Great moments in airport security


Forrest M. Mims III is an award-winning inventor who attends conferences all over the world. This requires him to travel with all manner of gadgetry that contains exposed circuits and the like. Naturally this results in airline security becoming alarmed and he writes about his experiences, including one that ended up with him being put in a chokehold by the pilot of his plane.

But he begins his story with another tale of overreaction that happened to someone else.

Star Simpson was a bright electrical engineering student at MIT in 2007 when she visited the baggage section of Boston Logan International Airport to meet a friend. Instead, she was surrounded by police, arrested at gunpoint, placed in hand- and ankle cuffs and put in a jail cell. Her offense? Star’s sweater featured a DIY star made from 11 green LEDs and a 9-volt battery cemented to a solderless breadboard. A plastic rose she made for her friend was suspected of being an explosive.

Airport security is supposed to protect us from authentic terrorists, and Star’s LEDs and plastic rose certainly didn’t earn her the harsh treatment she received. Even though the police quickly determined her LED star was totally harmless, Boston’s judicial system took a year to drop a “hoax device” charge against Star, a violation that requires an intention to alarm others that never even entered her mind. Instead, she was sentenced to a year of probation for “disorderly conduct” and required to write a public apology and do 50 hours of community service.

After describing the things that have happened to him including the chokehold, he says he knows what the problem is.

After police were called when I was going through security at the San Antonio International Airport and after major problems going through security in Kona, Hawaii, I finally realized the obvious: Most people who don’t make things have no idea how to evaluate homemade equipment. Some are terrified by exposed wires and circuit boards, maybe because of bomb scenes in movies.

So I gave up. Now my carryon bag is only half stuffed with electronics; the rest is shipped ahead via FedEx.

As for the airport security officers who have hassled me over the years, they are charged with protecting us from terrorism. They have a responsibility to carefully inspect anything unusual passengers might be carrying, and you and I have a duty to cooperate with them. So far they haven’t arrested me, and they don’t arrest children wearing shoes with flashing LEDs. But they went too far when they arrested Star Simpson after they determined that the LEDs on her sweater were harmless.

This advice should apply to school officials in general and then we might find fewer cases of school authorities getting freaked out by inventive students.

Comments

  1. says

    surrounded by police, arrested at gunpoint,

    I wish I had trumpbucks. Because, if I did, I would fund lawsuits for assault against every single cop that points a dangerous weapon at a citizen that isn’t doing anything wrong. I’d bankrupt every fucking cop-nest defending against the suits, and I’d plonk $1m in the warchest of every politician who swore they’d support me. And, when that was done, I’d go after every cop – personally – that has shot a dog. If they shot a dog that had its fangs clamped together around their leg-bone, perhaps we’d back off – but not if the cop had intruded on the dog’s territory without the dog understanding it was OK. This bullshit has gone too fucking far.

    Cops are supposed to protect and serve. Pointing a deadly weapon at those you are “protecting” is not on. In fact it’s criminal professional negligence and any decent army of lawyers could wallpaper right over that line of argument, then drive a Sherman tank over it.

  2. says

    PS – if I point a gun at someone it’s assault. Even if it’s a toy gun. If a cop draws against a civilian and can’t prove that the civilian was a threat, the cop needs to find another line of work.

  3. says

    In 2002 coming through the German security in Frankfurt, a nice cop with an H&K on his chest asked politely to look in my camera bag. I asked if I could open it, since there was some expensive gear in there and he said “ja” and hovered over my shoulder while I did. After a minute he asked, “Is that one of the CF T* Sonnar lenses? Those are beautiful. What kind of body do you have?” (watching me closely) When I replied it was a 500CM, he told me I could leave and wished me a nice day.

    I doubt that anyone is going to have a problem with polite questions; I get annoyed when I’m barked at by a jumped-up jackboot licker, and I get really upset at the idea of them getting upset by something weird I might be carrying. 2 years ago coming home from FetCon with an Axovus E-stinger, the DHS clown told me “you can’t take that on a plane” I replied, “Do you even know what it is?” “Uh, no.” “Please call your supervisor. You aren’t qualified to tell me what I can or can’t take on a plane unless you actually know what it is. You’re just guessing.” I had gotten to the airport with plenty of spare time, see. They could just fucking ask. It’s pretty simple: “what is it? what does it do?” Oh, it’s sort of like a cross between a vibrator and a cattle prod. “Really? Would you please put it on your tongue and turn it on? If you can do that I’m sure it’s safe to take on a plane.”

  4. Lofty says

    Law abiding consumers are supposed to buy their decently clothed electronic toys at Walmart. Naked electronic guts do frighten the protectors of the consumerist state. Self built toys are at odds with the earn-spend-borrow mantra that is drummed into their tiny minds since infanthood.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    The entire point of this story is an acknowledgement by this very clever person that
    (a) he can’t expect everyone to have enough knowledge of his field to recognise the stuff he carries for what it is
    (b) some of those people have jobs to do
    (c) that job is valid and he has a public duty to cooperate in its execution.

    I applaud this perfectly reasonable attitude. If only everyone – and Texas clock boy and his parents in particular – thought the same, there’d be far fewer such incidents. “Inventive students” and others who might like to provoke the performers of security theatre should be required to read this.

    That Star Simpson incident was just stupid, though.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    I would fund lawsuits for assault against every single cop that points a dangerous weapon at a citizen that isn’t doing anything wrong

    You’d get a very rapid result, although perhaps not the one you anticipated or would want. Do want an entirely unarmed police force?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-35151936

    As for the nonsense about pursuing law enforcement officers who shoot dogs that have attacked them when they’ve “intruded on the dog’s territory without the dog understanding it was OK”… words fail. If you’re making any equivalence at all, on any level, between human rights and dog rights, you’ve lost the argument.

  7. laurentweppe says

    Instead, she was sentenced to a year of probation for “disorderly conduct” and required to write a public apology and do 50 hours of community service.

    In other words, she was punished for accidentally demonstrating that some people invested with authority deserve neither their authority nor the salary they receive from it.

  8. Holms says

    I applaud this perfectly reasonable attitude. If only everyone – and Texas clock boy and his parents in particular – thought the same, there’d be far fewer such incidents. “Inventive students” and others who might like to provoke the performers of security theatre should be required to read this.

    Are you a fucking idiot, or just race baiting? The kid did not, in the slightest, ‘provoke the performers of security theatre.’ This article is about security paranoia in general, and airport security in particular; ‘clock boy’ was at school. At school, showing a teacher that he could disassemble / reassemble some circuitry. Do you understand the difference?

    (I hope that what you said was actually some quite nice snark, rather than being genuinely meant.)

    You’d get a very rapid result, although perhaps not the one you anticipated or would want. Do want an entirely unarmed police force?

    He did not appear to make that argument, at least not in this comment thread, and described his encounter with the (armed) german cop positively, or at least not negatively.

    As for the nonsense about pursuing law enforcement officers who shoot dogs that have attacked them when they’ve “intruded on the dog’s territory without the dog understanding it was OK”… words fail. If you’re making any equivalence at all, on any level, between human rights and dog rights, you’ve lost the argument.

    It’s not nonsense, the comparison here is not human rights vs dog rights at all. I’m thinking you were actually sincere above… that’s a shame.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    @Holms, 9.
    I don’t see anything race-related in anything I wrote. Conversely: do you understand the difference between an engineering teacher and an English teacher? Because clock boy showed his engineering teacher the device he’d disassembled, and the only reaction he got was “that’s nice”, and the advice not to show any other teachers.

    He ignored that advice, and got the predictable reaction when he showed it to an English teacher – a person who cannot reasonably be expected to understand the difference, and who has responsibility for the safety of hundreds of children. Given other pertinent facts (e.g. his school disciplinary record, refusal of the family to allow the release of information regarding the kid’s interaction with police, his father’s background in Sudanese politics), it is clear that there was more to it than the simplistic “racist Americans assume all brown people are terrorists” line that was peddled.

    He did not appear to make that argument

    Well precisely, that was rather my point. He didn’t think it through that far. The knee-jerk “I’d like to be able to ruin any cop who can’t justify pointing his weapon at someone” sentiment is all very well until you run into the reality that cops are people too, the majority of them are NOT bad, and they will quickly react to such behaviour in ways you might not want. For example, if drawing their weapon puts them at risk of losing their job, house and future, then carrying their weapon is probably not worth it. And as the link demonstrated, precisely that situation is playing out in the UK right now.

  10. Wotan Nichols says

    I seem to recall that Forrest Mims III (has to be the same guy) was being considered by the editors of Scientific American to write a regular column after the retirement of Martin Gardner (this was years ago) but was dropped after it was revealed that he was some flavor of creationist. It always seemed a little unfair to me.

  11. soren says

    So the engineering teacher knew it was no bomb. The kid did not say it was a bomb. The school did not think it was a a bomb, since the school was not evacuated, and the kid was in possesion of the device all through the ordeal. Yet he was arrested and suspended for being in possesion of a device that no one thought was a bomb, and he never said it was a bomb.

    How hos parents background is relevant I do not know? Are non bomb electronics suspect because of the parents of the one in possesion of said electronics?

  12. soren says

    The English teacher could have asked the engineering teacher and the case would have been closed right then!

  13. doublereed says

    @sonofrojblake

    Marcus said nothing about completely disarming the police force, and that would not at all be a consequence of his actions. An obvious strawman.

    As for the nonsense about pursuing law enforcement officers who shoot dogs that have attacked them when they’ve “intruded on the dog’s territory without the dog understanding it was OK”… words fail. If you’re making any equivalence at all, on any level, between human rights and dog rights, you’ve lost the argument.

    Are you aware of the staggering number of entirely dogs that cops have murdered in cold blood? Because this really sounds like you don’t. The reality is that cops shoot dogs routinely even when they pose zero threat and are not acting in any way threatening. And they never face consequences for it. In fact the only time I’ve heard of cops being punished for slaughtering dogs is when the dogs themselves were K9 police officers.

  14. doublereed says

    @sonofrojblake

    I can’t believe you honestly take that link so seriously. First of all, cops don’t require guns all the time anyway. There’s no reason why such a threat would be all that terrible. Secondly, the cops are threatening to not carry guns if their fellow officer is charged with crimes, not convicted. This is obvious bluster of cops protecting each other for the murder of a civilian.

    I assume you believe that cops who murder people shouldn’t be immune from murder charges, right? Because if you take the cops seriously there, that’s essentially what you’re arguing for: total immunity for police officers.

  15. laurentweppe says

    In fact the only time I’ve heard of cops being punished for slaughtering dogs is when the dogs themselves were K9 police officers.

    For once the thin blue line is useful for something.

  16. says

    If you’re making any equivalence at all, on any level, between human rights and dog rights, you’ve lost the argument.

    I’m not. I just especially don’t like assholes who kill dogs. Because I like dogs more than I like humans; you don’t need to go out of your way to remind me why.

    Do [you] want an entirely unarmed police force?

    That’s a silly question, but I’d certainly prefer a police force that was much closer to unarmed than otherwise. It would encourage them to think, use their radios, rely on distribution and numbers, learn to negotiate and de-escalate, and think strategically. It might also discourage weapons-loving authoritarian creeps from joining so they could ‘play’ with all the sniny guns.

    If dogs have rights, cops are certainly violating their rights by shooting them out of hand.
    If dogs are property, cops are depriving their ‘owners’ of valuable property without due process or consideration.

    Dogs only killed 42 people last year. Police killed 1100+. Which is the greater threat to public health?

    I like dogs. I don’t like cops.

  17. laurentweppe says

    If you’re making any equivalence at all, on any level, between human rights and dog rights, you’ve lost the argument.

    That’s right: anyone who declares that they don’t view pooches as intrinsically more worthy of respect than hairless apes instantly proves the worthlessness of their worldviews.

    ***

    Do [you] want an entirely unarmed police force?

    I, for one, want a police force comprised of competent civil servants, not a pretorian guard comprised of bullies with too much firepower.

  18. lorn says

    On the other hand, contemplate the plight of a security officer. You have long hours and low pay. You have 30 minutes to screen 120 passengers. So you look for the obvious. Knives, guns, your classic bomb tropes (a heavy black ball or bundle of red cylinders with a fuse or clock strapped on.) and, the one causing problems, things you can’t look into or you don’t understand. In the later case you are instructed to bump the case up to the next level. Screeners have supervisors, who have supervisors, who have … you get the idea.

    Of course when a situation, innocent or not, get bumped up things slow down. The potential passenger gets singled out, humiliated, and they might miss the flight entirely. People tend to get irate. Which is where secondary charges get leveled. Charges which pop up coincidentally with the need for the security apparatus to avid embarrassment. Works both ways. The screener raises a stink because that is their job. The prospective passenger, there is no guarantee you get to fly, increases the disruption hoping that it will cause the issue to be dropped. Security sees the objection as defensive and indicating the initial issue is indeed serious. Which escalates the confrontation.

    Batteries are essentially black boxes for security. They are bulky and heavy, they can’t be opened up or examined, and they are radio-opaque. They are a known area of interest for anyone seeking to smuggle whatever. Even a battery small enough to go into a cell phone is capacious enough to carry a serious explosive charge. Even if you get fancy and include a battery so it passes the ‘function’ check.

    Screeners have been repeatedly warned to be suspicious of anything they can’t identify and batteries specifically. There are loads of other potential issues which are not emphasized, such as books and clothing that have had parts chemically altered to be an explosive, bombs surgically inserted into people, and reactive metals encased or plated with non-reactive metals so that they might resemble, possibly even function as, another object.

    In the end, security is highly conditional and dependent upon some combination of a lack of desire, resources, and technical skill. I don’t envy the screeners job.

    In the mean time, as much as it may interfere with your civil rights, I might suggest that airports are not a place to demonstrate your inventive, innovative, creative side. You will be better served by avoiding any novelty. You want everything about you to be simple and entirely obvious. If it isn’t something you can buy at Wally World, something everyone has seen a million times before, you might want to put it into your checked baggage. Yes, this interferes with your right to self expression.

    The airport is not where you want to get noticed. So no blinky lights or novelty electronics. My flight outfit has nothing that I won’t need and it screams ‘Nothing to see here … move along’.

  19. smrnda says

    @sonofrojblake

    An electrical engineer can’t expect everybody to know the tools of their trade, but if airport security can’t they’re incompetent. It would be like arguing that if a cop shot someone who was holding one of those old ‘super soaker’ water guns that ‘you can’t expect me to know what is and is not a firearm.’

    “Well precisely, that was rather my point. He didn’t think it through that far. The knee-jerk “I’d like to be able to ruin any cop who can’t justify pointing his weapon at someone” sentiment is all very well until you run into the reality that cops are people too, the majority of them are NOT bad, and they will quickly react to such behaviour in ways you might not want. For example, if drawing their weapon puts them at risk of losing their job, house and future, then carrying their weapon is probably not worth it. And as the link demonstrated, precisely that situation is playing out in the UK right now.”

    The majority of cops are not bad? In the USA the cops are a legalized extortion racket. Maybe you should check out what cops are like on this side of the pond and read up on civil asset forfeiture, the war on drugs, and what happens when militarized cops decide that it’s always better to go in with heavier firepower and then cover up a murder. Check out the stories of vast police corruption.

    If the cops can now terrorize people for LED lights, we’re now in more danger from cops than we are from the people they are supposed to protect us from. If we all have to shuffle around with our heads down making sure we don’t do anything that might make a cop *think* we’re a danger, we’re living in a police state run by pea brained thugs and bullies in blue. Cops in the USA are extremely vindictive – they tend to be rather immature, hot tempered and egotistical, and like to hit people with the heaviest charges (and violence) they possibly can. They have no concern for justice or public safety.

  20. lanir says

    Personally I think the appropriate response would be to figure out where the explosive was. I’m not an electrical engineer or a chemist but I don’t think it takes either to look for a significant volume of explosive. At worst someone should probably be asked to take the battery out of any homemade device if it’s using a large array like laptop batteries do. Circuit boards and wires may do impressive things but I doubt you could pull off a bomb that would do much using just that. Look for the explosive or poison or whatever. That’s the real danger anyway.

  21. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus Ranum in post 1, 2, 3, 17 … probably all of them.
    <3
    That is all.

    Also <3 smrnda.

    To sonofrojblake in post 5 and 6, and probably further.
    Fuck you

    To lorn in 21
    You seem way too submissive to the police state.

    The airport is not where you want to get noticed. So no blinky lights or novelty electronics. My flight outfit has nothing that I won’t need and it screams ‘Nothing to see here … move along’.

    In other words, “I’ve got nothing to hide, and so I shouldn’t care about warrantless, suspicionless searches.”

    This position is incredibly short-sighted, naive, and servile (in a bad way).

    http://www.wired.com/2013/06/why-i-have-nothing-to-hide-is-the-wrong-way-to-think-about-surveillance/

  22. sonofrojblake says

    @soren, 12: His father’s background is relevant when considering your Bayesian priors for smelling “publicity stunt”.

    @doublereed, 14: You obviously don’t know what “straw man” means. I *am* refuting Marcus’s argument by demonstrating with a relevant, current example where that argument would realistically lead.
    And 15: You realise cops here in the UK don’t carry guns all the time, right? That the people threatening to down weapons are the tiny minority who have the training and responsibility to do something almost no cops in this country do? Because you give the impression you didn’t know that.

    @Marcus, 17: “If dogs have rights, cops are certainly violating their rights” – and if dogs have lightsabers, cops would be in trouble. Meanwhile, back in the real world, dogs are property and cops damage and confiscate property all the time. Look up “civil forfeiture” if you want to get angrier than you already are.

    @smrnda: I know enough about the police in the USA to be really, really happy that I live and work in the UK and have no need ever to visit the place.

    And to Enlightenment Liberal: I can see no way to refute your elegantly constructed, articulate and well expressed point of view. Happy Christmas.

  23. moarscienceplz says

    I agree that Star’s horrific treatment is inexcusable, but I also think Mim’s actions were out of line. If he wants to point a strange electronic gizmo out a plane’s window multiple times he should have contacted the airline months in advance and carefully explained what he wanted and then waited for formal permission from the airline and the TSA. Just waltzing into an airport with a bag full of homemade electronics is guaranteed to make people nervous and there is no good reason to jerk folks around like that.

  24. lorn says

    EnlightenmentLiberal @ 24.

    I realize that you would never personally do anything to disrupt the swift and efficient screening process. Your objection is rhetorical while still making a point. But there are likely those who don’t have such a circumspect view and are not above making a point, even as it is made at the expense of others.

    To them I say: Congratulations on not “knuckling under to the police state”. I celebrate you exercising your right to be as provocative and flamboyant as possible, but just short of having to pay any price. It is unfortunate that there are several hundred people behind you who are being delayed because the security guy, who also just wants to get home to his family for Christmas, has to painstakingly examine every one of your electronic novelties and visual puns. I’m sure that everyone behind you sees you as a champion of civil rights and heroic defender of creative self expression. Security lines are usually so boring. I’m sure they enjoy a good show. They also completely appreciate that your performance is put on, at considerable expense and effort, in their name and for their own good. They will, of course, have no objections if the flight is delayed and the runways freezes and has to be canceled because of the show. It is a small price to pay for freedom. It’s all good. It must feel great to know that you are by far better human being for selflessly dedicating yourself to defending our right to wear clothing that is purposely selected to be a provocative as possible to security personnel. I fully expect that the people forced to sleep in the airport will sing your praises as they carry you round the terminal on their shoulders. You are a credit to your race and humanity in general. And that, after all, is what is most important here.

  25. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I realize that you would never personally do anything to disrupt the swift and efficient screening process. Your objection is rhetorical while still making a point. But there are likely those who don’t have such a circumspect view and are not above making a point, even as it is made at the expense of others.

    Actually, it’s a huge point of pride to me that I do disrupt the airport screening process. Civil disobedience ftw! It’s great being a straight white cis male adult. Might as well use some of that privilege for good.

    One of my favorite episodes was this: They were pulling people aside at random for extra screening. The extra screening was having your hands swabbed and that run through a chemical analyzer (presumably). I complied without incident, and as soon as my hands were swabbed and the machine was running, I gave them a piece of my mind about the ridiculous – and possibly unconstitutional – security apparatus that they have in place. They told me to go wait in a corner.

    Their manager comes – someone who shouldn’t be a manager, but we’ll get to that. He asked why I wasn’t complying. I responded that I was complying (this time I complied fully), and that they had already swabbed my hands. Apparently the manager was given a different story. He goes over to the two goons at the chemical analyzer station, and I overhear something like “he said the ‘f’ word to us”. He comes back, and he says that it’s against the law to be abusive to a federal employer / officer, and that he could call the police. I love my response, entirely impromptu btw, one of the highlights of my life: “What? I call your bluff. Call the police!”. I was free to go about 10 minutes later. (And yes, I recognize that they could have hassled me far, far more than they did.)

    This guy was on a power trip, and fed me absolute bullshit, and threatened me with cop for something that was entirely legal. He threatened with arrest for saying “fuck you” to airport security personal. That’s precisely the kind of person who shouldn’t have that kind of power.

    And now I have to quote Martin Luther King Jr again. Too many people haven’t taken this lesson to heart – yourself included. From his letter from a Birmingham jail:

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

    In this analogy, you lorn are the white moderate, “who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the negro [civil rights fighter in this analogy] to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

    Although, maybe black moderate or servile black person might be a closer fit in this analogy, considering that you also are at direct harm from the oppressor, but you’re also supporting the oppressor in this case.

  26. Holms says

    #10 sonofrojblake
    I don’t see anything race-related in anything I wrote.

    No, you did however side with Team Racist in condemning him for something that is actually eminently reasonable.

    Conversely: do you understand the difference between an engineering teacher and an English teacher? Because clock boy showed his engineering teacher the device he’d disassembled, and the only reaction he got was “that’s nice”, and the advice not to show any other teachers.

    In which you unquestioningly swallow the idea that unless familiar with electronics, assume it is a bomb… if carried by a brown person. Brought to you by the race and religion baiting alluded to above.

    Well precisely, that was rather my point. He didn’t think it through that far. The knee-jerk “I’d like to be able to ruin any cop who can’t justify pointing his weapon at someone” sentiment is all very well until you run into the reality that cops are people too, the majority of them are NOT bad, and they will quickly react to such behaviour in ways you might not want.

    Oh, it’s a “knee jerk” reaction to seek punishment for cops that point a gun at someone without justification for such. Fucking what mate.

  27. sonofrojblake says

    it’s a huge point of pride to me that I do disrupt the airport screening process

    So. Much. Smug.

    I love my response

    Thanks for that, but I think from the rest of the story most people reading this (and I’d be prepared to bet most of the people witnessing your performance) already had you down as an enthusiastic self-lover.

    you did however side with Team Racist

    And here we run into a common problem – what to do when a racist says or does something right. Knee-jerk disagreeing with every single thing they say or believe is just stupid, but agreeing with ANYTHING they say, on any subject ever, puts you at risk of precisely this sort of disingenuous ad-hominem-by-proxy. “Oh, so you agree with a racist now?” is an underhand tactic at best, and an admission of defeat at worst. What I sided with was Team Evidence. Evidence like the boy’s disciplinary record at school, the fact he was consistently referred to as having “invented” a clock where all he’d done was take one to pieces, his father’s history as a high-profile self-publicist, and the refusal of the family to allow the release of the transcripts of the boy’s post-detainment interviews. It’s sufficient, to me, to give serious side-eye to the conventional narrative. If racists do that too, I can’t help that. It doesn’t reduce the validity of the evidence, though, unless your Lefty Blinkers have been tightened up just a little too far.

    the idea that unless familiar with electronics, assume it is a bomb

    No, I don’t swallow that. What I swallow is how predictable it is that if you show enough people, you’ll sooner or later find someone who will react something like that. Although, as was rightly pointed out, even the English the teacher demonstrably did NOT “assume it is a bomb”. No evacuation, no alarm raised. As I say – the facts of the case don’t fit the narrative the media put on it.

    And yes, using phrases like “I’d bankrupt every fucking cop-nest” shows all the hallmarks of knee-jerking.

  28. says

    sonofrojblake@#25
    @Marcus, 17: “If dogs have rights, cops are certainly violating their rights” – and if dogs have lightsabers, cops would be in trouble. Meanwhile, back in the real world, dogs are property and cops damage and confiscate property all the time. Look up “civil forfeiture” if you want to get angrier than you already are.

    I was posing a dichotomy between the question of whether dogs have rights as agents, or whether they are property. By just jumping on one side of the dichotomy you’re not being intellectually honest; the point is that if you take both sides together you have a situation that offers no way out.

    “If dogs had lightsabers cops would be in trouble” is a rather stupid thing to say. Dogs actually don’t attack cops very often. Cops just shoot them because they can and because it’s easier than trying to … you know, think. Now, if dogs had communications and could talk among dogs and tell other dogs that “human cops shoot our kind alla the time” the others would be like “whuuuuut? why?” and there’d probably be some dogs going “hey, the humans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be!” and maybe some would get super aggro and butt scoot on the carpet more often.

    I actually believe that since dogs have been enslaved genetically, they probably deserve more attention to their rights since they are programmed to be disinclined to stand up for themselves.

    The cats figured this out a long time ago and have been plotting their dire vengeance for years.

    And you conclude by basically “Dear Muslima’ing…” Oh, as if asset forfeiture being worse makes dog-shooting less horrible? What the fuck have you got going on in that empty space between your ears?

  29. says

    PS – if I had Trump money I’d also sponsor anyone who wanted to sue cops for injuries or damage resulting from speed traps. I’d be quite up front about it: “Cops: your revenue source has just become a revenue loss. Stop now or the bleeding gets worse.” And asset forfeiture – yeah… Someone with the kind of lawyers Trump could afford would be able to dismantle that very quickly.

    One way to disarm cops would be to bankrupt municipalities that haven’t reined in their police. Let them sell their sniny guns and have bake sales. I’ll play Schubert’s trio opus 100 on my micro violin of sympathy* while they whine and mewl.

    (* this is a fantasy scenario, which means I can somehow play the violin)

  30. Holms says

    #30
    You are not on Team Evidence when even you admit that there was no reason to assume the thing was a bomb, and in fact the cops knew well that it wasn’t a bomb, but agree with his treatment as a potential bomber all the same. And you’re really giving ‘serious side-eye to the conventional narrative’ when suspicion of muslim-looking people is at an all time high, and treatment of such is at an all time low? This is a clear case of prejudicially motivated treatment of a kid they know had no reason to be treated as such but you’ve decided that there is some nebulous plot going on.

    Maybe look up ‘Occam’s Razor’ and decide which scenario is more likely.

  31. smrnda says

    “it’s a huge point of pride to me that I do disrupt the airport screening process
    So. Much. Smug.
    I love my response
    Thanks for that, but I think from the rest of the story most people reading this (and I’d be prepared to bet most of the people witnessing your performance) already had you down as an enthusiastic self-lover.”

    Yes, heaven forbid someone actually believe that they have rights, and actually protest what are invasive, pointless ‘security’ and ‘surveillance’ conducted by people who are selected more for their enjoyment of power than their competence in detecting real threats Airport security is security theater meant to prepare us to give up our rights and live in a police state. This already happened to black and brown people, and poor people with ‘stop and frisk’ and now airport security is subjecting the middle and upper middle classes to the same treatment. Of course, anybody who protests is just being egotistical, AMIRITE?

    Clearly from the story that prompted the blog post there’s adequate evidence that security personnel are on a power trip. But yet anyone who protests is being self centered and egotistical. That’s an accusation worthy of a Christian fundamentalist.

    On disrespect – police are routinely rude and aggressive towards citizens without cause, yet it’s somehow a crime to be anything less than totally respectful to them? Look up ‘taunting’ – it’s a commmonly used tactic of our police and security thugs. They (because they have more rights than you) get all in your face and aggressive. If you do anything that spoils their bullying, you’re now a criminal, even if you just take a step back after they’ve gotten up in your face.

    Airport security is how they’re acclimating those of us who weren’t subjected to this type of police state to accept it. We escape it on the streets, but not on in the airport.

    Also – I believe the charge of ‘disorderly conduct’ must be abolished, as it’s clearly too subjective to be useful, and usually involves people being punished for the police causing a scene. When the cops don’t get to ruin your life (since cops feel they rule the streets) they site you with ‘disorderly conduct.’ Anything but lying on the ground when they kick you head in can be ‘disorderly conduct.’

  32. Holms says

    It would have been nice if that grand principled stand had actually a chance at achieving something. As it was, it was just grandstanding; hopefully it didn’t cause any delays.

  33. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Holms (and others):
    I sense some dishonesty in that response. If I was taking a similarly ineffectual stance against slavery, cops killing blacks, etc., I suspect I would get a very different answer. Thus, I suspect that you don’t actually agree with me, or care enough, but you’re too much of an intellectual and moral coward to come right out and say that you want to live in a police state, and so you take this dishonest middle ground of not condemning my protest, but simultaneously demeaning it.

    And concerning the inconvenience it might cause – what would you think of the white moderate who said that to Martin Luther King Jr concerning the sit-ins that he organized, the marches that he organized, etc.? Surely those would be very inconvenient to some.

    Coward.

  34. John Morales says

    EnlightenmentLiberal, you accuse others of dishonesty and cowardice based on suspicion.

    Bah.

  35. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To John
    I think I have a little more than a mere suspicion to go on here. I feel pretty justified in my particular claims in this particular case regarding Holms in particular.

  36. sonofrojblake says

    @Marcus Ranum, 31:

    I was posing a dichotomy between the question of whether dogs have rights as agents, or whether they are property

    That’s not a dichotomy. Dogs are property. Fact. We buy and sell them all the time, destroy them at will, EAT them if we’re that way inclined. To even suggest they have “rights” like a person has is just… stupid to the point of being actually baffling. It’s slightly less baffling after reading this, in 32:

    I’d also sponsor anyone who wanted to sue cops for injuries or damage resulting from speed traps

    A speed trap is, like a lottery, a voluntary tax on the stupid. You can avoid any injuries, damage or expense by the simple expedient of driving your car at a legal speed. I’ve been a “victim” of police speed traps three times, and every single time it was my own stupid fault and I had nobody to blame but myself. Blaming the police would be spectacularly childish and irrational. It’s impossible for me to imagine how injuries or damage might result from a speed trap that are not the direct and sole fault of the speeding driver. Do enlighten me, if you can.

    @33: “his treatment as a potential bomber ” – YOU say he was treated as a potential bomber. An alternative interpretation – a simpler one in fact – is that he was treated as a smart-mouthed kid who had made some other kind of provocation. How would you tell the difference? You could look at what he said to the arresting officer, or his teachers, and what they said to him. Oh, no, hang on, you can’t. His family refused to allow the transcripts of his post-detainment interview to be made public. Odd, since if his motives were so pure and the authorities’ so reprehensible, those transcripts would surely support that. It is reasonable to assume the transcripts do NOT support the popular narrative, which is why the family have suppressed them.

    @smrnda: “heaven forbid someone actually believe that they have rights”

    You don’t have a right to air transport if you don’t own the plane. By buying a ticket to use a public plane, you’re implicitly volunteering to undergo the security theatre performance, and there’s no possible way you can claim you don’t know that or agree to it.

    “Airport security is security theater meant to prepare us to give up our rights”

    Again with the rights you don’t have. Security theatre is meant to make you feel like the government are “doing something”. If you want to blame someone, blame the people who make “doing something” necessary. The fact it’s largely pointless is not relevant. They can’t NOT do it, and if you’re honest, you know that.

    in the USA police are routinely rude and aggressive towards citizens”

    Fixed it for you. Police aren’t like that where I live, although I am more than aware that as a non-pub-frequenting, slow-driving middle-aged white man I’m at the bottom of their list of people they’re likely to mess with.

    As for causing inconvenience deliberately, you might like this:
    http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/strikes-supposed-to-be-annoying-say-tube-drivers-2015070999992

  37. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    buying a ticket to use a public plane

    Wait, air travel in the United States is a government service? I totally missed that memo!
    ~snark~

    you’re implicitly volunteering to undergo the security theatre performance, and there’s no possible way you can claim you don’t know that or agree to it.

    This is just a form of “implied consent” doctrine.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implied_consent
    It’s also entirely bullshit. And not only is it actually bullshit, even SCOTUS has said that it’s bullshit.

    Supreme Court of the United States
    Bell v. Burson
    402 U.S. 535 (1971)
    https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/402/535/case.html

    Once licenses are issued, as in petitioner’s case, their continued possession may become essential in the pursuit of a livelihood. Suspension of issued licenses thus involves state action that adjudicates important interests of the licensees. In such cases, the licenses are not to be taken away without that procedural due process required by the Fourteenth Amendment. Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U. S. 337 (1969); Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U. S. 254 (1970). This is but an application of the general proposition that relevant constitutional restraints limit state power to terminate an entitlement whether the entitlement is denominated a “right” or a “privilege.” Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U. S. 398 (1963) (disqualification for unemployment compensation); Slochower v. Board of Education, 350 U. S. 551 (1956) (discharge from public employment); Speiser v. Randall, 357 U. S. 513 (1958) (denial of a tax exemption); Goldberg v. Kelly, supra (withdrawal of welfare benefits). See also Londoner v. Denver, 210 U. S. 373, 210 U. S. 385-386 (1908); Goldsmith v. Board of Tax Appeals, 270 U. S. 117 (1926); Opp Cotton Mills v. Administrator, 312 U. S. 126 (1941).

    The idea that the government may arbitrarily grant privileges to some and not to others, without due process, is unconstitutional. It’s anathema to the American form of government, and freedom and liberty in general. Submitting to arbitrary government authority is to submit to tyranny and to become a slave.

    The very idea of “implied consent” doctrine is complete and utter bullcrap. In particular, it’s a bullcrap notion that warning someone beforehand that their rights will be violated will justify the rights violation. That’s like saying that warning someone beforehand that they’re going to rape them justifies the rape. It’s simply deranged.

    Note very clearly the position that I am taking. It is constitutional for the government to require a driver’s license. It is constitutional for the government to require submitting to a blood-alcohol test in certain specified situations. In all of these cases, due process applies, and the courts has ruled that these particular infringements on individual liberty are outweighed by the benefits of safety to the public and the benefits of having a usable public road system to the public. That is fundamentally and radically different from the servile notion that your rights can be arbitrarily granted and denied by the government without substantive cause or without due process.

  38. sonofrojblake says

    your rights can be arbitrarily granted and denied by the government without substantive cause or without due process

    But what right of yours is being arbitrarily denied by the government? You retain the right to decline to be searched. Obviously that will preclude you travelling on the aircraft, but that’s not a right you have.

    Leaving that aside, I’m curious: do you agree that the government MUST be seen to be doing something to reduce people’s fears of terrorist attack on aircraft?

    And if you do – what would you have them do that does not involve searching people?

  39. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @sonofrojblake

    But what right of yours is being arbitrarily denied by the government? You retain the right to decline to be searched. Obviously that will preclude you travelling on the aircraft, but that’s not a right you have.

    You’re entire mode of reasoning is simply wrong-headed. That’s not how the constitution works. Even SCOTUS says as much.

    I don’t have a right to decide not to be searched in exchange for sacrificing my ability to travel on airplanes. Rather, I have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when I travel on airplanes. The government may not impose unreasonable searches and seizures as a requirement of traveling by airplane. Adding “but you can choose to not be searched by not flying on the airplane” is basically completely irrelevant to the whole analysis. The onus is on the government to demonstrate many things: that these searches will further a compelling public good, that there is no less-invasive way of accomplishing the same public good, that the compelling public good outweighs the interests of privacy of the people, and so forth.

    And if you do – what would you have them do that does not involve searching people?

    Just as as start – how about not searching people, and not living in a police state? While I’m conflicted concerning some forms of air travel screenings, I foam at the mouth concerning roadside sobriety checkpoints. It frustrates me so much that such things have been declared legal by SCOTUS when they are so obviously unconstitutional by any sort of reasonable jurisprudence.

    I would note, even when SCOTUS declared that roadside sobriety checkpoints are legal, they did not do so on your bullshit legal reasoning. They didn’t say “well, you can choose not to drive”. No, they started with the proper assumption that driving a car on a public road is a fundamental right, and then they started doing interest-balancing and rights-balancing, and they arrived at the particular conclusion that they did. While I detest some of the particular reasoning, balancing, and conclusions, at least SCOTUS was approaching the issue from something that resembles the correct approach. Whereas, you have already given into tyranny with your extremely wrong-headed thinking.

  40. sonofrojblake says

    Rather, I have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when I travel on airplanes.

    And you have that freedom. Want to exercise it? Buy a plane. You have that right too. Nobody is stopping you (or at least, no more so than they’re stopping you buying and running a car).

    Want to get on the same plane as me and a whole bunch of other members of the public who don’t know you and have no reason to trust you? Get in line for the frisk.

    how about not searching people?

    That’s your suggestion for airport security, post 9/11? Post 1948, come to that? It’s difficult to even dignify that with a response. How about not closing (let alone locking) your door when you leave the house? You hate the police – even apparently the very concept of policing – so much that your “solution” to the problem of personal security is to close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears and whistle and hope nothing bad happens. Not for the first time, I’m really, REALLY glad people like you have no effect on public policy.

  41. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    even apparently the very concept of policing

    Not sure you how got that. I am a big fan of persons being paid by the government to find people breaking the law, catch them, bring them before court, imprison them after conviction. I’m a big fan of the same people to be used to prevent minor rebellions, such as what we saw at the Bundy ranch. If the government didn’t pay these people, these people would still exist, but just paid for by private persons, like the Pinkertons. It was truly scary – at their height, there were more heavily armed Pinkterons than the entire military forces of the United States. It was like straight out of a future dystopic nightmare like Shadowrun or any other rule by corporations.

    It’s incredibly wrong to say I don’t want police, or “less police” (in a certain meaning). I do want drastically less police power. I do want drastically less discretion which allows for abuse and fascism.

    Still, you have no idea what you’re talking about, legally speaking, concerning the US constitution, according to any sort of reasonable jurisprudence that is likely to happen in real courts (especially on appeal to the federal courts). The following is grossly antithetical to the American way of liberty:

    And you have that freedom. Want to exercise it? Buy a plane. You have that right too. Nobody is stopping you (or at least, no more so than they’re stopping you buying and running a car).

    It’s cowardly, short-sighted, foolhardy, and drastically inconsistent. In short: What good are rights, like the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, when those rights never apply? Or when those rights can be voided at the whim of the current government. None at all.

    And further, you are the one who is giving into your irrational fear to create a police state to keep you safe, while being incredibly blind and naive concerning the very real possibility of that being turned against you. All you need to do is look at the Trump supporters and the recent history of this country. Fascism is alive and well, and seemingly growing. Or look at what is happening in many small towns around the country, such as Ferguson, which at its height was functionally comparable to a literal slave plantation.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-robinson/the-shocking-finding-from-the-doj-ferguson_b_6858388.html

    In short, you are a naive, cowardly fool.

    You’re like one of the goons in Star Wars episode 1:
    So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause – Padme
    Tyranny and fascism come from fuckers like you. It’s the same every time. Ex: Nazi Germany. You are part of the problem.

  42. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I wanted to expound on this one point:

    And you have that freedom. Want to exercise it? Buy a plane. You have that right too. Nobody is stopping you (or at least, no more so than they’re stopping you buying and running a car).

    This is straight out of the libertarian playbook. With this kind of reasoning, the conclusion is that only the rich have rights, because only the rich can pay for those rights. It’s grossly offensive, to the poor, and on principle. You’re taking a shit on the poor and disenfranchised. It sounds almost like the standard libertarian motto: “I got mine; fuck you”.

  43. sonofrojblake says

    one of the goons in Star Wars episode 1: “So this is how liberty dies”

    Whatever else may be said about me, at least I can count to three.

  44. sonofrojblake says

    What good are rights, like the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, when those rights never apply?

    Those rights do apply, exactly as you’ve stated them, practically everywhere any normal law abiding person goes. They apply when you’re in your house, when you leave your house, when you drive your car to the airport. They apply as you walk through the airport and board your plane. Oh, you don’t have a plane? You want to get on the plane I’m travelling in, with my family? Good news! You’re secure against unreasonable searches there, too – because it’s perfectly reasonable to search you (and me). You disagree, obviously, but equally obviously, you’re in the tiny minority who are safely ignored. If you’re getting on a plane with me, I want you searched first. Don’t blame me – blame the people who have been showing how easy and productive it is to hijack or put bombs on planes since 1948.

    There are other obvious exceptions. For instance, when you’re jailed (you live in the US, right? There’s therefore a pretty good chance either you or one of your family are in prison right now, have been there or will be there at some point) you lose some of your rights, and that’s perfectly reasonable. It’s only the ridiculously naive who’d think their right to decline to be searched is as inalienable and universal as, say, their right to life.

    And no, it’s not only the rich who have rights. It’s just that because you’re “poor” (i.e. not a plane owner) your rights come into conflict with mine. I have a right to travel safely on the plane we all bought tickets to use. I don’t know you, don’t trust you, and don’t want to get on a plane with you unless I’m reasonably satisfied you’re not tooled up with something you might attack me or another passenger or crew member with. You say you don’t like the TSA poking through your bag, but do you want ME to search you? Thought not. Best for everyone if we contract out the business of making sure everyone’s safe to some impartial third party. Otherwise there’s just going to be a fight at the gate, and nobody needs that.

    And, finally, Godwin is satisfied, and you lost.

  45. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Quoting Lawrence Krauss
    http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/thinking-rationally-about-terror

    Hermann Göring, interviewed during the Nuremberg Trials, said, “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” We need to be vigilant against those who seek to manipulate us—whoever they are.

    Your seeming position is that your safety always trumps my rights to be free from searches and seizures. I don’t know if that’s your actual position, but I honestly believe at this point that it’s a fairly accurate representation of what you have said thus far in this thread.

    The only purpose of a right against unreasonable search and seizure is to elevate it in importance and consideration to be more important than some amount of safety. If you always elevate safety concerns above rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, then you have in effect abolished the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. In effect, you’re taking a shit on the entire fourth amendment. And as I’ve extensively argued here, you’re just setting up the government for fascism and tyranny.

    If you want to be a reasonable person, you’re going to have to look at the numbers, and you’re going to have to start coming to terms with what are reasonable risks and what are not reasonable risks. Lawrence Krauss in the article (link above, this post) speaks of the same thing, but in more detail.

    Rather, it seems that, in advance, without knowing the numbers for risks of airline travel with and without certain forms of searches, you have decided that safety trumps the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Not only are you taking a shit on the fourth amendment, you’re taking a shit on the entire American way of government, and again, you’re creating a government ripe for tyranny and fascism, exactly what the Republicans are trying to do right now.

  46. sonofrojblake says

    Your seeming position is that your safety always trumps my rights to be free from searches and seizures

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

    My safety trumps your rights (and, incidentally, YOUR safety trumps MY rights) only in the very, very limited circumstance where one of us chooses of our own free will to fly on a commercial airliner. And you know that. As far as I know, no other form of transport requires this check – not your car, not the bus, not the train, not your own plane. Similarly, very, very few places you might choose to visit (and NONE that you are compelled to visit) require you to submit to a search.

    you have decided that safety trumps the right against unreasonable searches and seizures

    Nope. I merely disagree with you on what counts as “reasonable”. To pass through an airport, I remove my jacket and put my hand luggage through a scanner. I walk through an archway, collect my jacket and bag, and move on. If to you this seems “unreasonable”, I have to wonder what it is you’re hiding, and you only make me more suspicious of your motives in trying to avoid being searched.

    you’re taking a shit on the entire American way of government

    The American way of government (which includes the execution of minors and the mentally ill, guaranteed access to concealable firearms for all and no provision of healthcare to the poor) strikes me as something that, if I were to take a shit on it, would end up smelling better.

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