Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the freedom to be a belligerent asshole, a right which is not guaranteed in the Constitution

Amy Alkon, The Advice Goddess, has a wonderful syndicated column that we never miss.  Her website collects those columns and the comments are often as entertaining and engaging as the columns.  She also collects various clips and articles on topics close to her heart.  She believes (like I do) that the hysteria over vaccines causing autism is placing kids at risk as diseases that have been all but dead are making a resurgence because parents are choosing not to get their kids vaccinated.  She's staunchly anti-carb, and has gone on record as calling sugar poison.  She thinks that the Islam religion is inextricably connected to politics, their only desire is to destroy all other religions and cultures, and the Muslims you know who AREN'T like that simply don't know enough about their own religion.

In short, she's a human being.  She has beliefs that I agree with, some I disagree with, and when I disagree, she responds intelligently and engages in reasoned debate.  I hasten to add, I have never changed her mind on any such topics, nor has anyone else. Her work is worth your time.

Right, that's out of the way...

Recently she posted  a series of videos featuring people being "mistreated" by TSA employees; clips that were supposed to display how close to a police state we are, filled with faceless officers that will demand our ID at a whim and come into our houses and take away our butter and rap records.

Here's the problem.  All I saw were two guys deliberately "acting up" to see what would happen.  And in both cases, nothing did, save for some tension and some harsh, even poorly-chosen words.

The first fellow STARTED with "if you touch my junk I'm gonna sue you" and he was surprised that he kept getting passed up the supervisory chain? 

The second guy was recording/broadcasting for his blog was surely hoping and praying that he'd get a response. And after a few minutes of checking over...he didn't get one.  He showed them his ID and his boarding pass, and they let him go.  They kept an eye on him, yes, but he didn't get the rubber truncheon up the jacksie that he was hoping for.  Both started the situation with a confrontational attitude.  Both went in all but assuming that there would be trouble, and feigned surprised when there was.

Penn Jillette once told a story (can't find the original; this is a report on same) about going through security, but his leans toward the security person doing something wrong, and Penn calling them on it.  He got his junk brushed in a pat-down and asked to file a complaint, as he was just assaulted.  They brought any number of people over to address his issues, and it eventually ended with him being offered a VIP service that would allow him to bypass security entirely.  in short, he waited UNTIL something went wrong (however small or inadvertent), and THEN complained. Penn, BTW, is also awesome.

Now, let's spin it around - did the police/TSA/what-have-you overreact?  In the first case, all they did was pass the guy off to the next person because they didn't want to deal with it, or knew they were out of their depth.  All the claims and accusation of 10K in fines were not on the tape - is there a part two as there was with the second fellow?  So in the first case, we have no recordings of anything but the TSA folks explaining that he does have to be searched before he's allowed to board his plane, and interpreting his heigtened reaction as all the more reason of making sure that he is.

I didn't see (well to be fair I didn't see a lot as his video showed almost everything but the cops, but I certainly didn't hear him report) any hands being laid on the second fellow, or any other actionable things that he could legally complain about.  Any ramping up of language was in reaction to his actions.  It's what cops do.  It's a cop's job to keep a situation under control.  So if the cop thinks you're moving away, or moving towards his partner (dog), they're going to do what they feel is necessary to maintain control. And to do ao, they...spoke harshly to him. 

Now yes, absolutely, they could have started with Guy Two by sending over a person better trained in dealing politely with the public, someone who could have started a courteous conversation more to his liking.  But here's what it looked like from the security folks' point of view - a person was videotaping them.  This is permitted, but when a person was asked if they were press, his answer was mumbled and noncommital, and after being asked, he packed up and walked away.  Tell me that isn't gonna set bells off in their heads. 

For all the claims that the guy made that they were so anxious to catch a terrorist over and above the simple desire to keep passengers safe, they let him go without a scratch, or even a terribly good story to tell. When you want to perform an experiment, it's important not to affect the experiment with your own notions or any contamination.  Accusing the TSA people who are talking to you of "liking" the power they wield is pretty much gonna affect their response.  But ultimately, they were able to identify this guy as a blogger who was hoping he'd get a story to get famous with, and let him go. 

It is highly important that we keep changes in our daily lives like these from turning into the nightmare end that people like this constantly insist they will. Keeping an eye on the government is vital.  The methods chosen by these two fellows are of questionable efficacy. 

I lead my life by two quotes:
"If you look for the evil in men, you will always find it."
--Karl Malden (allegedly quoting Abraham Lincoln), Pollyanna

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
--many, including Robert J. Hanlon

Ultimately they both mean the same thing.  I try to go through my life believing that things are done for good reason (or at least good intention), and their failure or going pear-shaped is the cause of poor planning, not Machavellian-level good planning.  If we work under the assumption that the police are out to get us, and every arrest is an attempt to keep us down, we insult the policemen who really are trying to help, and increase the risk that the ones who are on the side of the angels will walk away, unwilling to deal with the daily enshitting. 

We are in an unpleasant period.  The perfect security system is the one that only goes after the guilty, or at least only checks everyone else, because I'M innocent and should just be let through.  Until they invent a device that allows the TSA to see the guilt in a man's soul (an assuming the ACLU would allow them to use it) we are stuck with the various methods we are stuck with.  Similarly, since they involve humans, they will proceed at varying degrees of smoothness. 

So far, the massive two-handed grabs of our liberties that have been predicted have consisted of the occasional two-year-old being mistaken for someone on the no-fly list, and the odd person carrying things in their luggage being mis-identified by security and resulting in some measure of inconvenience to the passengers and occasionally others.  Both fall under the second of the quotes above.  I've heard FAR more stories like these, of people deliberately testing and challenging the system in place, and achieving no more than making life difficult for themselves, and again, the people around them.

Something that I find interesting is that quite often, when people making claims like this hear the arguments that the government is out to, say, take our guns away, those theories are laughed off as ravings of a lunatic paramoid.  Interesting how some accusations of government takeover are seen as gospel and others are seen as manic, depending on which side you're on.

The proper response is not "keep your head down and shut up", nor is it "Never give them a moment to try anything".  Keep your eyes open, maintain oversight, be prepared to call them on errors and infractions, but remember that ultimately, we are dealing with humans, and the mistakes you see may be the fault of bad or incompetent people, and not the system itself.  Scrolling back on Google Society, there is a lot wrong with the entire government; corruption, people out for themselves, and The Peter Principle proving itself over and over.  But the problem is with the people, and not the system that was set up two centuries and change ago.  But as I mentioned before, the act of contaminating, of even measuring, an experiment runs the risk of changing the outcome of the experiment.  Even the grandest of them.

1 comment:

  1. I remember the Penn video and while I do think the guy can be 'in your face' sometimes I think he was right in this case. His Penn Points are must see on YouTube.

    Donna and I seemed to be on some list for a while, as we almost always were called aside for additional screening. Once we even had to take off our shoes and be wanded at the boarding gate. Can't tell you the number of times we have found notes in our luggage saying they had been inspected.

    The worst was when we were bringing Babie on the plane to California. The TSA b**** would not allow us to even remove a blanket in which I could hold her while I hada to pass through carrying her. Fortunately, we had put her on vet approved tranqs earlier and she barely opened her eyes. Like I was going to sneak explosives through wrapped around my cat??

    Finally, as someone who works with the public on a daily basis I can tell you that only about 10% of people are a**holes. They just seem to be the ones who demand the most attention and help with the most basic things.