Political Asylum — August 28, 2012, 2:16 pm

Security Theatre, Act II

August 28, 9:39 a.m.

Another piece of what Jack likes to call Security Theatre last night in Ybor City:

We were drinking and playing pool with my cousin and her boyfriend at a friendly bikers’ bar called the Dirty Shame around midnight, when suddenly we noticed that outside, one of the roaming herds of brown-shirted police had metamorphosed into a line that was retreating slowly up Seventh Avenue.

My first thought was that they had simply decided to try a new formation during their lonely ramblings—that out in the middle of the peaceful, humid Florida night they were making up cheerleader and marching-band moves to entertain themselves. But no, they were reacting to a real menace—the worst threat Tampa had seen since the March of the Nine Dehydrated Anarchists that afternoon.

One might have thought from their reaction on this, LBJ’s birthday, that the officers were retreating before some snarling, Chicago-style mass of enraged Yippies and Weathermen. Instead, it turned out to be fifty or sixty protesters. Jack thought they might be Ron Paul supporters, several of whom we had seen running around the streets near the security perimeter, holding up signs for their candidate. I thought they tended more to the left, mostly because they were carrying a small, golden, papier-mâché elephant with a chain around its trunk. It wasn’t possible to tell for sure—we could barely hear their halfhearted, uncoordinated chants.

Regardless, the marchers, like the anarchists, were quickly surrounded by a mass of brown-shirted security forces who clearly outnumbered them. Quickly and deftly, the police moved the demonstrators down a side street, away from the dozen or so scattered spectators watching quietly from the sidewalks. As they all marched off together, they struck me as something akin to a historical recreation, a Colonial Williamsburg–style pantomime of protest that referred vaguely back to a misplaced past.

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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