Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Screaming of the Meemies

The Screaming of the Meemies
© 2006 Ross Williams

People just can't get over this. Oooo, our constitutional rights are being imperiled as never before!

Yes, our government lines you up like brainless sheep at the airport to shoelessly magnetometerize you, and x-ray and rifle your belongings without a warrant on the premise that because you want to fly from Tulsa to Phoenix you are a terrorist. But that is acceptable to the vast majority of Americans.

Our government stops hundreds of drivers at a time to sniff breath and check straps without a warrant on the premise that by virtue of driving from home to the store you are a drunk intent on killing someone else, or a brainless dweeb[1] intent on injuring yourself in your inevitable, microscopically unlikely accident. But that is also acceptable to the vast majority of Americans.

Our government wants to eradicate the scourge of illegal drugs so badly that they have started to track anyone who has enough sniffles that they want to use the only effective over-the-counter decongestant – which is no longer over-the-counter. It is behind the counter, with the prescription medications. The premise behind this is that because you want to buy pseudoephedrine you are making methamphetamine out of it. Of the ten or a dozen necessary ingredients in the recipe for meth, there's only two that have a non-industrial use – one is an agricultural fertilizer, and one is an OTC decongestant. The rest are raw chemicals that are fairly difficult to obtain, can only be gotten from theft or purchase from a very limited number of suppliers[2], and controlling and tracking the distribution of these raw chemicals would be trivially easy. So therefore, the government tracks the only consumer-use product in the recipe, which requires hundreds of thousands of individual retailers to keep record of the tens of millions of Americans who purchase the bubble-packed 24-pill box of Sudafed®.[3] And even this seems to be acceptable to the vast majority of Americans.

What isn't acceptable to the wet-panty crowd is that this same government will listen in on phone calls a few hundred Americans make to known terrorists. How evil and unconstitutional can you get???

But wait! There's more!!

We now get word that the Customs folks will – I can barely type the words, the computer screen is just too squiggly from the tears welling up in my eyes – <snfff!> ... US Customs agents will open your mail if you get letters or packages from parts of the world known to be strongholds of terrorist activity.[4] If you get a letter from the hill country of the Philippines, or a package from the mountains of "tribe-controlled Pakistan", a parcel from the Syrian border-area of Iraq, or a carton from Paris France, you'll get a note from a Customs agent saying that your mail was inspected by US Customs and resealed.

Secret? no. They'll tell you about it. They'll attach a label to your mail: "Opened, inspected and resealed by US Customs", or words to that effect. They're looking for bombs and anthrax spores. Remember anthrax? Our paranoiac X-Files fans still have their cache of cipro in a hermetically sealed medicine chest in the infinitesimal event that they are the one American to be targeted for an anthrax letter.

US Customs may even possibly be looking for messages such as "the infidel raven flies at midnight", or "Ali Baba's forty thieves are in Omar's tent", or even "the Sheik of Araby is waiting by the caravan under the new moon".

But this intrusion is being viewed as inappropriate, "just another example" of how the Bush Administration has declared open warfare on American Civil Rights.

Wah, wah, wah.

The same people declaring that the Bush Administration hasn't done enough to inspect items coming into this country through our seaports are complaining because they have been inspecting incoming mail.

People have their checked luggage warrantlessly rifled by TSA weenies when flying from Tulsa to Phoenix and do not complain about the broken lock, the leaking shampoo in the still-open toiletries case, the wadded papers and the rumpled and torn clothing jammed haphazardly back because they consider the whole thing "necessary". I've actually heard people thank the vandals for slapping a sticker on their suitcase, "Your belongings courteously rifled, pillaged and ransacked by trained barbary apes of the TSA". These same people who have the sheep-like temerity to look and act relieved that their belongings were groped by government-employed high school graduates somewhere between Tulsa and Phoenix are now outraged that a package or letter addressed to them from Kandahar or Fallujah has been opened by US Customs.

I've been desperately trying to divine some correlation between what the perpetually diaper-rashed find acceptable in the way of current civil rights violations and what they find unacceptable. Here they are:

Being warrantlessly stopped on the road, and warrantlessly sniffed for beer and seatbelts: acceptable.

Being warrantlessly tracked and traced for purchasing over-the-counter decongestants: acceptable.

Being warrantlessly inspected before entering a courthouse, school or federal building: acceptable.

Being warrantlessly inspected and groped and sometimes stripped before boarding a flight: acceptable.

Having carry-on luggage warrantlessly x-rayed and sometimes opened and rifled: acceptable.

Having checked luggage warrantlessly x-rayed and sometimes opened and rifled: acceptable.

Having phone calls to or from known terrorists warrantlessly listened to: UNacceptable.

Having mail from terror-besotted parts of the world opened: UNacceptable.

What I've come up with, after I put these all together, is that the acceptable violations of our 4th Amendment "secure in our persons" rights differ from the unacceptable violations in that the acceptable violations deal, in one way or another, with the person as a person, while the unacceptable violations deal with the person as an impersonal number or abstract commodity.

Millions of Americans will line up, happily, to be physically searched, their bodies or their possessions, in any number of ways – on the roadways, at the doors to courthouses, at drugstores, at the airport. But they will whine and whimper and call foul when something that is not directly attached to them – their mail or their phone call – is inspected.

We live in an increasingly impersonal world; we are known by dozens or hundreds of account numbers, ID numbers, drivers license numbers, telephone numbers, addresses... when someone finally takes enough interest in us as a person to personally search and grope us or our belongings, we seem to welcome the contact. The anti-constitutional inspections we object to are the ones which continue to depersonalize us.

"The government thinks enough of me to violate my rights in person, oh how touching...".

"Well, I never! If they can't open my mail in front of me, they can't open my mail at all!"

Have we become that pathetic? Are we that desperate for interpersonal contact that we'll accept violations of our rights – and rationalize them endlessly – in order to get it?

Are there that many of us who need so badly to get laid?

[1] hey, the government isn't always wrong
[2] ditto the fertilizer, by the way
[3] The most costly and difficult means of accomplishing any given task is the one the government chooses... why is this not surprising?
[4] http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/01/09/terrorism.mail.reut/index.html


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