially in the most tourist-filled and fished areas. Healthy coral are critical for fish spawning.
Hepca was formed by the diving community in 1992 to protect the reefs. “These coral reefs are the rain forests of the marine environment,” Droubi explained. “There are 800 species of coral here and 1,200 species of fish.” It all, though, requires a healthy ecosystem, starting with the apex predator — the sharks. If too many sharks are killed, too many of the midlevel predators survive and they then eat too many of the smaller plant-eating fish that keep coral healthy by eating the algae off substrates to clear space for coral to colonize. A reef rich in herbivores will be more resilient.
But for a long time the local government and fishermen were not interested and certainly could not grasp global warming’s impact on the region. So Hepca helped them understand the problem by putting it in their vernacular. They estimated that every shark in the Red Sea was worth about $150,000 a year in business from tourists (who fly in to see or swim with the sharks) and lived for 30 years, while a shark killed for meat and fins for soup brought in about $150 one time. So if everyone worked together, if the government passed new zoning laws where people could fish, and dive-tour operators respected them and Hepca was empowered to enforce the regulation with its own speedboats — the Egyptian coast guard has no boats — everyone would be better off. It sounds simple, but it was a revolution here.
“The national government was not really interested in helping,” Droubi said, “but the local government and fishermen realized they were losing, so everybody came together for a local solution,” which was creating protected zones. “Everybody realized that they were stakeholders,” he added — the environmentalists because of their priorities, the local government, which wanted the tax base from tourism and fishing, and the tourism and fishing industries because this was their livelihood. “We made everyone aware of how their interests intersected if they worked together. It was all about revolting against an old paradigm and creating a new one.” So far the results seem promising.
I have no illusions, and neither do Droubi and Ali, about how hard it would be to bring this kind of “shared commons” thinking to the national level here, but the absence of it is what ails almost every one of these Arab Awakenings today, where one group or another thinks it can have it all and too few people are thinking about the common good and how it has the potential make them all better off. Syria is the most extreme version of this disease, but Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen are all struggling with the same issue.
What is different about Egypt, though, is that it is bursting with talented young people who understand that Egypt needs an inclusive, long-term, sustainable plan for national renewal. And what they also understand is that those who say that the Arabs have tried everything — Nasserism, socialism, Communism, Baathism, liberalism and Islamism — but that nothing has worked, are wrong. There is one ism they haven’t tried: environmentalism. The only way Egypt and the other Awakening states will have sustainable democracies with sustainable economies is to elevate an environmental ethic to the center of political thinking. Without that, it’s all just musical chairs.
THESE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE:
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Now that high school graduation season is winding down, it’s worth taking a moment to remember that in the sea of flowing gowns lurk some unsettling statistical realities. On many measures of childhood well-being, the last decade in the United States has been one of stagnation. We remain an outlier in many ways among developed countries.
This doesn’t mean that the United States hasn’t made progress in recent memory. It has. It’s just that much of that progress came in the 1990s. Since then, our progress has slowed or stalled.
This week, the research group Child Trends released a statistical portrait of the high school class of 2013, compiled by a senior researcher, David Murphey. The numbers were depressing.
The report imagines a hypothetical class of 100 graduates. Of those, it estimates that:
■ 71 have experienced physical assault, 28 have been victimized sexually (10 report that they have been the victims of dating violence in the past year, and 10 report they have been raped), 32 have experienced some form of child maltreatment, 27 were in a physical fight, and 16 carried a weapon in the past year.
■ 64 have had sexual intercourse, 48 are sexually active, 27 used a condom and 12 were on birth control pills the last time they had sex; 21 percent had a sexually transmitted infection in the past year; three or four of the young women have been or are pregnant, and one has had an abortion.
■ 39 have been bullied, physically or emotionally — 16 in the past year; 29 felt “sad and hopeless” continually for at least two weeks during the past year; 14 thought seriously about attempting suicide, and six went through with the attempt.
■ 34 are overweight, and 22 are living in poverty (10 in deep poverty).
Those statistics are shameful.
We have not sufficiently prioritized some fundamental safety structures for children in this country — fighting child poverty; supporting all families (including single-parent ones) and their children through policies like paid family leave and early childhood education; insulating children from a culture soaked with violence; and educating children fully about sexuality and pregnancy, and allowing them open access to a full range of safe sex options (which would reduce our extraordinary rate of sexually transmitted disease, prevent more unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions).
Our problems would be fixable if only we could agree that the protection and healthy development of this country’s children is not only a humanitarian and moral imperative, but also an economic and cultural one: today’s students are tomorrow’s workers.
However, many conservatives seem too selfish to take the altruistic view and too blind to take the self-interested one.
For instance, we are among only three countries that have not ratified the United Nations’ 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Unicef calls “the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.” The other two countries are South Sudan, which just became a country in 2011, and Somalia.
During a 2008 youth debate between the presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain were asked whether they would seek to ratify the treaty. Obama responded:
“It’s important that the United States return to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of human rights. It’s embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. I will review this and other treaties, and ensure the United States resumes its global leadership in human rights.”
Embarrassing is an understatement, but efforts to have the United States ratify the treaty have been met with opposition from Republicans because, as Mother Jones reported in 2010, “Under the treaty, ‘parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children,’ the government couldn’t sentence teenagers to life in prison, kids could get sex-ed and birth control if they wanted it, and — gasp! — children would be able to choose their own religion, according to a fact sheet published by ParentalRights.org.”
That year, ParentalRights.org reported that 31 senators were co-sponsoring legislation to prevent the United States from ratifying the treaty; two other senators signed a letter opposing ratification. All of them were Republicans. Only eight Republican senators did not sign on to this tomfoolery; five of them are now gone from the Senate.
When you prefer the company of Somalia on issues of children’s rights and well-being, you know what your priorities are.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY:
By GAIL COLLINS
The deck is always stacked when we debate keeping the nation safe.
Recently, we discovered that the National Security Agency is keeping an enormous file of our phone calls. In the N.S.A.’s defense, its chief, Gen. Keith Alexander, said “dozens” of potential terrorist attacks had been thwarted by that kind of effort. The director of the F.B.I., Robert Mueller, suggested it might prevent “the next Boston.”
How do you argue with that? True, the N.S.A. program had been up and running for years without being able to prevent the first Boston. And Alexander declined to identify the thwarted attacks, arguing that might aid potential terrorists.
But most Americans were sold. The words “terrorist attack” conjured up terrible, vivid pictures. On the other side was just a humongous computer bank full of numbers. If you didn’t do anything wrong, what was the problem?
Today, let’s try putting a face on it in the form of Brandon Mayfield.
A Kansas native, Mayfield went to college and law school, served in the Army, married, had three children and moved to Portland, Ore., to practice law.
His story begins with — yes! — an enormous federal database, in this case the one that collected fingerprints of Americans who served in the military.
In 2004, after terrorists bombed commuter trains in Madrid, Spanish officials found a suspicious fingerprint on a plastic bag at the scene. The F.B.I. ran it through its files and decided, erroneously, that it matched Mayfield’s. Further investigation revealed that Mayfield had married an Egyptian immigrant and converted to Islam — information the authorities apparently found far more compelling than the fact that he had never been to Spain.
Peculiar things then began to happen in the Mayfield house. His wife, Mona, returned home to find unlocked doors mysteriously bolted. Their daughter, Sharia, then 12, noticed that someone had been fooling around with her computer. “I had a desktop monitor, and it looked like some of the screws had been taken out and not put back in all the way,” she said in a phone interview. “And the hard drive was sticking out.”
Later, the family would learn that agents had broken into their home and Mayfield’s law office repeatedly, taking DNA swabs from the bathroom, nail clippings and cigarette butts, along with images of all the computer hard drives.
“I became very paranoid that someone was going into my room,” said Sharia.
The snoopers had warrants from the court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA courts are supposed to keep investigators within the law while they’re secretly searching for terrorists. We have been hearing a lot about this recently, since the Obama administration keeps pointing out that the N.S.A.’s phone records project had the blessing of FISA judges. Last year, the feds made 1,856 requests to FISA judges and got 1,856 thumbs-up.
So there we are: Search of huge database produces a (wrong) name. Investigators get permission to search an American family’s house without their knowledge, from a secret court that does not seem to be superhard to convince.
One day, F.B.I. agents walked into Mayfield’s office, handcuffed him and took him away. When Sharia left school, her brother met her and told her that their father had been arrested. She assumed it was a joke.
“I said something like, ‘Oh — good one, bro.’ Then my brother started to cry.”
For the next two weeks, Mayfield remained in jail, imagining a possible death penalty. His daughter recalls the family’s isolation, coupled with omnipresent radio and television reports about the alleged Madrid bomber. “School was a refuge in some ways from the reality of home, which was hell,” Sharia said.
Spain saved the day. The Spanish investigators were dubious from the beginning that the fingerprints at the bombing site were Mayfield’s; they had been hoping, perhaps, for a person who had set foot in Europe within the last decade. They found and arrested someone whose finger was a real match.
Mayfield was released. The government eventually paid him $2 million in damages and, in a rare act of contrition, issued a formal apology to him and his family. A federal judge in Oregon also found that the Patriot Act’s authorization of secret searches against American citizens was unconstitutional — a ruling that was reversed on a technicality by a higher court.
That was nearly a decade ago. “But you never quite get over these things,” Mayfield said. “It was a harrowing ordeal. It was terrifying.” He and his daughter are working on a book about what happened. Sharia is also going to law school. “I want to do civil liberties,” she said.
So there we are. It’s just one story. But I suspect the national willingness to give government a blank check on national security matters comes to a screeching halt at about the point where the agents tiptoe into the daughter’s bedroom.
HEL-LO! YOU’RE… WHO AGAIN?:
By DICK CAVETT
It takes a certain amount of guts to go to your class reunions.
Particularly when your graduation ceremonies — from high school and from college — are about a half-century back in time. There are too many reminders of “Time’s wing’ed chariot.”
By the time I signed up for the first high school reunion I went to I had become a “television personality.” A fact that skewed the otherwise normalcy of the occasion.
I couldn’t wait. What would my classmates’ behavior be? Adoring? Awed? Fawning? Pointedly unimpressed?
Would I have the almost surreal experience of actually signing autographs for my classmates? (Yes.)
I blush now to recall how I fantasized what the impact would be of my grand entrance into a milling, partying crowd of those classmates. When it happened, the effect was enough to gratify even an excessive ego. I could immediately see, “He’s here!” “He came!” and “There’s Dick” on numerous lips.
More confession, this one a bit cringe-making:
What I was feeling, irrationally and way too strongly, it took a moment to identify. It was: why couldn’t this famousness have been true back then, when I felt socially inept and awkward with girls? Then would Barbara Britten have gone out with me?
I was partly embarrassed by it all and partly struck with myself. I felt a bit like Bob Hope in a period comedy, stepping out of a carriage to an adoring crowd, with, “I wonder what the dull people are doing.”
Not an entirely pretty sight, self-adoration-wise.
Working into the crowd at the Legion Hall, I tried to make eye contact whenever possible. When I was able to actually pluck a name from memory, the reaction was almost embarrassing.
I saw a guy named Berwyn Jones not far away and mouthed his first name through the din, an easy name to read at a distance. “YES!” he mouthed back, pleased as punch. His delight was touching.
Of course there had to be at least one instance of the inevitable. A guy deep in his cups, with a redwood-size chip on his shoulder, shoved at me a big glass of scotch: “I bought you this drink.”
“A few sips of wine are my limit,” I said politely.
“So I guess you’re too damn good to have a drink with a nobody like me?”
Thank goodness, I suppressed anything like, “You’re getting close to the truth,” as his embarrassed wife led him away.
A surprising thing began to come clear. The girls I’d known long ago in school were now of two distinct sorts. Some of the prettiest had become with time, um, less so. But some who back then would have been, in the awful phrase, “desperation dates” had miraculously blossomed, with time. Into lovely and appealing women.
Time giveth and time taketh away.