Monday was Independence Day but some political fireworks exploded the day before. That’s when Sen. John McCain blasted President Barack Obama’s proposed Afghanistan troop withdrawal. (Then again, in 2008, McCain also said that he didn’t care, “If we stay in Iraq for 50 years.”).
Disturbingly, this October will mark the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan war. (No cake for me, thank you.) The saddest part is that within months of the invasion we were further along than we are today.
It’s a fact that conditions deteriorated in 2003 when George W. Bush diverted huge numbers of troops for the GOP’s Iraq War. (I say “GOP” because while 57 percent of Democratic senators and Congress members voted against the Iraq War resolution, 97.5 percent of Republicans voted in favor.)
After almost a decade, we appear totally lost in Afghanistan. Sen. McCain may be upset that the troops are being withdrawn too fast but, frankly, I’m upset that they’re still there. (Soon our participation in the Afghan War will be longer than our participation in WW I, WW II and Korea combined!)
It’s possible that my politics may have led to a rather embarrassing incident at the Ocean Park Library (which, for local history buffs, was built in 1917 and is one of the few Carnegie-endowed libraries still functioning in Southern California).
It was a chilly fall night in 2003, and I was about to check out some books when I noticed an official notice posted on the library counter. It stated that, as part of the Patriot Act, if requested by the FBI, the library would turn over user records. Given the Bill of Rights, I couldn’t believe me eyes. Unfortunately, my mouth got into the act, too.
I approached the middle-aged woman next to me, inquiring if she had seen the sign. With her long hair, and denim jacket, she looked like an aging flower child that I thought might be equally as outraged as I was. Unfortunately for me, she was too busy disputing a library fine.
I discreetly informed a few others in the library about the sign, but moments later a librarian walked over, fuming. “I’m just showing them your sign,” I said, feigning innocence. Apparently my comment didn’t go over too well. “If you don’t leave now, I’ll call the police.”
Reluctantly, I left the premises. I comforted myself that the library was closing in 15 minutes, anyway. Plus, as I exited, I saw some other people reading the sign, so I took it as a small moral victory.
Frankly, I was relieved that the incident was soon forgotten. Interestingly, most librarians I’ve talked to since disagree with the portion of the Patriot Act that compels them to divulge records. Of some comfort, according to Assistant City Librarian Claudia Fishler, there hasn’t been a single incident in Santa Monica of the FBI requesting such information.
It seems ludicrous to think that terrorists or criminals have library cards and get their devious info from library books. I wonder if “Whitey” Bulger read the bestseller, “How to Stuff $800,000 in Your Wall.” Given the controversial Casey Anthony verdict, I suppose it’s possible that Whitey may beat the 19 murder charges. But regarding his former apartment in Santa Monica, given how he “remodeled” the walls, he’ll never get his security deposit back.
Since that night in 2003, I’ve used the library even more, if only due to technology. On the computer I can reserve books and DVDs and be notified of their arrival via e-mail. I’m also notified when items are due via e-mail. It’s all remarkably convenient.
My most recent library checkout was the 2010 non-fiction book, “The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy,” by Bill Carter (who also wrote “The Late Shift” in 1994, which was turned into an HBO movie).
The truth is, when I’m not busy fomenting anti-war riots in the Ocean Park Library, I have very little interest in who is or who isn’t hosting “The Tonight Show.” But I stumbled on “The War for Late Nite” and couldn’t put it down.
When I was done, I still had questions. I went online and found a writer for the New York Times who had a column on the subject (along with his e-mail address). I wrote and asked what he thought of the book I had just read and could he clear up some confusion.
Two days later I received a return e-mail from the author asking if I was pulling his leg. “Why do you ask?” I replied. “Because I wrote that book!” he answered. Oops. Confusion, indeed. Somewhat sheepishly, I responded, “Even through e-mail, can you tell how red my face is?”
So it would appear that, among my most embarrassing life moments, getting 86’d from the library has some recent competition.
Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.