Friday, November 24, 2006

The Tenor of the Times

Recently, there was a long-running thread on a marital arts group in which there was some spirited discussion about a recent event. The short version is, a college grad student, wanting to make a point about how lax airport security is in the U.S., put up a website in which he showed anybody who cared to log on how to make fake boarding passes for an airline. Just to make a point.

Shortly thereafter, the feds kicked in his door, scooped him up, seized his computer, and hauled 'em away. There were some laws apparently being broken, and even if he was just funning around, the people at Homeland Security and TSA don't have any sense of humor about such things. Nor do I blame them.

I was not the least bit surprised. I took the position that the guy was stupid to have done this, and got a surge of hate about how I was, at least, a tool of the repressive jackbooted government. And at worst, a Nazi myself.

Such things should not be illegal! they said. High, loud, and repeatedly.

Nor did I disagree.

But if you want to smuggle a gun onto a plane just to show how easy it is and you get caught? That's gonna be your ass in jail, unless you are working for Sixty Minutes, and maybe even then. The law sometimes takes into account intent, and sometimes, it doesn't.

Understand, I went to some lengths to explain that I thought the Homeland Security Act violated at least three or four of the ten amendments that are the Bill of Rights and that I disagree with how the law came to be and what it covered, but nobody seemed to understand the basic point:

If you are standing next to a tiger and you pull its tail, that's generally a bad idea. Doesn't matter that the tiger ought not to be there, the fact that it is is paramount.

Pulling a tiger's tail is not on my to-do list, thank you. And if it turns around and takes your head off when you do it, you ought not to be too surprised. This is not ignorance, this is stupidity. Take a guy raised on a island who's never seen a TV or a book or any animal bigger than a squirrel and put him down next to a tiger and his hair will stand on end and he'll start looking for a tree to climb -- fear of big critters with huge teeth goes waaay deep into the lizard brain.

Recently, there is the case of the mullahs who were kicked off the plane. On the face of it, that's sheer bigotry -- as Mushtaq pointed out on his blog -- see the link to Traceless Warrior -- instead of DWB -- Driving While Black -- we now how FWM -- Flying While Muslim. And I am quick to agree this ought not to happen.

It shouldn't happen.

And yet, I wonder: Were these men tugging, even slightly, on the tiger's tail? From the accounts, it isn't clear exactly what they said or did prior to boarding the flight, but apparently whatever it was did disturb the wa of a number of passengers in the waiting area.

Should these people have been disturbed? Probably not. Probably. But -- in today's spooked climate, saying or doing anything at yon airport that makes things worse is maybe not the best idea. Yes, you should be free to bespeak your mind as long as you aren't yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater (more or less) but unless you have been living in a cave for the last few years, you should know that you might want to keep a low profile while waiting for your flight. Rightly or wrongly, the times and certain places have become over-sensitive, and it is perhaps wiser to take note of that than to have to suffer for making a point you consider important to make.

You can choose to do otherwise, of course, but you should recognize that such choices might cost you more than you want to pay.

I can hear the retort: "This is America, by God, and I can say and do what I want, long as I don't step over the legal line! "This is true, technically, but sometimes technically isn't enough.

If half a dozen men about to get onto my plane stand up and say "Allah Ackbar!" as we are boarding? I have to tell you, that will make me nervous. Yeah, I know about freedom of religion but even being a reasonable liberal-type when it comes to such things if it makes me jumpy, I'm guessing that people with less tolerance than I are going to be coming unglued.

And I have to say, anybody who does such a thing damn well ought to know it is a bad idea for fostering harmony among one's fellow passengers. If you are bright enough to have found your way to the airport, you are bright enough to know this.

What to do until the Messiah comes is always tricky. In today's charged society, thinking carefully about that before you do it is maybe not a bad idea ...

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