Inhuman Swill : Terrorism
            
I've told this story many times, in many ways. This particular version was written for The First Time: First Crime, an evening of readings at Second City's Up Comedy Club in Chicago on April 17, 2013. I read it again at Tuesday Funk #61 on September 3, 2013, and later posted it as an answer on Quora (to the question "What are you banned from? Why?") and as an essay on Medium (where it became an Editor's Pick). As long as it was available for free in those places, I figured it ought to have a home here too. So here it is. Happy Canada Day.

They caught up with me in the men's room of a bus station in Great Falls, Montana.

Now, the fact that "they" were after me might lead you to presume that I was running from the law, that the cops or other authorities were hot on my trail, but that's not the case. My felony was still two months in the future at that point, though I was on the lam.

I was on the lam from the Mormon Church.

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Bin hidin', bin dyin'

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My first reaction this morning upon hearing the news that Osama bin Laden is dead was elation. I wasn't in Manhattan on 9/11, but Laura and I were in Queens, and we rode our bikes to the southern end of Roosevelt Island in the East River from where we could clearly see the smoke pouring from both towers of the World Trade Center a few miles away. Bin Laden being shot in the head by special forces feels like justice, though inadequate justice compared to all the death, suffering and hatred he ignited.

But at the same time, I have to wonder about the timing and importance of this event. I know the operation has been in the works for a very long time, but it comes as Al Qaeda seems to be fading into irrelevance. The Islamic world, as evidenced by the Arab Spring, seems to have taken to the idea that protest and civil disobedience are more effective at bringing down oppressive regimes than terrorism, which has been demonstrated as entirely useless in that regard. Al Qaeda will soldier on, no doubt, but it's not the power it once was.

All in all, with the election season starting up, the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 approaching, and the U.S. letting itself be drawn more and more into the Libyan conflict, the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan seems almost like a distracting piece of theater.

But I do hope President Obama got George W. Bush on the phone and broke the news to him personally.

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Targeting violent rhetoric

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A green light for gunmen?
It has come to my attention that a major American retail chain, in an orchestrated campaign to "take out" high prices, may be quietly encouraging violence in our cities and towns. I'm sure the perpetrators of this offense don't mean it that way, but what other message than an invitation to mayhem are the impressionable and unstable amongst us supposed to take from the sight of a local area map covered with red bull's-eye symbols?

I hereby call upon Target Corporation, in these times of hyper-vitriolic political rhetoric, to change their store-locator symbol to something less inflammatory. A nice, neutral asterisk, perhaps? Who could possibly object to that?

Please. It's for the good of the country.

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Four, no, five buffoons

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It's easy to see why Drafthouse Films (the new distribution arm of Austin's great Alamo Drafthouse theater chain) was able to snap up the rights to British TV vet Chris Morris's feature film debut, Four Lions. Probably no one else wanted to touch it. It's not a movie for everybody.

I saw Four Lions last night at a preview screening at Piper's Alley, and I thought it was the funniest movie I'd seen since, well, The Hangover. Like any number of other comedies, it's the story of a buffoonish group of losers determined to succeed at something they clearly have no talent for. What makes Four Lions different is that the something is jihad. Will you like it? That depends on how much taste you have for laughing at suicide bombings. (Mild spoilers may lie ahead.)

Omar and Waj are two would-be British-Pakistani mujahideen who get ejected from an Al Qaeda training camp for rank incompetence. Undeterred from their dreams of glorious martyrdom, they tell the rest of their goofy terror cell back home in England that they've been sent back to carry out an important mission. The antics of the group, the most volatile member of which is a loose-cannon white convert to Islam, as they bumble their way toward a series of suicide bombings are very funny stuff, laugh-out-loud stuff. But you can't help but feel a certain amount of discomfort laughing at this gang of sincere fools.

Are we laughing at stereotyped Muslims? I don't think so. We're laughing at comedic types, certainly, but as embodied by characters who are actually more three-dimensional than you might expect in this sort of movie. Along with the uncomfortable laughs, we get a look inside the rage, the faith, the yearning for community, and the yearning for glory that prods a certain type of personality into taking up a violent cause. And the self-styled jihadis are hardly the only Muslims we meet. In the course of the film we encounter a wide range of Muslims, most of whom want nothing to do with violence, and a few of whom get caught up in it anyway, in different ways.

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Missing the mark

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I end up with some very interesting Google Ads showing up on the page for my Accidental Terrorist podcast. Just now there was a big splashy banner ad for the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute ("Gunfights don't give second chances"). Apparently the Googlemind doesn't want you potential terrorists going out into the world without firearms training!

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Doing time with Ron Kuby

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Listen for me today on a radio near you!

I'll be a guest this afternoon on "Doing Time with Ron Kuby" on the Air America radio network. We'll talk about my memoir, The Accidental Terrorist, and about the new podcast in which I'm serializing it. Again.

That's today—Tuesday, April 14th—at 5:00 pm Eastern. I hope you'll tune in.

To find your local Air America station, or to listen to the live online audio stream, please visit:

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Greg Bear on the Daily Show

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You've probably seen this already, but I finally got a chance to watch it...

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The police were inspecting bags at the 30th Avenue subway station in Astoria this morning. Little table set up off to one side of the turnstiles. Maybe this makes some people feel safe (particularly people who don't ride the subways), but it only makes me feel as if there's danger near, and as if I myself am under suspicion. And I resent feeling that way in America when I'm just going about my own business and doing nothing wrong.

As I walked past the makeshift inspection station, heart in my throat, trying to look casual, I rehearsed in my mind what I would say if the police asked to look in my somewhat lumpy shoulder bag (which, by the way, contains nothing more incendiary than books, magazines, and a bunch of mix discs from last night's CDMOM):

"I'm sorry, officer, but I'd rather walk."

I didn't have to, but I don't like the fact that I might have had to. And for what? For the sake of discouraging some theoretical bomb-carrying terrorist from boarding the train at 30th Avenue and forcing him to walk two blocks to Broadway instead? Ooooh, I feel so much safer now, and it only cost a few pennies in civil liberties.

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Neighborhood threat

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About an hour ago, the police blocked off a section of East 32nd Street just west of the building where I work. They were turning pedestrians back at the yellow tape, and there was vague talk of some kind of threat, maybe at the subway station on the corner (though, thinking back, the blocked-off section didn't seem to include the 32nd Street entrance to the 6 train station). There was no call to evacuate, but with the boss out of town most of us decided to leave the office anyway. I'm home now, but can't find anything on any of the news channels or web sites.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

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William Shunn

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