Saturday, June 22, 2002

I HATE NORMAN MINETA: Blogging will probably not happen for about a week, as my family makes a 7,000 mile round-trip house-hunting expedition. We will, of course, do this trip by airplane, which leads me to the subject of this post: I hate Norman Mineta. My hatred is especially intense since I just returned from a 4,000 mile business trip, consisting of four-legs, before each of which I was searched. My trip began badly when I tried to check-in and the nice airline lady said I couldn't, and hollered for another employee to call an "LEO." Innocently, I asked, "What's an LEO?" "A law enforcement officer," she replied. "Oh." A nice LEO arrived and explained that my name showed up on a "no fly list" -- that is, a list of persons deemed too dangerous or ill-mannered to be allowed onto an airplane -- and he was sure it was all a mistake, but could I please give him my driver's license anyway so he could make sure. Innocent though I was, I found it unnerving that there could be, somewhere out there, another "Justin Adams" who had done something so heinous -- murder, rape, or smoking in a public place -- that he could not be trusted to travel by airplane. But my fears were quickly allayed by Mr. LEO, who confirmed that I wasn't the "Justin Adams" on the list. The nice airline employee then checked me in, but chuckled, "Of course you'll have to be searched before getting on the plane on both legs of your trip." "Of course. Ha, ha," I replied. She did not lie. The airline computer system had printed a large "S" -- presumably for "search" or "security" -- on each boarding pass, which the airline employee helpfully highlighted in red, so that the goons would not miss me. On each leg of my trip, coming and going, before getting on the airplane, a stranger rifled through my bag, ran a scanner up and down my body, made me flip my belt buckle over, and made me take my shoes off. This last search was actually a small mercy, since having one's shoes searched is a lesser indignity than having to search a stranger's smelly, sweaty shoes; such is the grim satisfaction of the utterly helpless. Some screeners spoke English well, some did not. Some treated me respectfully, some did not. Regardless, I pretended they did not exist. If specifically addressed, I responded, but otherwise, I endured their deprivation of my liberty in silence. Yes, this was childish. But you see, Norman Mineta won't return my angry telephone calls, and never replies to my vicious letters, so I needed a target for my hostility and airport screeners were the nearest target. Not that I expressed my hostility bravely. In fact, I'll stipulate that giving hapless security screeners the silent treatment is feeble and cowardly. But if I did anything worse than ignore them, they might really put me on that no-fly list, and then where would I be? I had to take the trip; I had to use an airplane; I had to let them search me and my things for no reason whatsoever. But I didn't have to be friendly; I had control over that. If they chose to become instruments of a mindless, faceless bureaucracy and harass and humiliate their fellow citizens for no good reason, I would treat them as nothing more than cogs in the machine. "But why the hostility?" you may ask. It's not the mere indignity of the searches that angers me. It's their pointlessness. We don't prohibit searches and seizures, just unreasonable ones -- and random searches of old men and women, cripples, the obviously mentally retarded, and little children simply aren't reasonable. (Maybe they are legally reasonable; I haven't thought about that; but as a matter of public policy and commonsense, they're not.) Searching me -- white male, married with children -- isn't very reasonable either, but at least the government could, with some absurd stretching, fit me in the profile of a terrorist (the profile being defined as able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 35). And if that's what happened, if I was actually being profiled (even as absurd a profile as that would be), I wouldn't mind being searched so much because I would know that the government was exercising some restraint. But everytime I see some meathead make an old lady in a walker take her shoes off, I know the government isn't restraining itself at all. Perversely, it is acting without any restraint whatsoever in choosing the targets of searches to avoid profiling. That is, to avoid the narrow equal protection problem of singling out a few people for searches based solely on bad reasons -- ethnicity or nationality -- the government is creating a huge fourth amendment problem by singling out many people for searches based on no reason at all. And for that, I blame and loathe Norman Mineta.

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