Sun Ra - Column for 8/14

In profile

So, once again the Brits have prevented a terrorist strike using - get this - good old-fashioned policework. Meanwhile, here in America, the pants-wetters (aka "Republicans"), well, they wet themselves, and forced travelers into an orgy of filling wastebaskets with aftershave, Coca-Cola, and toothpaste.

It startles me that the general perception is that Republicans are better at dealing with the problem of terrorism. They're terrible at it. Where's Osama bin Laden? I mean, this is the guy whose organization actually attacked us, you know. And how about that invasion of Iraq? Way to keep Americans safe, you retards!

Actually, it doesn't surprise me that the perception is what it is - because the Republicans control the media, what with their pet teevee station and their massive noise box radio and publishing arms and their ultimate ownership of basically all other mass media. It just startles me that Americans continue to believe it, all evidence to the contrary.

And now the corrupt and their pet stupid (aka "Republicans") are attempting to spin this latest plot as yet another reason their Leader should be above the law. That he should be able to wiretap anyone at any time without consulting with anybody else. A conclusion which is, on the face of it, stupid.

The Brits nabbed these wanna-bes while playing entirely within the law. They had - get this - warrants for all the wiretapping they did. Now, I'm not saying that there aren't thuggish goons in UK law enforcement - witness Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian who was ruthlessly executed for no damn reason beyond paranoia, and for whom no inquiry or prosecution over the actions of the law enforcement personnel is going forward. No, it's Orwellian over there, too.

But anyway. Good for the people involved in catching these would-be murderers. Well done. Thanks to your hard work and intelligence, more people will live to see their friends and relatives again. I salute you.

However, my purpose is not to point out the dissimilarities between a rational, police-based policy towards terrorism and an irrational, military-based policy towards terrorism. No, my purpose is instead to confess my own lack of ideological purity when it comes to airline security.

Now, 9-11 happened because no one realized that hijackers and suicide bombers might cross-pollinate. That's it. The terrorists involved were not wildly smart or daring or clever or prepared or anything. All they had on their side was the generally accepted belief that hijackers took the plane somewhere and that it was best to cooperate with them.

Most of the security measure put in place since then have been feel-good measures that are expensive and awkward and not particularly effective. Any cost-benefit analysis would reveal most of the airline security to be overblown for all but near-infinite values of security.

Yet, obviously, there are bad people out there who would like to kill people by blowing up their planes. And just as obviously, we need to stop them. So how?

Well, frankly, I tend to come down on the side of "look to the experts". And the experts in not having planes blown up are El Al. And the major weapon they use - aside from the pressurized compartment that will detonate bombs in luggage and the sniffing dogs and the steel cockpit doors and the undercover security - is profiling.

There's some debate in the tents of liberals these days about profiling. Not racial profiling - total profiling, including race. And the general consensus is that profiling is not useful, because of course once the terrorists know who will be suspect, they will choose terrorists from non-suspect groups. So just treat everyone with equal suspicion.

This is, I think, poppycock. Al Quaeda will not be able to find a seventy year-old woman named Thurber to hijack a plane, nor would she be able to if she could. I'm sorry, but young Arabic men are more suspicious. Because they comprise the largest part of the pool of would-be terrorists.

But I also recoil from the ham-handed and stupid way that such profiling would likely be done in America. On El Al, everyone gets questioned. Everyone. Sometimes several times. And backgrounds are checked. They build up a total profile of the individual, so if it's a swarthy Arabic individual who also happens to be a professor of chemistry in Vienna, then he's treated as a professor of chemistry in Vienna, and not as a no-background furtive individual the way that American security would treat him.

But, in the end, I'm sorry, but profiling does work. (Note: not that it was applicable in the recent business in Britain.) And it works better than a lot of the cack-handed shoes-off business that the government has implemented here. Would be bombers can and do give themselves away. And it would be foolish to forego that just so we can feel good that a black woman from Tulsa gets patted down while a black man from Somalia doesn't, since that was decided by random chance.

- Sun Ra

Columns by Sun Ra