July 20, 2003  ·  Lessig

John Gilmore wrote Declan a letter about an extraordinary measure of our times. Gist: John was wearing a “Suspected Terrorist” button on a flight to London. BA turned the airplane around on the ground and returned to the terminal to enable the captain to eject him. Read the full story.

  • http://radio.weblogs.com/0124274/ Al Essa

    Larry, This is off topic but could you please comment on Congressman Howard Berman’s “Un-Law”:

    http://www.eff.org/IP/P2P/20020802_eff_berman_p2p_bill.php

    Thanks, Al

  • http://www.menagerie.cc Matt

    I have to agree with the actions that Mr. Gilmore took, and I agree with his reasons, not to mention the statement he was making with the button. I am constantly amused by the reactions that can be provoked by such things. I still enjoy putting on my bright orange shirt (which looks just like a “chain-gang” prison shirt) with “Bellevue Psychiatric Ward” printed accross the back and seeing how many secruity guards will fallow me around a mall.

    Even so my reason for commenting is an issue that is related to traveling, and privacy, rather than free speach: Southeast Airlines is apparently looking to record all flights, and even archive those recordings for upto 10 years. The article is located at Wired.com.

    We are recorded all the time, and prosecution based on security cameras of parking lots has recieved quite a bit of attention in the past few years; but what of recording every action on a plane? I guess I can accept it as a useful tool, but why store this data for 10 years? I don’t relish the idea of being recorded, but I understand that if anything happens in flight a tape could be of use both in assessing how the incident unfolded and, and for developing prevention plans. But keeping the recordings for 10 years is rediculous and seems to go well beyond reasonable. I am very interested in hearing what others have to say on this topic.

    ~~Matt

  • http://home.uchicago.edu/~kldavis Karl

    Welcome back, Professor.

    I’m not defending BA’s actions in this case, but I’d like to offer what I know about this sort of situation as my father is a pilot. It’s a job unlike many others, where a single break in concentration can result in the loss of more than a thousand lives. That’s the reason that most airlines grant their pilots near-complete soverignty over their aircraft, often at the cost of defending actions such as the ones in this story in court. Pilots have enough to worry about without passengers who are distractions, whether they are raucous, or simply politcally dissident. I believe the first priority must be making sure pilots can do their job. I agree with the majority of Mr. Gilmore’s crusade, especially the call for strengthening defense of the cockpit. Once advancements are made in that arena, I believe that there are many other restrictions that have been put in place in the name of ‘security’ that can/should be relaxed.

    -kd

  • http://www.eeeb.com Jim Ebright

    Yes, the terrorists have been amazingly effective at attacking our democracy… and they have done it via the likes of British Airways and John Ashcroft.

    “Your papers pleze”. “Everything seems to be in order… dis is most unusual. You vill come mit us pleze”.

  • Suspected Satirist

    Right, some hotshot “activist” looking for his 15 minutes does the equivalent of yelling “bomb” on a plane then feigns indignance when his personal freedoms are “trampled upon” by the jack-booted Homland Security Gestapo. (Or even more pathetically by a concerned airline pilot just trying to do his job and keep his passengers safe.)

    Give me a break. Making tongue-in-cheek terroristic threats isn’t a clever, ironic joke, it’s a publicity stunt, and a very poor one. No, in point of fact you’re not allowed to joke about being a suspected terrorist on an airline flight. Get over it.

    Every schoolchild knows you’re not allowed to joke about robbing banks in a bank, joke about political assassinations at a political rally, or indeed joke about being a terrorist on an airline flight.

    Do you think maybe I’ll get my 15 minutes if I become a “free speech activist” and start yelling “fire” in crowded theaters? How about showing up at a political rally with a t-shirt that reads “Lone Gunman”?

    On the one hand, our activist friend proved his point in a quite straightforward manner: nope, you can’t joke about being a terrorist on an airplane. On the other hand, doesn’t any person with a shred of common sense know that already? I don’t see shades of 1984 here … just shades of Taxi Driver.

    I’m as opposed to the DMCA and Ashcroft’s bizarre fetishes and Tom Ridge’s “Patriot Acts” as any other reasonably-educated person, but please, even I can see that Mr. Gilmore is the political version of Steve-O from “Jackass”.

  • http://nic-naa.net Eric Brunner-WIlliams

    I’ve known John for about 20 years. Jon Crowcroft (University College London) asked us (IETF) to think through the UK’s then-new law concering the importation of encrypted data when we (the IETF) were planning to hold an IETF in London (we did, IETF-51, August 2001). The consensus was to ignore, even to violate and ignore, any demand for production of crypto keys for any encrypted data. Had the Home Office made good on its threat, a non-trivial number of laptops would have been seized, and the IETF would never return to the UK. A year earlier, at IETF-48 (Pittsburg), the Security Area Open Meeting (about 1,000 of us) — strongly consensed to ignore the USG on a key demand it made concerning how we specify encryption technologies — “nothing effective or that the NSA hasn’t already broken” is the short form. ITAR violating tee-shirts — the RSA encryption algorithm printed on the shirt plus the pertainant portion of the ITAR regulations, and, just to make sure it really was an export controlled item, a machine readible barcode of the RSA algorithm were rather popular at the time too.

    When someone looks at John’s conduct, in the EFF, in Cygnus, it is hard not to be impressed.

  • http://floyd.best.vwh.net/weblog/blogger.html Floyd McWilliams

    Gilmore’s rudeness toward his fellow passengers aside — what a wonderful advertisement of his politics, to make several hundred people hate his guts! — his politics seem somewhat incoherent. Gilmore is insulted by being labelled a “suspected terrorist.” Okay, but then how would an airline figure out that he’s a peaceable fellow except by, well, identifying him? Did he expect to be labelled a low security risk because he wasn’t swarthy?

  • PJ

    Mr. Gilmore did not claim to be a terrorist, he made the point that everyone who flies is a suspected terrorist. The only thing I can think of that would have been better would be to hand out these buttons inside an airport. I mean, what’s next? ‘Random’ house-to-house searches ‘just because’ ? First the war on drugs, now the war on terror are eroding our civil liberties at a rate that would do any tyranny proud. But we’re clearly llosing the war on terror… I’m a lot more terrified of the government now than I’ve ever been before.

  • Suspected Satirist

    Someone who is prosecuted for making a phony bomb threat isn’t being “randomly targetted”. Ditto for promulgators of terrorist hoaxes.

    It wasn’t even the government that intervened, at least not until the aircraft landed and the suspect, one who should have known better, could be questioned. I imagine the passengers in addition to the pilot were ready to do whatever was necessary, afraid but prepared, while Mr. Gilmore patted himself on the back for his cleverness.

    He shamelessly terrified his fellow passengers just to grandstand, leveraging their misery in a cynical scheme to cast himself as a martyr for “free speech”. What did they ever do to him? They weren’t FBI agents, just some people trying to get somewhere. Isn’t it just like a terrorist to not give a damn how many people get hurt as long as “the message” gets out?

    Joking about being a terrorist to make a political statement is about as tasteful as joking about assassination to make a political statement. Mr. Gilmore has gone a long way toward making the E.F.F. look like the Weathermen.

  • Anonymous

    Gilmore’s action was, in my opinion, very stupid. For all he knows, he has significantly detained someone trying to make a connection on a very expensive non-refundable international flight. All so he can make a pointed remark on the state of airline (in)security–points he could have made by writing an article, letter to the editor, or somesuch. In this community such a letter would have been carried because of who he was prior to this stunt. To me he seriously misweighed what he was trying to do and what his actions meant for other people.

  • john

    Suspected Satirist:

    you’re completely missing the point, focusing on the guy who wore the button and not what the button says. the button doesn’t say “I have a bomb”. and it’s very clear that he’s not joking.

    as he points out (both in the email and to the BA chosen authority person) the point of wearing the button is basically pointing out that there are some discrepancies with the way that we are dealing with terrorism.

    to call him someone ‘looking for 15 minutes of fame’ would be to reveal how short sighted you are.

    does BA have the right to refuse anyone for any reason ? I’m not sure…maybe so. and maybe for good reason. but they have searched his stuff. they have sold him a seat, and checked his baggage. what if the button was in a language that the flight crew didn’t know ? what if he spoke a language that no one but one other person on the plane knew, and talked about how he loves to blow things up ? if a ‘suspected terrorist’ doesn’t EVER bomb or hurt anyone, then does anyone hear a tree fall in the forest ?

    smarten up and listen to the broader points he’s trying to make. just like good internet security audits, unintrusive testing is just plain GOOD, whether his fellow passengers were late or not.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    This stunt demonstrates Gillmore has no ability to empathize with the airline people who live in fear of terrorist highjacking every day, people for whom it’s not an abstraction, but a day-to-day reality that they have a responsibility to confront and to protect their passengers from. This is on a par with going into a Planned Parenthood office wearing a button that says “Abortionists Must Die”.

    This, and the EFF’s history as an ersatz civil liberties organization that studiously avoided all of the major civil liberties problems that have come up since its founding because they were put up by leftist comrades at NOW, have long ago confirmed that he’s not on the side of the good guys.

    The only question that remains about Gillmore is whether he should be locked-up in a prison or in a mental hospital.

  • http://www.cbrody.com Chris Brody

    I can’t believe the flak that John Gilmore is getting on this issue. It was a very simple case of political free speech, in which Gilmore was refused leave to fly simply because he was wearing a button which implies criticism of government and airline policy towards the public.

    In fail to see how the airline staff or other passengers could have thought he was in any way a threat to their safety (a threat to their way of thinking, perhaps). The captain’s over-reaction in turning the plane around and ejecting Gilmore sadly typifies the way that we are ALL being made into informants and enforcers for this corrupt, hypocritical regime.

    More at metafilter.

  • J

    Richard —

    I don’t see at all where there is a lack of empathy for the people who work on airlines and their fears. Could he have made the point without having to go on the plane ? say, to write an article about it ? I’m sure.

    But take the incident as is, without any EFF or organizational planning or history behind it. It was not a joke about a bomb, nor did it threaten any passengers. It was a *button* for Christ’s sake.

    While I agree that he made a point that was very inconvenient for other people, he also demonstrated something: that there is a culturally developed idea of what is personally infringing, and that line is different for different people.

    Your planned parenthood analogy is so very flawed. To be accurate, if he had a button that said “I am a Baby Killer” then your analogy would work. Of course, one might question someone why someone might wear such a button and then get an abortion, but hey, to each his own, huh ?

    Again, as the poster above mentioned, all he did was simply wear something. Period. What if it was a button that said “I object to being treated like a bad person when I’m not” ?

    or a t-shirt that said “I’m someone who is ticked off about having to wait in line when that waiting may or may not increase my safety ?”

    simply because the word ‘terrorist’ was there, he was approached.
    I am not arguing that a pilot shouldn’t have complete control over who flies on his plane. I am not arguing that Gilmore should have remained on the plane if his button bothered people.

    All I am saying is that it brings up some very good questions about what is socially acceptable forms of expression. Many people (I assume that you are one of them) don’t like so-called political-correctedness. But Gilmore’s language (which is has to be READ before you can object to it) was subject to the exact situation.

    You don’t like my button that says “suspected terrorist” because it brings up a bad and fearful subject ? fine. Just don’t be surprised when you come into my business wearing a button that says “I Love Retards” and I refuse you business because it brings up a bad subject for me, too.

  • Dana Powers

    Gilmore indicates in his email recap that he specifically asked the passengers around him – none of whom had even noticed his button before the crew made a point of it – and no one really cared. Its hard for me to believe that this had anything to do with safeguarding the well-being of his fellow passengers.

    Does John lack empathy for airline workers? I’m not so sure. He clearly indicates that he would have been allowed to fly had he removed the button – the crew knew that he posed no real threat to their safety, otherwise one would think he would have been kicked off the plane without question. Is this a clash between one person’s political speech and another’s fear? Certainly – but isn’t that the basis of all free speech battles?

  • Anonymous

    To the confused people who think, wrongly, that Gilmore was claiming to be a terrorist:

    His button said “Suspected Terrorist”. Note that first word. He’s claiming, accurately, that other people *suspect* him, *incorrectly*, of being a terrorist. And indeed, despite having done nothing threatening, he was *suspected* of being a terrorist and removed from the plane.

  • Chris Moseng

    Aren’t there regulations requiring you to obey the flight crew? Isn’t this just a matter of him being asked to do something and refusing to do it?

    Whether the request is reasonable or not doesn’t seem to enter into it. The regulation doesn’t say “you must obey all reasonable requests.” It’s a no-tolerance policy.

  • http://www.ibiblio.org/griffey/blog Jason Griffey

    It seems clear to me after reading these comments that there is a clear deliniation between those that “get” what John was trying to do, and those that don’t. I agree completely with the concept that the pilot has complete say over his plane. The fact is, the pilot had no problem carrying John, just a problem with what John was saying (granted, via the oft mentioned button). John had already been deemed “safe” by the fact that he had made it through security (the very thing that he is criticising).

    It is unfortunate that we have decided as a culture that it is better to feel safe than to make real changes that would affect our safety.

  • http://sethf.com/anticensorware/ Seth Finkelstein

    I’ve finally figured out what bothers me so much about this.

    In effect, Gilmore was doing a millionaire’s version of trolling.

    It’s a super-scaled-up version of what kiddies do on discussion boards and blog
    comments.

    Do something you *know* will provoke people. Then, when you find someone who bites, when the provocation succeeds, slap your knee in glee that they have been so stupid, so dumb, such idiots, as to react to the obvious troll.

    As the reaction progresses, fuel it with liberal amounts of accusations regarding free-speech and I’m-being-censored.

    Almost everyone has to content themselves with doing this in comment sections, to a minor audience. Gilmore has managed this on an airplane, and to a huge audience.

    I wonder if there’s some sort of Troll Award for this stuff?

    I should hasten to add that I absolutely believe he is sincere in his beliefs. But he’s still doing the 100% classic troll-pattern. Just not insincerely.

  • Rich

    I’m stunned at the illiteracy being displayed here. As one anon poster correctly pointed out, he never claimed he was a terrorist. He said he was “suspected” of terrorism. A world of difference for those who can read. He was making the valid point that every one of us is viewed as a suspected terrorist when we fly, an absurd state of affairs.

    Did the passengers get upset? Not a bit. They understood.

    Did the crew worry about him? No, for they said if he put the button in his luggage he could fly. So clearly they could see he was no threat. It was the button that they found threatening. It was the free speech they found threatening, not the person behind the button.

    Now if he wore a button saying, “I am a terrorist” or “I have a bomb” that would be different. We have all been conditioned to accept that we lose some of our rights at an airport, and from childhood on we have been propagandized into not saying “bomb” at an airport.

    But he didn’t say that. He was pointing out that the airlines were “suspecting” every person on that plane of being a terrorist. He was the only one who was willing to state so openly, but everyone else was just as suspected.

  • Westley Sherman

    In my, admittedly limited, experience with British Air (mainly a bad experience involving a Celtic harp), John Gilmore’s experience may have more to do with British Air being snooty and intolerant and less to do with the airline industry in general. Also, that John Gilmore’s button had made it through general security may be an indication that other airlines weren’t quite as worried.

    Maybe British Air should start a new advertising campaign: “Air travel for people who think that simpleminded belligerence is the best deterrent against terrorism.”

  • http://nic-naa.net Eric Brunner-Williams

    I flew 100k miles in ’01, and spent 9/10 flying from Montevideo ICANN with the GAC rep of the PRC. We parted at Chicago, he took the mid-day to Beijing, and I took the mid-moring to Portland. All the ICANNers who flew out of Montevideo the afternoon of the 10th were not as fortunate, either being forced to ground transport from O’Hare, or stuck in Mexio or Argentina.

    I kept flying, to Beijing, the Left Coast, and WDC, but the TSC proctological moments were so great that after the Spring ’03 Registrars and Registries meeting in WDC, I stopped flying in the US. I’d a four-hour layover at La Guardia, and after three “special treatment” moments on a four-legged overnight from Portland to National and return, I knew that if I walked out of the control area, I wouldn’t be able to stop until I got to the train station and got the rest of the way home with my sanity intact. The White Shirts are useless, and the net effect is state sponsored terrorism. Much ado that can _do_ nothing. They’ve bagged a fine collection of nail clippers, and some pocket knives, but no follow-on forces.

    John wears a button and flies inside the TSC cage. Of course, he isn’t as close to Canada as I am.

    Bangor is where non-stop flights from Orlando to the UK stop to discharge a violent drunk, sometimes even two. The real-life passenger management problem space seems a lot more challenging than a rather polite, erudite, sober, and determined systems programmer presents, with or without a button.

    Eric Brunner-Williams

  • Karl

    I just wanted to make an observation that some may have overlooked. In a world where planes can be hi-jacked with some painted cardboard and a boxcutter, a button (no matter what it says) is inherently a potential threat. It has the capacity, albeit small, to inflict a lethal wound. When I flew on one of the first international flights post 9/11/01, I realized that the airline industry had become far less accepting of apparently innocuous objects that have even the smallest potential to be used as a weapon.

    Just one more thing to consider.

    -kd

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    I understand it. It’s like the stunt a while back when a feminist group did something along the lines of naming certain men “potential rapists”. They only said “potential”, see, can’t you read, it was for consciousness-raising, lighten up already, can’t you take a joke?

    No, the crew didn’t find the “free speech” threatening. What they found threatening was the possibility that some dumb, stupid, idiot might get panicked by the speech. But given that they would have to deal with the panic, and Gilmore would not, they made it a condition of the flight that Gilmore not do the speech they feared might panic someone.

    Gilmore can now – as he is doing – recite endlessly how dumb, how stupid, how idiotic, is anyone who bites at his troll, I mean would be panicked. So on and on about how his free speech must be defended and he is being censored.

    Yet carefully omitting from the general principle that, in the specific context right here, in an airplane, the consequences of someone panicking could be severe. And it’s not obvious that he has a right to cause such an incident IN THIS TIME, PLACE, AND MANNER.

    People won’t get that. They won’t. They will abstract it to a general proposition, and react to it endlessly.

    That’s why, even though he’s sincere, it’s a masterful troll.

  • Dose of Reality

    Really now, Suspected Satirist, how can you equate wearing a button that says “suspected terrorist” with going into a bank and joking about robbing it? He was wearing a label that expressed his feeling that he was being treated like a suspected terrorist. By agreeing that BA did right, you are saying that you agree with the police-state tactics presented as being “for your safety”. It isn’t for anyone’s safety, it is an issue of controlling people’s behavior.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Right on, Seth – this is an episode for “Trolls of the Idle Rich”.

    The flight he trolled, Frisco/London, is about 11 hours in the air or so. The pilot didn’t want to spend that kind of time with someone so obviously disturbed as Gillmore, and who can blame him?

  • http://www.ai.mit.edu/people/bpadams/blog bryan

    normally, i find myself in the pro-EFF camp. like most who visit the lessig blog, i’m liberal, i’m concerned, and i’m involved.

    but, in this case, i’m disappointed in mr. gilmore. while everyone who reads this blog is tuned into the political world, it sounds like this pilot was not. he had no sense of the context of the button. he didn’t know gilmore. all he saw was a button with a suggestive phrase on it (and let’s keep in mind that the button *is* suggestive — that’s the whole point. it’s an ironic use of a suggestive phrase). it made him uncomfortable, and he didn’t want to fly the plane.

    the whole thing, to me, smacks of intellectual snobbery. just because the we understand the irony and feel strongly about the issue doesn’t mean that those who aren’t as smart or passionate should simply step aside. the airline pilot shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable flying his plane just because he doesn’t get the joke.

  • Rob

    Seth is right when he characterizes GIlmore’s stunt as a kind of trolling. He wanted to provoke a response in those that read his button.

    Gilmore made the point that he “thought [British Airways] were a common carrier, obliged to carry anyone who’ll pay the fare, without discrimination.” Well, they were going to carry him, until the pilot decided to refuse him service. We can argue about whether a button that brings up the unpleasant memories of 9/11 and other terrorist airline hijackings should be protected speech, as I’m sure Gilmore will do in court. I think British Airways has a right to take whatever measures they think necessary to provide a pleasant flight experience to their passengers; they are a business, not a flying public park. I agree that it seems silly to kick someone off a plane for wearing a button; but I can’t walk into a car dealership carrying signs that say SUV’s should be banned and then demand that they let me parade around their waiting room. Gilmore should have removed his button when requested, and then put it on again as soon as he got off the plane.

    This quote is the highlight of the piece for me:

    Annie later told me that the stewardess who had gone to fetch her said that she thought the button was something that the security people had made me wear to warn the flight crew that I was a suspected
    terrorist(!). Now that would be really secure.

    A perfect snapshot of the level of intelligence possessed by the average American citizen.

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    Let me put it this way – I greatly admire John Gilmore as a civil-libertarian.
    That does not mean I think he is always right.

    Call this “Apology for Captain Peter Hughes”. Perhaps he should have made the following speech:

    “Mr Gilmore, I understand you are merely engaging in a bit of
    political theatre. I have no problem with you as a person. However,
    for the next several hours, we will all be confined in a little box
    suspended in space. If someone has a panic attack, as happens even in
    the best of circumstances, the crew has to deal with it as best we
    can. We cannot stop and noone can leave, as a physical law, not a
    social law. I cannot call security to put them off, nor is there any
    medical help available. If someone gets injured, they will have to
    suffer for hours. If a situation gets too out of hand, there is a
    small but notable possibility that WE WILL ALL DIE!

    There are 300 people on this plane. They aren’t all smart, clueful
    people. In fact, some of them are idiots. In virtually any other
    situation, the fears of idiots should not control your free-speech
    rights. However, due to the very special circumstances enumerated
    above, I, the captain of this flight, am making it a condition of the
    flight, that you do no political theatre that could cause even a
    stupid, unreasonable, moron, to panic.

    While you are welcome to try to find another captain who feels
    differently, my sense is that you will not find one. And do not tell
    me nobody objected. That person may not speak up. I do these flights
    day-in day-out, and panic happens.

    Let me make it clear: Your free-speech rights are *restricted* for the
    duration of the time we are confined in this box in space. It is not
    because I am Big Brother who cannot stand challenge. Not is it whim.
    Rather due to the fact that having no security/medical/life-safety
    available at all for the next several hours, between taking a chance
    at severe consequences, and you removing your button, you can remove
    your bloody button.”

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Right, Seth, Gilmore shouted “fire” in a crowded theater, and then whined when he got kicked out.

  • Fuzzy

    Seth,
    I don’t feel I can agree with you, based on the information available so far. According to the letter, John was wearing the pin through security and while boarding the plane. By the time he reached his seat in the aircraft with no objections from airline or security personel, I would argue against claims that he was trolling to get the plane turned around. He had no expectation that anyone would object at that point in the process. Thus, in my opinion, he was not trolling.
    Once an objection was raised, the fact that he would stand up for his rights rather than compromise his principles is to be applauded. If we quietly submit to breaches of our civil rights, we will lose all of them.
    I find the lack of training of the flight attendant who spoke to Annie to be much more scary than any other part of this piece, since it indicates a woefully inadequate system. The general public might be confused by a button, but the airline staff should never be.

  • Suspected Satirist

    Oh, I “get” the joke, I just don’t think it was funny. The old “worthy cause” schtick has been around since the 1960′s. The ends do not justify the means, but they’re certainly a convenient political cover for crude publicity stunts.

    This type of so-called “activism” is the worst kind of hypocracy. In the name of some “greater good” its perpetrators commit juvenile, dangerous pranks then hide behind the veneer of political respectability, sneering condescendingly at those who would question the wisdom of their actions.

    “If only those unevolved apes had the clever wit to understand our subtle humor,” they lament. Crocodile tears. At least Steve-O comes clean about being a jackass.

    If I walk into a bank with a button that says “Suspected Bank Robber” I’ll get just what I deserve. It isn’t the bank teller’s job to “get the joke” — it’s her job to call 9-1-1. But I suspect Mr. Gilmore knows that … in fact, I suspect he was counting on it.

  • Ugh

    My guess is that he would have been asked to take it off or leave prior to 9/11 as well. You just don’t do/say such things on planes, now or 10 years ago, and it makes him look silly and self-important.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    By “trolling”, I don’t mean that he was specifically looking to get the plane turned-around. Rather, what he was doing has the obvious effect of seeking some sort of reaction. And when he inevitably, at some point, got one – all in all, rather mild and minimal at first (take off the button) – he very deliberately turned it into an “incident”.

    Since Richard Bennett is cheering me on, I’ll remark the most similar case in my mind is David Horowitz, who has published ads on college campuses basically baiting civil-rights groups over racial issues. Then when, out of hundreds of tries, he find some group which steps over the line in angry reaction, he does the I’m-being-censored routine.

    Back to Gilmore – there’s no rule here of “speak now, or forever hold your peace”. An objection is valid at any point in the process. Perhaps the security people weren’t aware of the potential problem, since they don’t deal with passengers IN-FLIGHT. So until he got to the crew, which does deal with panicked passengers, nobody said anything.

    What rights was he standing up for? This is what bothers me. That’s exactly, precisely, what a troll says when their comments are deleted. What principles are at stake? He must be allowed to do political theatre at *any* time, in *any* place, in *any* manner?

    Again, this is why it’s a such a great troll. The specific context, that the captain had an *arguable*, *reasonable*, physical reason to request Gilmore not display the button, can be completely removed and abstracted away.

    Yeah, people are *dumb*, they’re *stupid*, they’re *morons*. But the captain doesn’t have the luxury of denouncing the weakness of humanity for net-wide acclaim. He’s got to get from point A to point B with everyone hopefully safe and sound. From this perspective, Gilmore is wrong to make this process part of his political theatre.

  • http://cruftbox.com Michael

    The problem with the ‘security’ rules at the airports is that they do not provide any real security. The role of TSA is to make people flying feel like things are more secure.

    They will confiscate knitting scissors or nail clipper to appear tough. The reality is that a trained person can be just as deadly with a pencil or pen, both of which are allowed. A determined person could prepare weapons a multitude of ways: snap a laptop apart and use the screen as a blade; chip a blade out or flint, obsidian, or glass; break souvenir glassware into sharp pieces; etc. Someone prepared to die for a cause will most certainly be trained in basic improvised weapondry.

    Mr. Gilmore is trying to make these ‘security’ practices to be seen for what they are, false security. I don’t agree that his methods are perfect, but it does stimulate discussion.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    People are that stupid. You just remarked on the flight attendant’s confusion, remember? And this is a member of the crew.

    If the airplane captain said to me that *any* button was a problem, under these specific circumstances, I’d be greatly inclined to grant him or her that judgment call. Perhaps the sun-face is a local cult symbol which means I-am-a-terrorist-willing-to-die-for-my-god.

    Again, the world is full of morons. But the question is what to do with an airplane containing idiots AND a guy who obviously wants to troll. It seems obvious to me that this is a dangerous combination.

  • Rob

    Fuzzy said:

    I feel that the actions taken by the staff in this case, are unreasonable.

    Most likely the actions taken by the staff were mandated by company policy. It’s probably in some corporate memo floating around British Airways, or something in their Employee Manual, or a section of their pilot training course on dealing with passengers. Or maybe the pilot just didn’t want a troublemaker on board.

    Seth said:

    People are that stupid.

    We had a lady here recently who hit a pedestrian. The guy she hit rolled up the hood and broke through her windshield, getting stuck halfway in. She drove home with the guy and left him embedded in her windshield for two days; he had died by the time he was discovered. Doctors testified that he probably could have been saved with medical attention.

    Or just watch the Tonight Show sometime and catch one of those segments where Jay Leno walks around asking passersby questions on world events, and marvel at the answers he receives.

  • j

    Richard –

    your analogies are the worst.

    Gilmore’s button is not AT ALL like yelling fire in a crowded theatre.
    Let me know if you’d like me to explain to you (and everyone else who claims it) why that analogy is poor.

    I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been kicked off the plane, or that he’s not obnoxious.

    Just get your analogies right, people! Jeez. How hard is it, really ?
    Put down the scotch, scratch your chin, and trying _thinking_ about your post before you type in a frenzied “conspiracy! look at the crazy lefty insane guy” comments.

  • Fuzzy

    While the pilot of an aircraft has broad authority to issue orders that must be obeyed, they must be legal. Just as the pilot could not order passengers to remove their religious regaliz (Crosses, Stars of David, Pentacles, etc) because it would be an illegal order (think of the movie “A Few Good Men”) trying to suppess political speech based on the viewpoint is an illegal order (at least here in the USA).

  • Fuzzy

    Seth,
    The answer to ignorance is education, not extreme measures. If the provocation for the pilot’s action was indeed fear of passenger panic, then the answer is not to surrender to the fear, but to educate the passengers about the situation. Even if the pilot disagreed with John, it could be as simple as using the public address system to say “Hello, and welcome about flight XXX. We will be flying at…. Please be aware that we have someone playing politics on-board. They are not dangerous although I find them annoying. If you are ever concerned about any passenger, please feel free to check with a flight attendent.” This is a much simpler and safer solution than turning the aircraft around.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Fuzzy, how many people listen to a public address system, or understand what they hear? (“crackle … playing politics … crackle … dangerous … crackle … concerned … crackle”). It’s just one iteration of telephone from “Did you hear that PA announcement? There’s a dangerous man playing politics aboard, and the crew is concerned!”

    Remember what I wrote earlier:

    “Gilmore can now – as he is doing – recite endlessly how dumb, how stupid, how idiotic, is anyone who bites at his troll, I mean would be panicked. So on and on about how his free speech must be defended and he is being censored.”

    Bingo! On and on, how the captain should play into his political theatre stunt,
    what would be the smart, clever, clueful, NETHEAD, way of dealing with Gilmore’s desire to provoke people.

    Asking Gilmore not to wear the button was hardly “extreme measures”. Once he refused, repeatedly, I’d say the captain had no obligation to play games with someone who could cause a physically dangerous situation through panic.

    To be blunt, I believe it is a reasonable “time, place, and manner” restriction on free-speech rights to say “No political theatre about terrorism on an airline flight”.

    Everyone then wants to jump and reply “What’s political theatre, then? How about if I do this? Or this? Or how about that? …”

    C’mon. “No bomb threats” doesn’t lead to “What’s a threat? What’s a bomb? Y’know, a ‘bomb’ can be a bad movie, so what if I’m talking about a box-office failure? …”

  • Fuzzy

    Seth
    I consider turning a plane around to be extreme measures. There was no danger of panic. Any incipident panic could easily have been forestalled by talking to the passenger in question. However, there is no evidence (at this time) that any of the passengers were even cognizant of the button, let alone panicked.

    Asking someone to give up their constituionally protected rights is an illegal order and should be refused. Would it not be reasonable for a Christian to refuse to remove a crucifix?

    Wearing a 1″ button is not political theatre. If a person is wearing a crucifix, are they performing political theatre?

    Trying to argue with someone who is wearing such a button is theatre on the part of the pilot, not John Gilmore.

    Please allow me to point out that “No bomb threats” does lead to questions about “what’s a threat”. Remember Neil Godfrey who was not allowed to board a plane because his book had a picture of hand holding several sticks of dynamite on the cover?

    I don’t find any of these misguided attempts in the name of security to be funny or theatre. I consider them to be lessons for the airlines to learn from and for the airline personnel never to repeat.

    I think we will need to agree to disagree.
    I think I have responded to all your points and unless you have a new idea, anything else I say will just be a repetition of previous messages.

  • Ugh

    Fuzzy –

    You seem to not understand the difference between private action and state action. If BA was owned & operated by the U.S. gov’t and they told a passenger to remove a button because of its political viewpoint, that is an illegal order (indeed, an unconstitutional one). As BA is, as far as I know, a private enterprise, them ordering someone to take off a button because of its political viewpoint violates no law I know of, unless “common carrier” laws say something different.

    The right of free speech is guaranteed only against the government, not against British Airways, Coca-Cola or you local mom & pop supermarket.

    Ugh.

  • Fuzzy

    An interesting argument. Under your interpretation a pilot is allowed to deny service to bald people who refuse to remove a toupee because there is no law against this specific action.
    Fortunately, there are rules on commerical organizations too – which is one reason why we don’t have separate white and non-white areas of restaurants anymore (at least here in the USA).
    Any commercial actions must be non-discriminatory. In other words, you can have a rule against *all* pins (safety concerns), but you cannot have a rule against pins that express politics you disagree with.

  • Me

    Ok. He was asked to take the pin off.

    Then he refused. I have no doubt that at this point both he, and the flight attendant, got a bit agitated.

    The BA pilot did the right thing. Face it, you do NOT take a potential air rage case on an intercontinental flight. Gilmore could have taken the pin off at any time, he obviously had made his point with the stewardess.

    It’s his own damn fault.

  • Ugh

    Fuzzy –

    Can you please point me to the statute (federal or state) that protects Mr. Gilmore from discrimination by private entities or individuals based on his political beliefs; or even one that would protect the bald man? Isn’t this the whole point of “we reserve the right to refuse service” signs in thousands of businesses across the U.S.?

    Ugh

  • Scott

    I know John, and he can be a jerk. Seldom, however, is he a jerk about unimportant things; I like to make nice, and he likes to make noise.

    I see very little discussion here about the fact that the airline seems to have refused (ahead of time and without consultation with subsequent captains) travel on a later flight. This, for me, is the sticking point. John should have been free to sit there for days asking, “OK, would _you_ mind taking me?” It was his time and very little skin off their nose.

  • http://www.pawlo.com/ Mikael Pawlo

    Seth,
    If you think Mr Gilmore’s pin is provocative, then try flying as an Arab…

    We had the same incident in Sweden post 9-11, with the small difference that two Arabs were denounced and removed from a flight, and they were not wearing pins, bombs or radioactive shoe-laces. Just a beard and a too dark-tan for Swedish standards. Speaking as a gentleman, I agree that Mr Gilmore’s behaviour is out of line, but then again, if we can not handle the out-of-liners, then why do we need civil liberties at all?

    I might add that I am personally not comfortable flying in planes with Arabs post 9-11 and I would not be comfortable flying in planes with passengers wearing John Gilmore’s “Suspected Terrorist” pin. I realise, however, that this is childish, racist and utterly naive and no policy should be formed on those grounds.

    Regards,

    Mikael Pawlo

  • Fuzzy

    Ugh writes:
    > Can you please point me to the statute (federal or state) that protects
    > Mr. Gilmore from discrimination by private entities or individuals based
    > on his political beliefs;

    Sure, I would be happy to…

    According to The United Nations INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS to which the United States is a signatory:

    PART II
    Article 2

    1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

    PART III
    Article 12

    1. Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.
    2. Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.
    3. The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.
    4. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.

    Also consider this in the context of USC TITLE 42 CHAPTER 21 SUBCHAPTER I Sec. 1981 that all citizens are entitled to equal rights under the law to the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship and USC TITLE 42 CHAPTER 21 SUBCHAPTER II Sec. 2000a which prohibits discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation.

    To me this means that the airlines and similar businesses may not discriminate on the basis of political opinions or speech.

    But that is certainly not legal advice. Contact a lawyer, as I am sure John Gilmore has done.

  • James Day

    Fuzzy,

    Are you quite sure that Sec 1981 only applies to citizens? I thougt it applied to the broader group of “all persons”, citizens or not.

    The last time someone objected to me expressing a political view was when I expressed a view on a recent anti-discrimination SCOTUS decision, giving my not being a US citizen as a reason why it was inappropriate for me to express views on that decision.

  • Ugh

    Fuzzy –

    Neither of the two USC sections you cite refer to “political views” as a prohibited category of discrimination. If Mr. Gilmore had been kicked off the flight because of his race, I would happily agree that what the pilot had done was illegal, but that was not what happened.

    The treaty you cite is clearly directed at governmental action, not private action, which is what took place on the BA plane.

    Ugh

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Mikael:

    The difference is of course that “being an Arab” is an intrinsic quality, but “being a troll” is a behavioral one. I do not agree with any equivalencing of the categories “Arabs” and “trolls”. That is, one can stop being a troll, as Gilmore had the chance to do. But one can’t stop being an Arab.

    Moreover, this distinction applies in a deeper way. “Terrorist” is a behavior category. It happens that the popular mind associates terrorism with Arabs now, because that’s in the news. Many years ago, the predominant association was Cubans, that’s how “I’m taking this plane to Cuba” became a cliche. But Arab as a category itself has no intrinsic connection to terrorism.

    But trolling about terrorism is another matter. It is a deliberate behavior directed to a volatile topic involving fear and panic. Now, Gilmore’s intent may not have this in mind. But, to use a lawyer’s term, it is certainly a foreseeable consequence of his actions. Thus, I believe the captain was, here, both legally, and morally correct to refuse to carry Gilmore, given his (Gimore’s) avowed intent regarding his “political speech”.

    I am willing to defend the following as a positive assertion:

    Resolved: It is a reasonable “time, place, and manner” restriction on free speech rights, to refuse to allow political theatre about terrorism on an airline flight.

  • http://www.pawlo.com/ Mikael Pawlo

    Seth,
    I would say that Mr Gilmore’s behaviour is out-of-order dogmatism and impromper. However, I find it absurd to remove him from the plane on the facts presented. I also think that Mr Gilmore might severely hurt the EFF by his recent actions.

    Regards,

    Mikael Pawlo

  • Suspected Googlist

    I suppose part of the problem is that BA is regarding this speech as attributed to them. A “moron” (as they are being affectionately called here), coming face to face with Gilmore exiting the lavatory in the dark *might think* he was thus tagged by BA, and panic. (Hell if even a stewardess made that mistake — however bad a reflection that is on their training…)

    (Put it that way: what if the button also had a BA logo on it, should that be allowed?)

    So, for those who (like me) wanted to see this button and how “official” is actually looks, and hit the “page removed” notice at eminism, and also found that button (and that one alone…) missing in the Google cached version (because it links it back from eminism, apparently), here is a link that shows the actual button. Make your own opinion…

  • j

    Mr. Satirst–

    again, you’re being extreme when saying that Gilmore wearing that button is “joking about terrorism.” you’re completely missing the fact that wearing a button/tshirt saying anything is quite different from speaking aloud or anyway creating expression that other people have no choice but to be aware of. (i.e. you can’t turn off your ears, but you can look away from people’s dress)

    of course what you say is true, and that the speech and expression of people in situations where security would dictate differently is indeed a fact, and should be regarded as important to holding the freedom of expression in non-secure situations. but in this case, the security was NOT endangered, and Gilmore set out to point out that the line of interpretation is QUITE gray, and not at all the same as what we might think.

    the fact of the matter is this, and cannot be disputed:

    A man was cleared through all points of security at an airport. This means identification thru ticket holding and a verified government-issued ID (passport). Also, his carry-on *and* checked luggage *and* his body were checked to be within compliance of standard security procedures, and he was allowed access to the plane.

    He boarded the plane, and sat down. Period.

    He didn’t become violent. He was not drunk. He made no physical or audible disturbance to the other passengers or crew. To the passengers and crew who DID NOT see his button, he posed no threat whatsoever.

    I have been on a plane recently to London from San Francisco with ‘backpacker kids’ that posed more of a cabin disturbance thru the influence of a couple of nips of Jack Daniels than someone with a button, and they were drunk when they got on the plane.

    The point (which alot of people are missing) is NOT that he’s complaining about getting kicked off the plane and missing his flight. I don’t think he’s surprised at that, and neither am I. I think his point is that since 9/11, the amount of discretion, fear, and knee-jerk reactions with respect to terrorism has elevated the paranoia in most people (not surprisingly, airlines) to unprecedented levels, and that should not be disregarded.

    complain about him being a jerk, yes, but DON’T dismiss the reaction he got as no-big-deal or ‘business-as-usual’.

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    the fact of the matter is this, and cannot be disputed:

    The captain told the man that his *conduct* would, in the captain’s judgment, “endanger the aircraft”. The man decided that in this matter, his opinion should override that of the captain, and refused to comply. The captain then refused him passage. The man then maintains that because the conduct said to “endanger the aircraft” was “a political statement”, injustice has been done.

    I do not find this scenario to be a violation of free-speech rights.

  • j

    it may or may not be a violation of free-speech rights. I’m not saying it was or wasn’t. I’m also not saying that the pilot doesn’t have a right to throw the guy off the plane. For all I care, the pilot can throw the guy off the plane just by the music he’s listening to on his headphones, or the book he’s reading. whatever.

    the case seems to emphasize that wearing certain clothing or words constitute ‘conduct’, and that the judgement of that conduct can be determined by the pilot, who has the final say. That’s fine by me.

    But the “conduct” in this situation was the act of *WEARING* something. I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would argue that in the usual sense of the term, “conduct” when used in the context of the safety of an airplane, is used to describe either the vocal or physical behaviour of passengers. Gilmore sat down, and did just that: sat there. Just like EVERY other passenger.

    Like I said before, the expression of the button was only apparent to those passengers who saw the button. I *highly* doubt Gilmore, (at least to prove his point) would have made any sort of disturbance on the plane by way of physical movement, noise, or general nuisance.

    Whether or not the pilot has the legal ability or socially accepted right to throw him off the plane is WAY besides my point.

    No matter what anyone can say…. a man got on a plane within COMPLETE compliance of that airport’s security team, and then was refused passage without saying a word or touching anyone else on the plane.

    Maybe what is needed is some sort of “MIND-READER” device that can predict what type of conversation I’ll bring up after I get on the plane, huh ?

    Or better yet, everyone should be strip-searched before they get on a plane, so to guarantee that someone’s undershirt doesn’t say something like “I HATE THE US”…because then I could take off my jacket when I’m on the plane and then my ‘conduct’ would make the plane turn around. Good ideas, huh ?

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Repeating an earlier point:

    There’s no rule here of “speak now, or forever hold your peace”. An objection is valid at any point in the process. Perhaps the security people weren’t aware of the potential problem, since they don’t deal with passengers IN-FLIGHT. So until he got to the crew, which does deal with panicked passengers, nobody said anything.

    I see this reply over and over again, roughly the idea that once he passed security. no more objections could be raised – something like double-jeopardy or all-sales-final.

    Wearing a button is conduct. Just imagine if the button said “I am a terrorist who will blow-up this plane and you will all die”. That should highlight the issue.

    What people should do, if the request from the captain is in any way reasonable, is take off the button. Very simple.

    I will reiterate – I believe the captain’s judgment as to safety in this specific situation deserves great deference. He has no obligation to start playing political games or to find some clever nethead counter-move. If his request is *reasonable*, it should be complied with.

  • j

    I never said that I thought he was “safe” from any objections once he was past airport security. I mentioned it to emphasize the discretion of the pilot and how much that discretion has increased since 9/11.

    and of course I agree with a pilot having ANY discretion.

    you said to imagine if the button said: “I am a terrorist who will blow-up this plane and you will all die”.

    of course, that is not what the button said, did it ?

    the conversation with the BE rep on the ground later basically confirmed that any button with the word ‘terror’ on it would be not allowed. I challenge you, to imagine instead, that a kid wearing a techno music tour tshirt by the band “Wishbone Ash” had the text “Psychic Terrorism” across it (the name of one of their cds)…what would you think then ? or imagine if it was worn by a slow elderly woman or 3 year old ?

    My main point, which you are still not getting, is that Gilmore, whether you want to call him a jerk, lefty, stunt-puller, troller, or maniac…pointed out a new level of greyness to the topics of expression and security. Mention all of the standard analogies and Ben Franklin quotes you want….theater/yelling fire, etc. It all supports the point that I am making, which is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the same level of expression these days as it used to be, due to fear of terrorism.

    Is fear good for safety ? Your damn right it is, and I hope that concept continues. But it HAS become a moving target, this line between what we are allowed to do and say in public, and what will be allowed in the name of public security and safety.

    Danny DeVito was once allowed to smoke a cigar on a plane not too long after the smoking ban was inacted, simply because he was able to ask everyone on the plane if it was OK with them. Everyone agreed, and he smoked his cigar. That story sounds almost insane to believe these days.

    People who dismiss the subjects that Gilmore brought up as simple and appropriate and no-big-deal are minimizing them, as if it’s no-big-deal. I am NOT at all someone who gets romantic about the ideals of civil liberties and free speech, normally. But I *am* someone who thinks that dismissing those subjects as trivial or to believe them only within the realms of hippies/activists would be a DIRE mistake.

    My final point: if I had the button on, I would have taken it off, but I wouldn’t have been happy about it, because 10 years ago, at SFO, it would have been probably taken as ironic, if at all.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    I do not see where Gilmore pointed out any level of grayness, nor that he did anything particularly post-9/11. I see that he wore a button which was deliberately intended to provoke people. When he was asked NOT to provoke people, on the grounds of safety, he refused and started playing what-if and and smart-people-get-it games.

    No gray at all here.

    This is not a tale of new fear. It’s about trolling over people’s fears, of pushing airline’s buttons, and then crying I’m-being-censored when they push back.

  • j

    If you can�t tell by my previos comments, I�m not talking about Gilmore anymore. I�m talking about how times have changed. Nothing more.

    Not gray, huh ? Let�s take a closer look:

    A pilot has every right to keep his plane safe and secure. That I do not deny. He ousted a passenger looking to fly on that plane because (not sure whether he needs to give a reason or not�but I will for sake of argument, anyway) he felt that the passengers conduct could create panic on the plane, which might jeopardize the safety of the flight. Right ? Whatever it is, he said no, and no means no. I�m not arguing he can�t or shouldn�t be able to do that.

    Now, let�s say instead, that it is a bus we�re talking about. A regular ole public transportation kind, or better yet�a Greyhound. There has been *plenty* of greyhound bus hijacks, and disasters in the past, although obviously not nearly as high-profile as the 9/11 attacks. But the analogy still stands: can the driver request the same of Gilmore, had it been on a bus ? Could he also make the same request if it was a boat ? What about a train ?

    Let�s say the pilots/drivers of these vessels CAN make judgement calls based on the safety of the other passengers. Now make Gilmore�s button a t-shirt. Does that pilot have a right to make him take it off ? or cover it up with a blanket ?

    Now to get to what my *main* point really is.�what if an Arab-looking man causes a particularly twitchy and fearful group of passengers to feel panicky. Can that pilot ask him to leave ? Or cover his face ? Why or why not ? Who gets to judge whether or not the reason the pilot gives is *reasonable* ? So if it�s an inanimate object (like a button), then it�s ok, but if it�s actually the �look� of a person, it�s not ? What if the Taliban had a particular hairdo as part of their custom, and because of 9/11, that hairdo obviously makes people nervous ?

    The question comes down to, how much discrection can a pilot (or driver, or security guard, etc) have when it comes to granting services or access to someone who doesn�t fit their own �personal� description of �safe� ?

    What if I, as a restaurant owner, feel that my customers are in danger, or that my restaurant is in danger of becoming entrenched in a panic, because of the politcal expressions on a button of one of my customers ?

    Now before you get all heated up, I sincerely doubt that there is anything in the BA policies about �buttons with political statements� on them. Nor do I think that a pilot who grew up in San Francisco have the same ideas of �safe� looking people as someone who grew up in Des Moines.

    (originally posted Jul 25 03 at 1:12 PM)

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Begin parody:

    OK, in an airport I can’t greet my friend “Jack” by loudly shouting “Hi, JACK!”. But what if it’s a woman named Jackie? How about if his name is “Jacques”? or “Jock”? What if it’s a bus lounge? Or a train station? Oh, woe is me, is there a list of people I can’t greet, and where? How will I ever know? And, my god, what if the authorities say they don’t like the way I greeted, what about that?

    Things have changed so much!

    End parody

    Pilots have more discretion than bus-drivers, because an airplane is a far more dangerous environment than a bus. And public parks don’t crash.

    Ultimately, it comes down to “Tell It To The Judge”.

  • j

    It’s the “tell it to the judge” that I’m talking about, wiseass.

    there are some lawyers that would argue that it *doesn’t* land just in the mind of one human. you yourself said it was only if the pilot made a “reasonable” request ? isn’t *anything* reasonable when it comes to public safety ?

    it’s how MUCH discretion do pilots have that i’m talking about.

    boy, you sure told me with that sarcasm, huh ? what a pointless rebuttal.

  • http://www.pawlo.com/ Mikael Pawlo

    The good Seth wrote:

    ‘Wearing a button is conduct. Just imagine if the button said �I am a terrorist who will blow-up this plane and you will all die�. That should highlight the issue.’

    Well, what if? Would you feel safer if the button was removed?

    I think you made my point, rather than your own .-)

    Mr Gilmore would not have posed more or less of a threat with the removal of a few words on a badge. If he was travelling commando in his sarong, I personally would have found that much more of a hazardm than Mr Gilmore wearing a political – if stupid – message on a badge .-)

    Best regards,

    Mikael Pawlo

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Mikael,

    When Jonathan Swift published “A Modest Proposal”, there were people who thought he was serious about eating babies.

    Gilmore means his button as a hip, ironic, nethead joke. But there will be uncool, unhip, un-smart people, who just won’t get the joke. They will think
    “OH MY GOD THERE’S A SUSPECTED TERRORIST ON THIS PLANE!”

    I believe everyone will be much safer if that doesn’t happen. Gilmore’s stunt is in fact one of the closest things I’ve ever seen in real life to the hoary
    falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

    He wants to “joke about being a terrorist while on an airplane, regardless of causing a panic

    It’s not quite the same thing, but it’s still notably physically endangering.

  • j

    again, Seth…your analogies are quite flawed.
    here’s why.

    Gilmore didn’t yell or make any expression or communication that passengers could not help consuming. He was, until approached, silent. Again, passengers had to *read* the button to understand its meaning at all. If you were to be even close with the fire/theater, then you’d have to say that the person didn’t yell it…he wore a BUTTON that said “There’s a fire here in this theater!”…which, in the dark of a theatre, most people can’t or won’t read.

    so if I get your point, then that we as citizens, are responsible for other people’s feelings towards our clothing and dress, right ? That I am constrained, in the name of homeland security, to wear clothing (i.e. not dynamite) that *I* think won’t offend or otherwise rock the boat of our serene safety-love.

    When was the last time you thought to yourself before getting dressed on a day of air travel “hmmm….what clothing would be especially calming to my fellow passengers” ?

    Please respond, Seth, by explaining how one human can predict the opinions and feelings of others, especially those who he/she doesn’t know. I’m sure many couple’s therapists would love to hear your secret.

    The fact is, there is a line of proper ettiquete that we all follow, whether we know it or not, when it comes to dress. Would I wear a “Circle Jerk” punck-rock t-shirt to a business meeting ? No. But I have no problem wearing it on a bus, train, or airplane. Will people be offended ? Maybe some of the more prudish ones. Will they think I’m going to spontaneously masturbate at any given second ? I highly doubt it.

    On San Francisco sidewalks, I am 100% sure Gilmore would have gotten many laughs and questions about his button. I can also say almost for sure I sincerely doubt that anyone would actually think he’s a suspected terrorist. But, as his tale proved, not everyone has the same sense of irony than they do in the Bay Area. If he had been on a Southwest Oakland/Burbank flight, I almost tend to doubt it ever would have happened.

  • http://www.pawlo.com/ Mikael Pawlo

    Seth,
    Will you be safer if the badge is removed?
    If your fellow passengers are so jumpy that they might freak out and panic because of a badge, then maybe they should travel by ground transportation instead.

    I think Mr Gilmore’s stunt is stupid for just the same reasons you do, but I think the security argument is flawed. There is no real security issue here because the security level is not affected by the badge, it is however a matter of good and bad taste. I think the airlines – should they not be considered common carriers – may be perfectly justified to nullify tickets on bad taste-arguments (your skirt is too short, you smell, your communist badge is too leftist etc).

    I would probably have removed Mr Gilmore too – should there be other comparable commercial flights or other comparable means of transportation to the same destination – but I would even do it if his badge said “Usama for president” or why not “Stalin was a great guy”. How would you handle the Stalin badge according to your security policy?

    I am going to give you the last word.

    Regards,

    Mikael

  • Oskar Austegard

    How wonderfully ironic that the Politech site is currently carrying advertisements (through Google) for ID Badges and ID Badge Printers.

  • http://www.templetons.com Brad Templeton

    I wasn’t on the plane, but I’ve been with John in other situations where he has confronted people he believes are infringing his rights. He has always, in my experience, been quite calm, and polite, but also very firm.

    A pilot can toss your from the plane for any reason, indeed. But how quickly we forget all the stories of how pilots refused to let middle-eastern looking individuals, muslims, even Indians and Sikhs fly on planes. Yes, these turban-wearing Sikhs were making the pilot nervous, and the other passengers nervous — much more so than John’s button.

    Do we defend that? If not, we agree there are limits on how a flight crew should exercise this power to eject people who make them nervous. And if they are ejecting somebody for vague, intangible reasons, such as not understanding their protest button, they have a duty to sit back and rethink it, and face consequences if they act badly.

    I am fairly sure that once they informed John he was being removed from the plane, he cooperated and left. I hear no report of him doing anything threatening. He simply wore a button (one that he wears all the time, by the way, he’s given me several of them) with a political message, and politely declined to remove it when asked.

    Perhaps you would argue, “Even if the pilot’s order was stupid, it should be obeyed.” That could make sense if there were negative consequences for the flight crew for giving bad orders, something I have seen little evidence to support.

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    He wore a button proclaiming himself a suspected terrorist, on an airplane, and refused to remove it when informed this constituted, in the opinion of the pilot, endangering the flight.

    This is not about people looking Middle-Eastern, wearing turbans, or anything else which is not an easily misunderstood avowed statement that one is in fact a terrorist.

    One thing I’ve noted in this discussion, is that people simply cannot defend THIS action, the action that he did. They must shift away, start playing what-if, and define-it, bring up the possibility of unreasonable actions, etc.

    Anything but defend what John Gilmore is doing here, which is recklessly causing fear and potential panic because he thinks it’s funny and a political statement.

    I’m repeating myself, but it’s as if someone was removed from a flight for insisting on repeatedly saying to his friend “Hi, JACK”, and then headlines ran “Man removed from flight for greeting a friend!”

    I can just hear it:

    Captain: Please, Mr. Gilless, Don’t say “Hi, JACK” to your friend. It scares people.

    Mr. Gilless: Captain, I’m sorry, I insist on my free speech rights. I think it’s funny to keep saying “Hi, JACK”. Go ask every passenger if they think I’m really a hijacker. I intend to do it all this flight.

    Captain: In that case, I will have to remove you.

    Mr. Gilless: I’m being censored! If they can stop me from saying “Hi, JACK”, where will it end? Can the captain stop me from talking about Jack Kennedy? How about Jack Benny? Free speech! Free speech!

    This is not about being censored, it’s about being a troll.

  • http://www.templetons.com Brad Templeton

    Have you seen the button, Seth? It’s very small, only visible when you get close to somebody, and I must say I’ve never seen it as proclaiming anything or as a joke.

    It is not a joke. It is a statement. Nobody with half a brain would think a terrorist would wear it. It’s saying, “I am an ordinary innocent traveller and I resent that when I fly I am treated like a suspected terrorist.”

    I don’t see any connection with your “Hi, Jack” example. That’s something spoken, something that is deliberately (even jokingly) intended to be misconstrued.

    His button is not meant to be misconstrued. It is a subtle statement, “I am not a terroist, but because I fly (it has an airplane on it) I’m treated as one.”

    Nobody was afraid of the button. None of the passengers, John says, were aware of it, or cared about it. It’s a very small button.

    What happened was a flight attendant saw it and, I surmise, imagined people might be scared of it, and wanted to save them in advance.

    Ok, so perhaps some people don’t get the button’s meaning. But he explained that it was a political statement. So after they knew that, why do they need to keep making a fuss?

    People seem to suggest that a pilot’s authority to dump people from a plane is absolute. It’s not. We don’t want them dumping people for wearing turbans, and we don’t want them dumping people for quietly, subtly, expressing the wrong political opinions.

    Do we? That seems to be what you’re defending.

  • bchapman99

    Are you guys kidding me? Who, with even a 75 IQ, would think that a terrorist would walk around with a button saying “suspected terrorist”. It seems pretty clear that he was not a terrorist. The airlines have proven they will let people from terrorist hotbeds on their planes with knives, but they draw the line at letting passengers fly that are carrying free speech. Free speech may very well be a more powerful weapon. However, free speech normally destroys bad governments, while the guys with the knives are the ones slitting loved one’s throats. We see which one the airlines fear more.

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    Brad, you’re completely right that a captain’s authority is not absolute. I couldn’t agree more that it does not extend to dump for “wearing turbans” or “expressing the wrong political opinions”.

    But wow, would I back the statement that such authority extends to removing people who want to make jokes or statements about being “suspected terrorist” during an airflight.

    The basic defense of Gilmore is that all people should know he meant it as a joke, that otherwise it’s absurd, etc. etc. The problem is that the captain has to deal with people who aren’t smart, aren’t cool, and may not get the joke. Even in Gilmore’s own account, the possible confusion HAPPENED:

    “the stewardess who had gone to fetch her said that she thought the button was something that the security people had made me wear to warn the flight crew that I was a suspected terrorist(!).”

    The reaction to this may be, what a dumb person, what a moron, how could such a person exist and on and on. The issue is not, however, about critiquing their lack of intelligence, coolness, or hipness. It is what is a reasonable and prudent action of a captain when faced with a passenger who insists it is his right of free speech to do something that has a reasonable chance of causing fear and panic, and which he intends to do as a matter of principle.

    When it’s pointed out that Gilmore’s action will be misconstrued, the response tends to be that it SHOULD NOT BE misconstrued. And that people weren’t willing to say right to his face that they personally misconstrued it. I mean, what do you expect them to say? “Mr. Suspected Terrorist, how come you’re suspected? Is your name Ben Alladin or something? Are you really a terrorist, and are you going to kill us all?”

    He means the button to generate a reaction, else why wear it? It’s not because it’s pretty. Obviously, it may have unintended consequences in terms of generating reactions he didn’t expect! When an airplane captain decides this is dangerous in terms of safety, it strikes me as a thoroughly rational judgment call.

  • Suspected Satirist

    J: My stating that Mr. Gilmore was “joking about terrorism” is “extreme”? It certainly is accurate. Orwell reconciled the apparent contradiction of accuracy and extremism, and I am reminded of his words now: “At a time of universal deceit, to tell the truth is a revolutionary act.” But rather than go to the extreme of calling you a liar, nor indeed indulge myself in the extreme conceit that I am “revolutionary”, I’ll quote Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

    However, if you’d like to see some real “extremism” consider this:

    You bet your life if some wacko was wearing a “Suspected Terrorist” button I and every other able-bodied person on the plane would be ready for him. It’s also a sure bet that Mr. Gilmore would never know it.

    If he turned to me and asked, “Do you have a problem with my button?” I would smile and shake my head and solicitously reply, “No, sir, no problem here,” and I would agree with every friggin’ thing the guy said, for that would be the wise thing to do — keep him talking and he won’t freak — but I’d be ready. “Keep your friends close, your enemies (or potential wackos) closer.”

    No, we would not think he was a terrorist, but a very disturbed person, the kind of nutcase who would joke about terrorism on an airplane then refuse to end the joke when the pilot tells him to drop it.

    People get weird on airplanes. It’s called “Air Rage”. That guy with the “Suspected Terrorist” button might be a harmless dissident, but then again, he might be a paranoid schitzophrenic who thinks the Black U.N. Helicopters are out to get him. How could one tell the difference until the guy freaks out at 10,000 feet?

    If I had been on the plane I would’ve been ready to tackle him if he so much as twitched, yet I likewise would never have believed for a moment he was a terrorist. Mr. Gilmore could be the poster child of that old Far Side cartoon which shows a picture of a porcupine, a rattlesnake, and a man wearing a ducky floaty and carrying a rocket launcher, under the caption, “How Nature Says ‘Danger’”.

    Is he a crack, or is he ON crack? Are we to bet our lives that he’s a harmless prankster rather than a deranged paranoid lunatic precariously balanced on the edge of an air rage hair-trigger? Occam’s Razor says he’s harmless, but on an airplane, where passengers must take responsibility for our own security in the worst-case scenario, we must always be cognizant of the worst-case scenario … even if we consider it unlikely.

    Finally, then, is offered a point-of-view you might honestly label “extreme”, but what they did on Flight 97 was “extreme”, too. Some things are “extreme” because they need to be. Welcome to the real world.

  • Brad Templeton

    (I wish this blog’s “remember me” function would work in Mozilla!)

    Anyway, the suspected terrorist button is not a joke. Yes, there is some satire to it, but at the core it’s not a joke. It’s trying to make you think about the fact that air travel treats the ordinary passenger as a suspected terrorist. There’s irony here but not comedy.

    So if what you’re saying is that you think it’s OK to throw off a guy who insists on making a joke when nobody is enjoying it, that may well be, but it does not have much to do with this case.

    I guess I can see some people misinterpreting it and saying, “Ah he’s pretending to be a terrorist as some sort of joke.” But frankly, such a blatant misinterpretation should not be our guide as to what to muzzle. Yes, even if a flight attendant was that stupid.

    To spell it out for you, look at this case as if the button were a T-shirt that read, “It’s wrong that the air travel system is treating every ordinary passenger, including me, as though they were a suspected terrorist.”

    If John had worn that shirt, and been asked to remove it, and taken off the plane for not doing so, would you say the same?

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    “So if what you’re saying is that you think it’s OK to throw off a guy who insists on making a joke when nobody is enjoying it, …”

    I’m saying that a guy who insists on making a joke about BEING A TERRORIST (even a “suspected terrorist”), after the captain has repeatedly asked him not to make such joke on the grounds of safety of the flight, is recklessly causing fear and potential panic – and it is not a violation of his free-speech rights to eject him from the flight on this basis.

    Look, some people have minds which simply don’t work along the lines of the kind of ironic truculence which characterizes certain types of techie humor or politics. They just don’t comprehend how someone can voluntarily associate themselves with being the type of person who blows up buildings, even as a “political statement”. They’re going to think the button is a real, and that he is a suspected terrorist.

    Brad, you know John, so you know he’s harmless (mostly). Someone seeing him and not knowing him from Adam and then reading a button with “Suspected Terrorist”, it’s quite foreseeable that they might take him as dangerous.

    This is not like wearing a shirt with a long-winded slogan. This is in fact akin to “Hi, JACK”, because it’s expressing something which is very easy to consider as indicating physical danger.

  • http://www.hempeldesigngroup.com/lego Ralph Hempel

    Hurrah for John Gilmore. He’s willing to make a stand and expose the gray edges of the law where the black and white mix. Now, quit getting all huffy and get on with your life instead of wasting time with lawsuits that will cause everyone grief and expense.

    Regarding cameras in public places, I can understand how it might make some folks uncomfortable about personal security. We all need to remember that a random videotape brought Rdodney King’s beating into the public eye. Maybe the cameras can help police do their jobs better in public places too. We should also remember that the cameras captured the graphic details of the truck driver getting hauled out of his cab and his head smashed in with a fire extinguisher.

    The captain IS the captain of the ship, whether it flies in the air or sails on the seas. His word is absolute law as he is charged with the safety of his passengers, crew, and vessel. If he discharges someone becasue he thinks it might affect the safety of the ship, get over it. There is ALWAYS another flight. Imagine if the captian has to second-guess himself and let someone on against his better judgement and something DOES go wrong. The lawyers for the other passengers will be quick to point out that he should have known better…

    John Gilmore may do a lot of work with the EFF, but from my point of view, he’s just being an ass. I’d probably sit beside him, I get the joke, but I disagree with his politics just as much as he may disagree with mine.

    I’m glad I can disagree in public.

  • Roy Murphy

    I have to say I agree with Seth. The button is not a substitute for a t-shirt with a longer expression or a pamphlet. It is uniquely capable of misinterpretation precisely because of its terseness. It is the uncertainty of its meaning and the possibility of misunderstanding as demonstrated by the stewardess which makes it unsettling in an airline context. In hindsight, we can see the humor in the stewardess mistaking the button for something it wasn’t. At the moment, it was concern for the safety of the flight which motivated the stewardess and the captain, not supressing speech. The result was a supression of speech, but the whole episode has the uncomfortable aroma of political theatre. And there are just some places where political theatre is inappropriate.

  • j

    Political theatre or not, it has brought up a lot of questions. (like I predicted it would, above) Seth has argued that the only questions worth posing are ones specifically about Gilmore, and I argue that there are even better questions about what constitutes “reasonable requests” from a pilot and what is an unreasonable request. (if there is such a thing)

    There are now 80 comments about this, and I would love to hear Prof Lessig weigh in on this. I am not a lawyer, but I sure would love to see if there is any precedent in situations like these. Gilmore’s act, however it is taken, makes me wonder:

    Can a pilot have absolute discretion in what he thinks is bad for safety, no questions asked ?

    Is there a law about this, or is only mention of it in each particular airline’s “policies” ?

    Has a pilot’s decision to remove a passenger like Gilmore ever been challenged in court ? As many people know, stranger things have happened.

    Instead of the “Gilmore’s an idiot” versus the “Security threatens liberty” comment war…is there a *lawyer* in the house who knows anything about this ?

  • John Doe

    Because, as we all know, true terrorists ALWAYS advertise themselves…

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    Roy: Thank you.

    j: As a theoretical matter, it’s certainly worth posing the question of what are “reasonable requests”. However, in practice, here, if there are many people arguing passionately that Gilmore was treated unreasonably, then in my humble opinion, regretfully, the discussion won’t be too productive. All it will be, is people repeating groupthink, that anyone not as smart, cool, hip as they are, is of no account. And then that anything not in accordance with Netizen Law is a harbinger of the police state.

    That’s not useful, again in my view. It’s completely disconnected from reality. It’s a kind of projection of people’s frustrations and angers. Those feelings are understandable, but it’s why I say this incident is not about wearing buttons, but pushing people’s buttons.

  • j

    agreed, and that’s why I’d love to hear comments from someone who has had or knows of legal precedent in situations like this, which are void of personal emotion, and just historical fact.

    as a rule, I (usually, but not in this case) tend to stay out of online discussions that mention the “yelling fire in a theater” analogies, because they always ends up being more like a screaming contest than “discussion”.

    and again, I’d especially love to hear what Prof Lessig has to say about it.

  • lessig

    soon…

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    j: I agree strongly with you that almost all mentions of “yelling fire in a theater” are worthless. What I’m trying to do, is to turn the typical usage of that example inside-out. It’s commonly used to attack an idea as if it were causing something physically dangerous. What I’m attempting is to invert that, pointing out that causing something physically dangerous should not be defended as if it were an idea (“political statement”)

  • http://www.jzip.org/ adamsj

    Okay, what about these slogans? Are these political slogans grounds to, as Richard “Don’t you dare call me a fascist, or I’ll have you thrown in jail” Bennett puts it, “The only question that remains about Gillmore is whether he should be locked-up in a prison or in a mental hospital.”

    “I resent security screening. It infringes on my rights.”

    “Give me liberty from the TSA, or give me death.”

    “Less intrusive security makes a safer America.”

    “Less intrusive security makes a safer America, so the TSA can kiss my ass.”

    “Richard Bennett is a creeping fascist, or maybe just a windbag.”

    “According to the TSA, YOU are a suspected terrorist.”

    “We are all, passengers and crew alike, suspected terrorists.”

    “Don’t even think about making me drink this bottle of breast milk.”

    “No security screener has the right to play handsies with passengers.”

    “Keep the TSA’s hands off my wife’s behind!”

    Which of these slogans is worthy of censorship?

  • Suspected Satirist

    I would guess these two:

    “According to the TSA, YOU are a suspected terrorist.”

    �We are all, passengers and crew alike, suspected terrorists.”

    … on the grounds that one is not allowed to joke about terrorism on airline flights.

    (OTOH I thought the “hands off my wife” slogan was pretty clever …)

    What if Mr. Gilmore’s button had said “Suspected Bomber” as a protest against the use of metal detectors?

    After 9/11 throwing around the word “terrorist” on airline flights carries exactly the same inflammatory potential.

    As soon as you’re away from the airport you can talk about bombs and guns and terrorists to your heart’s content. You can broadcast your opinions over land, sea, air, and ‘net. You’re just not allowed to do it around airplanes.

  • j

    “one is not allowed to joke about terrorism on airline flights.”

    again, according to who ? law ? which one ?
    and why aren’t/wouldn’t long train rides be included, like the Chunnel ?

  • j

    ok, so now my curiosity about this had reached unprecedented levels. Just found a story of a boy not being allowed on a plane due to a book he was holding, as well as some other innocuous reasons:

    http://apll.freeyellow.com/security1.html

    at the very bottom is the comment:

    ‘The FAA has no policy regulating “specific types of reading material,”‘

  • http://www.jzip.org/ adamsj

    Hi, Suspected Satirist (a good name which would be perfect were you a Secret Service agent in disguise),

    You say:

    “I would guess these two:

    ‘According to the TSA, YOU are a suspected terrorist.’

    ‘We are all, passengers and crew alike, suspected terrorists.’

    � on the grounds that one is not allowed to joke about terrorism on airline flights.”

    But where’s the joke? That’s straight political commentary, made in exactly the place–an airport and an airplane–where the people most affected by the law congregate. Is a time, place, and manner restriction completely whacking that opportunity a reasonable one?

  • http://www.jzip.org/ adamsj

    These blanket condemnations of humor must stop! Which aislemate would you rather have on a ten-hour flight:

    A guy wearing a “Suspected Terrorist” button.

    A guy who turns to you and says, “Let’s have a serious theoretical discussion of terrorism and civil liberties.”

    Would the second guy be thrown off the plane? Sent off to the pokey?

  • Suspected Satirist

    Oh, I misunderstood, I figured “Get yer hands off my wife’s bottom” was humor, not a serious political discussion. My mistake.

    I’m not so sure if you’re not allowed to talk about bombs and terror aboard airlines whether earnestness is relevant.

    Saying something serious like, “I used to think Mercury bombs were the way to go, but the Anarachist’s Cookbook raised some very important issues … if the AC thinks they’re too volatile, it’s probably time to look into different materials,” I imagine would get you thrown off the plane.

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’m quite sure there’s a “don’t act stupid on airplanes” law … and I suspect it’s on the books precisely because people tend to do just that.

  • http://www.jzip.org/ adamsj

    No, I must’ve misexplained. Some of the slogans were funny, others deadly serious. What I thought was interesting was that you singled out two which were (in my opinion–you might disgree) explicitly non-humorous, that were clearly political commentary, as being least likely to pass muster.

    I agree that your example of a conversation starter would probably be inappropriate (although…What if the speaker were an ATF agent and the listener were from the FBI? I suppose the pilot would still be within the law to throw them off).

    I was thinking more along the lines of:

    “I think the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Agency inflate the terrorist threat and put us through intrusive search procedures as a matter of domestic American politics. It’s a police state tactic to rob us of our civil rights.”

    What, I wonder, is appropriate for someone who says such a thing? Prison? The mental hospital? Merely exiled to CarVille? Or citizenhood?

  • MRC

    My understanding is that on ship or plane “the Captain’s word is law”. John Gilmore’s actions and attitudes display a lack of respect for the captain, the crew, and his fellow passengers. Further, his actions and the comments posted here in his support have convinced me to not renew my membership in E.F.F.

  • http://www.jzip.org/ adamsj

    I think the idea that “the captain’s word is law” is more a maritime idea having to do with there being no other competent authority over a ship at sea. (Anyone more knowledgeable about this specific point, please correct me.) The captain is still accountable to a higher authority.

    In any event, I don’t believe the doctrine would allow the captain to throw off all Green Party members–”They opposed the war against Iraq, so they’re dangerous terrorist sympathizers. Off they go!”–or those wearing Kansas City Bomber jerseys (the roller derby team Racquel Welch played for in a movie, I believe.) Further, I’ve seen people fly wearing some interesting items since the Trade Center bombing–for instance, a gentleman in a “No Limits” recording jacket, which shows a couple of armed men riding around town in an APC–without trouble.

    I’ve heard about two sorts of boarding troubles:

    1) Random outrages. The woman forced to drink her own breast milk. The screeners who make people abandon their babies during searches. (Yes, I’m a recent father–why do you ask?) The elderly Marine–I believe a Medal of Honor recipient–who had to abandon a harmless memento.

    2) Political denials. People who wear the wrong button, carry the wrong book, or belong to the wrong organization.

    What these two classes have in common is that neither is a threat to safety. Sorry, but a little old lady in her seventies from a peace group is not going to pull a knife on a stewardess, even after she’s been denied boarding numerous times for thinking bad thoughts in 1987. (The mother made to drink her own breast milk might well punch the person who made her do it–but would you really blame her? Even if she were to feed a screener a dirty diaper, would she have done so had she not been provoked? Isn’t “drink your own breast milk” fighting words?)

    What’s remarkable about this is that the TSA is cutting back on the air marshall program and on screeners, at the same time they claim there is an increased terrorist threat. I mean, you can’t put marshalls on a threatened flight because you can’t pay for their motel?

    Normally, I’d dismiss this as political posturing for an increased budget, but this time, it looks like an MBA has been elected as President and, with an analysis in his hand against glory, has decided that true security is too costly to achieve.

    What does a manager do in such a case? Does he Churchill up and spend what is necessary? Or does he cut his losses and put a program in place which, once it fails, he can claim was good enough and failed because, well, shit happens?

    Mark my words–the next major terrorist act involving an American airplane will be proven to have been enabled by this sort of cost-cutting.

    In the meantime, the airlines can continue their silly games of “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button–And What Does It Say?”. The federal government can continue giving them rope with that hand, while they reel in TSA and DHS on the budget leash. Someone, eventually, will pay.

  • Suspected Satirist

    Well a realistic scenario would require someone, probably a flight attendant, to overhear the conversation.

    What happens next is pretty simple: the flight attendant tells you the subject is inappropriate during flight and asks that you not discuss that particular issue until the plane lands.

    The next move is up to you: continue your conversation, or continue to be passengers on that flight. (You may only choose one.)

    An innocent conversation that just happens to use the word “terrorist”, the hypothetical you posited, seems to have a very reasonable resolution: when called on it you say, “Oops! Please pardon my carelessness,” and the situation goes back to normal.

    If, on the other hand, you argue, “You’re violating my free speech!” then defiantly resume your conversation, well, they have a phrase to describe lawless behavior on aircraft from otherwise law-abiding citizens: Air Rage. They also have a rule for dealing with it: get the wacko off the plane as quickly as possible, before that person really loses it, or worse the hysteria starts to spread.

    Who can say why otherwise mild-mannered married people sexually assault flight staff and other passengers? Who can say why normally fearless people get spooked and start shouting things like, “We’re all going to die?” Who can say why a 19-year-old with no history of violent behavior suddenly charges the cockpit and fights to the death when other passengers try to stop him? Who can say why a disgruntled passenger demands to display the word “Terrorist” on his lapel during flight? Nobody really knows why, but airline flights seem to bring out the worst in some people.

    Some people will do really strange things on airplanes, things they would never do on the ground. That’s one of the reasons there are special rules of conduct for airline passengers, and that is why flight crews must strictly enforce those rules. The other reason for those underappreciated rules is that a disturbance which escalates to the point it involves the pilot threatens the safety of everyone aboard.

  • Lifeline

    Tastes differ. I can’t agree with you, sorry… Anyway I like your writing. I find it sad that people have sunk into such intellectual decay as to find fault with a difference of opinion.
    http://www.air-lifeline.com/personnel.html

  • http://findsafe.org Sean

    This is a great article. I am new to your blog and i like what I see. I look forward to your future work.