Comments on: our times: the battles of John Gilmore Blog, news, books Thu, 12 Oct 2017 08:56:00 +0000 hourly 1 By: Sean Mon, 13 Nov 2006 12:06:24 +0000 This is a great article. I am new to your blog and i like what I see. I look forward to your future work.

By: Lifeline Wed, 28 Apr 2004 08:45:07 +0000 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.

By: Suspected Satirist Sat, 02 Aug 2003 13:41:09 +0000 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.

By: adamsj Sat, 02 Aug 2003 12:10:06 +0000 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.

By: MRC Fri, 01 Aug 2003 23:58:47 +0000 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.

By: adamsj Fri, 01 Aug 2003 21:21:54 +0000 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?

By: Suspected Satirist Fri, 01 Aug 2003 20:56:58 +0000 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.

By: adamsj Fri, 01 Aug 2003 16:50:36 +0000 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?

By: adamsj Fri, 01 Aug 2003 09:34:42 +0000 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?

By: j Fri, 01 Aug 2003 09:22:18 +0000 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:

at the very bottom is the comment:

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

By: j Fri, 01 Aug 2003 08:57:36 +0000 “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 ?

By: Suspected Satirist Fri, 01 Aug 2003 08:51:52 +0000 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.

By: adamsj Thu, 31 Jul 2003 22:35:41 +0000 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?

By: Seth Finkelstein Thu, 31 Jul 2003 21:30:54 +0000 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”)

By: lessig Thu, 31 Jul 2003 18:52:15 +0000 soon…

By: j Thu, 31 Jul 2003 17:37:45 +0000 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.

By: Seth Finkelstein Thu, 31 Jul 2003 17:02:28 +0000 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.

By: John Doe Thu, 31 Jul 2003 16:19:59 +0000 Because, as we all know, true terrorists ALWAYS advertise themselves…

By: j Thu, 31 Jul 2003 15:39:28 +0000 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 ?

By: Roy Murphy Thu, 31 Jul 2003 14:36:33 +0000 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.

By: Ralph Hempel Thu, 31 Jul 2003 11:41:26 +0000 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.

By: Seth Finkelstein Thu, 31 Jul 2003 03:00:28 +0000 “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.

By: Brad Templeton Thu, 31 Jul 2003 02:24:15 +0000 (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?

By: Suspected Satirist Thu, 31 Jul 2003 02:04:26 +0000 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.

By: Seth Finkelstein Thu, 31 Jul 2003 00:43:47 +0000 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.