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There's a federal agency that keeps a “terrorism watch list” that now has more than a million names on it.
I'm pretty sure mine's on it, and there's a good chance yours is too. Even if you hate terror, love Jesus, favor waterboarding and support war crimes, as long it's us committing them and our intentions are good.
You can get on the terrorism watch list by accident or mistake, or because some bored or careless distant cyber prick took the notion that you're a “suspicious character.” Because your last name ends in a vowel. Because one time a listee or prospective listee telephoned someone with a first, middle, or last name vaguely similar to yours and thereby got the ball rolling.
The list likely includes most of the names that were on the famous lists that Sen. Joseph McCarthy kept in his briefcase 50 years ago. His lists included Communists, Communist sympathizers, Communist fellow-travelers, people who had attended parties which might have had guests who had once attended parties at which people who had once been Communists might have been present, and people who had read something about Communism, or had heard tell of it.
An aide one time inadvertently incorporated the Reader's Digest subscription list into the McCarthy roster of traitors and subversives, but the senator didn't care. Names were names to him, one just as smearable as another. Ann Coulter's hero. Still with admirers galore.
Lots of the 30,000 names that were on the Nixon Enemies List — Joe Namath, Bill Cosby, Carol Channing and such — are probably on this latter-day terrorism watch list, too, just on general principle.
And names that were on J. Edgar Hoover's massive life-list of America-haters requiring constant spying on — Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. King and their ilk.
The updated watch list is said to be so inclusive that even the names on it are of some of the people who are in charge of getting up the list and keeping it alphabetized, paginated, and current. Seeing their own names on there, they presumably go ahead and make life hell for themselves, just as they do for others on the list, on the ground that they must be guilty if their names are on the list. Hoover did something similar with his file on his own cross-dresser alter ego, “Mary,” when she went out partying and whoring — unless it was Clyde Tolson who kept that file, which, who knows anymore, or cares?
There don't seem to be any membership benefits if they put your name on the terrorism watch list. They don't send you a gold or platinum membership card, or any kind of membership card, or a congratulatory letter that pre-qualifies you for hotel and rental-car and time-share and life-insurance discounts and a chance to win tickets to the Super Bowl or to a concert by a teen-age girl who can't sing but is an idol to millions nonetheless. They don't automatically enter your name in a drawing for a really fabulous prize.
About all you can win from getting your name on the list is the gratitude of your fellow passengers for delaying their flight. Certain of your body cavities win the right to be probed by goons. You can win the right to be jailed secretly and indefinitely without being charged. And the privilege of free travel abroad, with all-expenses-paid dungeon torture and never being heard from again.
If it weren't for the honor of the thing, in short, you might want to opt off the list, but no. Any dick with a grudge can get you on it, but Dick Cheney himself couldn't get you off. Or maybe he could. God couldn't get you off but the vice president probably could. He could be eavesdropping on your phone calls and hear you'd given a giant sum to the George W. Bush library and call up the list keeper and say, “All right, take this poor bastard off.”
I've got boocoos of nominations for the list, but space here for only a sampling.
Jim Nabors. Gomer was always saying Shazam, a word that smacks of the Middle East and terrorism. Terrorists use it to answer the phone and to hang up, to say both hello and goodbye, like Hawaiians use Aloha. Coincidence? His furtive cousin Goober (aka George Lindsey) should be on there too. And the enigmatic Ernest T. Bass.
Yogi Berra. And the whole squat, cryptic tribe of what we used to call hindcatchers. How do we know all those finger signals flashed to pitchers weren't really terrorists' sign language? They most likely weren't, but who can say for sure? You can't just shrug off the possibility and hope for the best.
Eddie Bauer. You see his name everywhere, and you don't get that kind of influence unless you deal meth, or rap, or unless you're tied in with some terrorist group to whom money is no object. Yes, Eddie Bauer supposedly has been dead for some years now but is that a legitimate excuse?
Is it a legitimate excuse for Jenny Craig?
Or Orville Redenbacher?
David Oreck isn't dead, as far as I know, but I'm of the opinion that anybody who can maintain that intense a vacuum-cleaner enthusiasm for that long deserves a place on the list. Or on some list.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.
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