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'Suspected terrorist' removed from flight
July 19, 2003 5:13 AM   Subscribe

EFF co-founder John Gilmore was prevented from flying because he was wearing a button deemed to be in "poor taste" and refused to take it off. Seems he won't be flying anywhere for a while, unless he wins his court case. [Source: Boing Boing]
posted by cbrody (140 comments total)

 
Hooray for Tony Blair.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:27 AM on July 19, 2003


Gilmore is a jerk. He thinks that he's "strengthening" democracy, or freedom, or something, but in fact he's just a standard "causing trouble for trouble's sake" kind of activist. Sheesh.
posted by davidmsc at 5:34 AM on July 19, 2003


He does come across as a bit of a jerk, although I sympathise with most of his causes. It seems pretty selfish to delay 300 other passengers over a seemingly minor matter of "free speech", but I do admire his principled stand.

I've always accepted that travelling across borders, particularly into the US, requires the abandonment of some personal rights (e.g. privacy, free speech) in exchange for the freedom of being able to go pretty much wherever -- and whenever -- I want.
posted by cbrody at 5:54 AM on July 19, 2003


oh come on - he was just wearing a badge (i think "button" be american for "badge" - the difference crops up in the article too). i'm getting on a plane to the states this evening and i'm starting to wonder exactly what reading material i can take with me. presumably the "terrorist" t shirt i posted a link to the other day can't be worn. i guess lessing's "the good terrorist" is ok, cos it looks like a real book, but woodcock's "anarchism" (a history of the movement) probably wouldn't be that good because it has "anarchism" in beg red letters on the cover (i'm not casting round desperately for examples here, just looking at the booskshelf by my side as i type).

and i hope i don't get stopped and questioned - my temper is pretty short if i think people are being stupid. it's pretty clear from the article that gilmore kept his cool.

"minor matter of free speech". yay.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:06 AM on July 19, 2003


It's just a good thing they didn't see his I *heart* Osama boxers he had on.
posted by Wingy at 6:13 AM on July 19, 2003


I disagree with davidmsc, he's not just "causing trouble for trouble' sake" . Granted he surely looks like and acts like a troublemaker, but is he a real trouble ? Did he crash a plane into a bulding or something ? Did he do any act of technical sabotage ? Not that I know. He was just wearing a pin that made some pilot and/or some flight attendand nervous, also showing how gullible some people is when they believe one terrorist will show his/her intention by wearing a a pin or a t-shirt with "terrorist" written on it.

The pilot may have the power to ground anybody that makes him uncomfortable, but one shouldn't live in the illusion that this is going to make the plane any more sure then it was before. Neither should one live in the illusion then asking somebody to show an ID is going to make any difference at all. All the passengers and all the cargo should be screened down to a kind of x-ray level to see if there's anything dangerous on them or in the cargo and that must be done until the plane takes off ; that's an enormous technical challenge, but it's a technical one that doesn't involve letting anybody else know if you like or dislike certain political ideas or even if you like or dislike terrorist acts.
posted by elpapacito at 6:14 AM on July 19, 2003


I never thought I would say this, but I gotta go with the airline on this one. A button reading "Suspected Terrorist" does have the potential to upset other passengers, possibly to the point of becoming a saftey issue. Airlines have little tolerance for disruptive passengers, whether due to a political button or alcohol use.

Many people are scared, paranoid and still seeing terrorists under their beds-- as silly as I think this permanent climate of fear is, the fact remains that it is quite real and in this case it is the perception of the other passengers that is relevant rather than Gilmore's rights.

I see this in a "shouting fire in a crowded theatre" kind of way. I tend to agree with most of what Gilmore says but in this case he behaved like a self-righteous prig by delaying 300 other people so he could get a little more attention by standing on what is, at best, a questionable principle.
posted by cedar at 6:34 AM on July 19, 2003


Shouting 'potential fire' in a crowded theatre.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:45 AM on July 19, 2003


no cedar, it'd be like wearing a "Suspected Arsonist" button to the theatre.

or, what space coyote said.
posted by graventy at 6:47 AM on July 19, 2003


from Vance's Emphyrio:
"Freedom, privileges, options must constantly be exercised, even at the risk of inconvenience. Otherwise they fall into desuetude and become unfashionable, unorthodox -- finally irregulationary. Sometimes the person who insists upon his prerogatives seems shrill and contentious -- but actually he performs a service for all. Freedom naturally should never become license; but regulation should never become restriction."
posted by dorian at 6:51 AM on July 19, 2003


Take it from someone who knows: He was asking for trouble and he got it.
Ho-hum... ;-P
posted by mischief at 6:53 AM on July 19, 2003


Suddenly, I'm tempted to start shouting at random intervals next time I'm in a theatre, "No fire!" and, "All clear!"

I also desperately need a red T-shirt that says, "Failed Security Check!" in big block letters on the front and back for the next time I fly.
posted by SpaceBass at 6:56 AM on July 19, 2003


also:
"Annie later told me that 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(!). Now that would be really secure."

heh.
posted by dorian at 7:12 AM on July 19, 2003


Gilmore may be an ass, but he's got a point, and it's a correct one. What I find most disturbing is that the individuals involved can't even see the problem.

The whole attitude these people are displaying is indicative of the findings of the Milgram Experiment.
posted by Cerebus at 7:22 AM on July 19, 2003


You know, those buttons have pointy pinbacks. He could really hurt someone with that button.

Gilmore no doubt knew he was going to provoke some kind of reaction with that button--though he probably didn't expect something so extreme. You could say he's a jerk, but the captain is clearly the bigger jerk.
posted by adamrice at 7:22 AM on July 19, 2003


I'm sure that Gilmore will have all the time in the world to wear his silly badge next time he travels to London -- by boat.
posted by riviera at 7:43 AM on July 19, 2003


Annie later told me that 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(!). Now that would be really secure.


Tee-Hee!
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:45 AM on July 19, 2003


(And as for the captain being a 'bigger jerk', I refer you to Eddie Izzard: 'Chocolate biscuits! Perks of the trade!')
posted by riviera at 7:46 AM on July 19, 2003


Many people are scared, paranoid and still seeing terrorists under their beds-- as silly as I think this permanent climate of fear is, the fact remains that it is quite real and in this case it is the perception of the other passengers that is relevant rather than Gilmore's rights.

But none of the passengers were objecting.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:49 AM on July 19, 2003


cbrody:
It seems pretty selfish to delay 300 other passengers over a seemingly minor matter of "free speech"

yes, it was selfish of the captain.

And cedar, somehow the passengers around Gilmore, once the attendant started the fuss, didn't think he was a problem.
posted by notsnot at 7:54 AM on July 19, 2003


But none of the passengers were objecting.

Shhh. Logic just upsets them. Why do you hate freedom so much?

Hang Gilmore!
posted by Cerebus at 7:54 AM on July 19, 2003


A button reading "Suspected Terrorist" does have the potential to upset other passengers

Yeah, and a parent bringing a kid on a plane has the potential (far more likely, at at that) to upset other passengers, too. The airlines, and the populace in general, should get a fucking grip. I seriously doubt there have been any terrorists that, before they did their "terrible misdeed", were wearing pins, buttons, t-shirts, or banners revealing themselves beforehand.

Do angsty teenagers have to remove their Che t-shirts now, too?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2003


I'm actually more bothered by lax, underfunded and sometimes unprofessional airport security than by annoying, stupid buttons worn by annoying, arrogant passengers. but probably it's just me
posted by matteo at 8:26 AM on July 19, 2003


Gilmore is a jerk but I am glad someone is. As someone who flies 3 or 4 times a week the attitude of this captain and the BA rep scare me.

"She said that passengers and crew are nervous about terrorism and that mentioning it bothers them, and that is grounds to exclude me."

It is frightening to think that while I am on a plane my life could be in the hands of a captain displaying poor judgment and prone to over reaction.
posted by arse_hat at 8:28 AM on July 19, 2003


Not saying they were right but the airline should've taken the "your pin is a potential deadly weapon" stance to justify confiscating it. I think a judge would be more likely to buy that reasoning than "it made the captain nervous".

A couple months after 9/11, there was a big controversy up here in Canada when an airline confiscated people's Remembrance Day poppies at the check-in gate (at least for the first couple hours of the day until cooler heads prevailed) and I have a friend whose grandmother had her hairpin taken (ie. thrown in a box, never to be returned) on that major terrorist route of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada to Calgary, Alberta, Canada (a 50 minute flight across the bald Canadian prairies for those who don't know.).

I thought that people still aren't supposed to take any type of sharp objects on planes with them (nail clippers, razors, safety pins, etc.)
posted by Jaybo at 8:37 AM on July 19, 2003


I also desperately need a red T-shirt that says, "Failed Security Check!" in big block letters on the front and back for the next time I fly.

By "the next time I fly" I presume you mean the next time you go to the airport and hold up the security screening for a flight that, in the end, you won't be permitted to get on.

I mean, presumably the purpose of flying is to fly somewhere; I don't know why you'd wear a shirt that would virtually guarantee that you're not going where you intended to go.
posted by kindall at 8:52 AM on July 19, 2003


you know, I try to believe in democracy, and then a story like this reminds me that 90% of the population are just retarded. It's mind-bogglingly stupid that anyone would think a potential terrorist would announce himself with a small lapel pin. I mean it's silly enough that anyone would think driving planes into buildings is a primary threat (even outside of statistic unlikelihood) given that passengers would fight to the death to stop a hijacker post 9-11. But that people feel safer cleansing the vehicle of buttons is just inane.
posted by mdn at 9:07 AM on July 19, 2003


Last summer I flew from Tampa to Austin. As I went through airport security (things were more intense then) I had my shoes off and was being wanded. My bags had gone through X-ray and were sitting on the floor behind me. At some point, surrounded by security people, I turned to discover someone lifting my bags to take them away. I asked the guy what the fuck he was doing with my bags. He dropped them, told me I had an attitude problem, and walked away.

The security people did nothing, except the one who got in my face to say "I realize you may be upset by what just happened, but there are women and children around and you should watch your language." Meanwhile the guy who'd tried to take my bags was decidedly NOT looking around for his "real" bags. Nor did the security people even look twice at him.

I guess my point is that airport security has its priorities a bit fucked up. Good for Gilmore.
posted by divrsional at 9:08 AM on July 19, 2003


I mean, presumably the purpose of flying is to fly somewhere; I don't know why you'd wear a shirt that would virtually guarantee that you're not going where you intended to go.

Because people often confuse being childish with making a political stand.

This was a stupid decision, yes. However, the airline is a private carrier. They have the right to make as many stupid decisions as they want about who they do or don't let on the planes they own. Everyone's a jerk in this situation: Gilmour's a childish jerk -- I never thought I'd find myself saying that -- for trying to make a questionable point that way, and the air staff are jerks for over-reacting to a stupid little button.
posted by jammer at 9:12 AM on July 19, 2003


If you are going to take tweezers, why aren't you taking a button. If hit in the right place, a 1" sharp pointy object could kill someone. (Stop looking at me like that.)

But really, if it had been a t-shirt instead of a button... it is a free speech issue. But, if you're going to London, doesn't the UK laws apply instead of US laws? For example, I know in France you can't say the word "Nazi", but in the US you can. Not sure about UK laws, but perhaps there are restrictions on this kind of thing.
posted by benjh at 9:22 AM on July 19, 2003


My own take on this is that:

A. Yeah, he was being kind of a jerk, but it's not just for the sake of being a jerk. He's trying to make a (valid) point.

B. I think he's wrong to cause the other 300 passengers on the BA flight to be late just to back up his own political beliefs. He should have chosen a forum that would inconvenience fewer people.

C. It just shows how ridiculous the whole security apparatus in airports is -- he got all the way onto the plane before anyone noticed his "terrorist" lapel pin. If he'd been a real terrorist, it would have been over and done.
posted by mrmanley at 9:22 AM on July 19, 2003


As the above comments have pointed out, this is case #3567 in the ongoing demonstration that airlines don't know the difference between making flights safer and eliminating uncomfortable reminders of potential danger. The fact that a member of flight crew could think that Gilmore's button was put on him by authorities is, well, chilling itself.

As for his jerkishness, it's precisely that Gilmore comes off as a jerk that his gesture is meaningful, even necessary. The closing-off of our society to dissent (or just any raising of an "uncomfortable" position) happens precisely this way: "Why make a fuss? I don't want to bother anyone. And if I make the captain/that cop/the mall security guard uncomfortable, he'll just throw my ass out of here or turn the plane around. I should worry more about his comfort level than my own rights."

Sometimes it takes a jerky (but legal! but legitimate!) action to push back against the unconscious handing-over of power to authority. Consumed only with the idea of getting to our destinations on time, we forfeit things that we shouldn't forfeit -- because once they are gone, they're hard to get back.

That includes, that especially, especially includes, the right to wear a few words on your lapel which sardonically express your political opinion.

(On preview, mrmanley, the polite part of me sympathizes, but I maintain that it's precisely the deferral to group convenience that puts the greatest pressure on dissenters. It's bad luck for the passengers, but it's the Captain's fault in the end -- he chose to illegitimately exercise power, to no good purpose.)
posted by BT at 9:27 AM on July 19, 2003


had he chosen a more "convenient" forum, would anyone have listened to what he had to say?

I imagine there was a handful of people in 1955 that wished Rosa Parks would just quit being a jerk so they finish their ride.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:36 AM on July 19, 2003


In what way does the man come off as a jerk? He was at all times polite, clear about his intentions and the reasoning behind them, and did exactly what the crew asked him to do, except for that which they had no right to ask of him. He was causing no disturbance whatsoever; he didn't express even the remotest desire to harm the crew or the passengers. What is the danger, either real or implied, presented by this button?

Freedom of speech isn't some arbitrary privilege that may be cast aside whenever we find it troublesome. It is the core of democracy, and its exercise is the one true safeguard against oppression. Defending that right against its erosion, even when that erosion is well-intentioned, is the duty of free people. The guarantee of that freedom must always supercede that of safety--the alternative is totalitarianism.

Sorry to get so heady, but this is serious, serious stuff. This is a critical time in American history, and if we don't want a return to McCarthyism, we'd better watch ourselves.
posted by vraxoin at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2003


10 bucks says he was all like "Look at mah button! Look at mah button!"
posted by angry modem at 9:55 AM on July 19, 2003


As I read just last night (in an article by Doug Hagin): In a free society there is no right NOT to be offended.

However, the airline is a private carrier. They have the right to make as many stupid decisions as they want about who they do or don't let on the planes they own.

"However, the restaurant is a private business. They have the right to make as many stupid decisions as they want about who they do or don't let on the seats they own." Said by supporters of whites-only restaurants all over in the '50s and '60s. Plus what mcsweetie said.
posted by billsaysthis at 10:01 AM on July 19, 2003


Yeah. I'm torn. I travel enough that I'd be annoyed at Gilmore for what he did. However, he's making a real point about what's being forced down our throats.

However. Realize that the 1st Amendment doesn't apply. An airplane is private property, various laws and treaties have made the Captain responsible for the safety of that plane, that crew, and the passengers. They have total authority, and can throw you off for any reason -- or none. Of course, they can get disciplined or fired if they toss off paying pax for no reason there is a check and balance there. But if a Captain pulls up to a jetway to remove a passenger, the ground staff will simply remove him, no questions asked. The recriminations will come later, if need be.

So, while it was perfectly legal for Gilmore to wear that button, it was just as legal for the flight crew to ask him to remove it, and it was just as legal for the captain to insist on Mr. Gilmore removing it, if it upset him or the crew -- and to remove Mr. Gilmore, if he refused. He's the Captain, it is his ship, he has the authority.

Finally, folks, asserting US rights and privileges fails in another important aspect -- this was a British Airways aircraft. Legal authority would be the UK one (and whatever crossovers exist from various treaties) not the US.

So, I don't know. Yay John, for making an important point. But you'd been better off doing so on, say, American Airlines.

Finally, what is your goal? To stop these inanities? Or to get to London? This served the former quite well, and the latter not-at-all.
posted by eriko at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2003


The rules are established for the comfort of the lowest common denominator; i.e., the idiot who thought security put the button on Gilmore. I can't figure out logically why their comfort prevails over mine, but it is a fact.

The perpetual relevance of the First Amendment continues to delight and astonish me. I think there ought to be a course on it taught every year in school (sort of the way geography is taught in Europe).

eriko: billsaysthis anticipated you on the First Amendment issue.
posted by divrsional at 10:12 AM on July 19, 2003


I see this in a "shouting fire in a crowded theatre" kind of way.

No, that would be like standing up while the plane was in flight and shouting "nobody move, I'm hijacking this plane in the name of Zarathustra!"

The next time I go to the bank, I'm absolutley dressing up like The Hamburglar.
posted by 4easypayments at 10:16 AM on July 19, 2003


Re the idea the US laws don't apply on a foreign-owned plane while on the ground at a US airport (viz. eriko and billsaysthis), do either of you have a reference to back this claim up? I would be very surprised if, for instance, Sharia law applied on Saudi planes while on US soil. Doesn't ring true to me at all.
posted by cbrody at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2003


Well, you have to curtail freedom to get freedom, right?
posted by signal at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2003


Was this Captain perchance wearing a brown shirt?

Did it have a DOJ logo or patch?
posted by nofundy at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2003


If the world wasn't such an awfully disheartening place all the other passengers would have immediately jotted down the words "potential terrorist" on a scrap of paper and folded it into a nametag.

*sigh*
posted by Space Coyote at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2003


signal: sarcasm aside, Ben Franklin's quote often bears repeating these days:
"Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty."
posted by cbrody at 10:32 AM on July 19, 2003


they have total authority, and can throw you off for any reason -- or none

Any reason that the law doesn't forbid, anyway. Civil-rights law probably forbids them throwing you off because you're black, but not throwing you off because their dress code specifies evening dress and you're wearing only a casual blazer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:33 AM on July 19, 2003


Just wear two shirts at once:
On top, the first shirt "SUSPECTED TERRORIST"
Then underneath "AIRPORT SECURITY IS CENSORING ME"
Of course if you want to fly bring a 3rd shirt which says "VIOLATED".
posted by abez at 10:53 AM on July 19, 2003


how about a shirt that says, "I ASSURE YOU I AM NOT ARMED" and then a little winking face? ;)
posted by mcsweetie at 11:02 AM on July 19, 2003


I'm completely amazed at the negative responses to Gilmore's little button hubub, both here, and elsewhere. Has everyone gone insane? It's a freaking 1" piece of metal with some ink on it - if your world is so twisted and fragile that being in a plane with something like that is completely out of the bounds of all reason, you've got some major problems.

I really don't see the issue here. Gilmore wasn't being obnoxious or causing a disturbance. It was a simple - and true - statement printed on a small, discreet personal item. Everyone on that plane, and every plane, is a suspected terrorist. Is this an okay situation? I don't think so. How is making a little personal effort to point out an unacceptable situation such a big deal?

As for inconvenience to the other passengers, have you read the estimate of how much time has been wasted by this ridiculous and ineffective crap?
posted by majcher at 11:11 AM on July 19, 2003


Was this Captain perchance wearing a brown shirt?

nofundy, are you trying to set a record for the most Godwinned threads by one user?
posted by jonson at 11:12 AM on July 19, 2003


incidentally, this was with british airways, which is the only airline where i've been reprimanded by a steward for putting my hand up to ask for service. i was so surprised that i returned an angry cut-down, in spanish (it being a flight from chile). but it turned out no-one on the flight spoke spanish - when a chilean near us asked what the food was (in spanish( the answer came in english, only louder.

i wrote to complain when we got to the uk - the only reply i remember was a survey asking if we were happy with their response.

bunch o' fuckers, british airways.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:15 AM on July 19, 2003


But at least the food's not bad, compared to any American carrier you might care to name.
posted by cbrody at 11:20 AM on July 19, 2003


a handful of people in 1955 that wished Rosa Parks would just quit being a jerk so they finish their ride.

I think mcsweety pretty much sums everything up nicely.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:36 AM on July 19, 2003


I am the king of girls!
posted by mcsweetie at 11:53 AM on July 19, 2003


a handful of people in 1955 that wished Rosa Parks would just quit being a jerk so they finish their ride.

The difference being that Rosa Parks wasn't acting like a provocateurish twit. As has been quoted many many times: she refused to give up her seat at the front of the bus because she was "tired" (tired of working, tired of oppression, and so on, it doesn't matter). She wasn't staging some vain, contrarian stunt, so I don't think it's a good analogy.
posted by dhoyt at 12:22 PM on July 19, 2003


The difference being that Rosa Parks wasn't acting like a provocateurish twit.

The difference being a matter of dhoyt's opinion -- not a matter of law or principle.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2003


She wasn't staging some vain, contrarian stunt,

nor was he.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2003


How about wearing a button that sayss "Security: They're probably sober today"?

I wonder what'll eventually happen if I get on a flight wearing a gimme cap with a Confederate flag on it? I'll probably be denied emplaning because I'm trying to foment white supremacism.
posted by alumshubby at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2003


The difference being that Rosa Parks wasn't acting like a provocateurish twit.

The difference being a matter of dhoyt's opinion -- not a matter of law or principle.

This response is quite telling. When matters of legal principle trump opinions, what is the point of gibbering on about freedom, especially freedom of speech? Clearly freedom is something for the system to protect, because the personal opinions of individuals just muck the whole thing up. Christ.

I'm sorry to be abrasive on this point, but the version of freedom that so many people here -- and Gilmore -- seem to be defending is so impoverished and juvenile it hardly seems worth defending.

It's a stunt. It's not meaningful speech, it's not substantive speech; it's all about Gilmore and his showy status as a victim and provocateur. Instead of talking about the middle region of political speech where actual debates get worked out we're sniping about the trivial margins where poseurs like Gilmore get all overwrought.

You want to abandon the issues of substantive dialogue and meaningful and exert yourself over this kind of crap? Go ahead. You want to take up a little sophistry and argue that there is no difference between substantive dialogue and juvenile crap -- that it's all the same? Go ahead.

Just don't publicly congratulate yourselves as the vanguard of freedom.

(And Milgram's experiment -- give it a freakin' rest already. That shit is easy to sell in dorm-room raps, but you ought to assume a little more intelligence on your audience's part.)
posted by argybarg at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2003


As for jurisdiction: local laws apply until the plane gets off the ground, but I believe it's been well established that once you step into an airport in the US, until you get off the ground, your 'free speech' is subject to a superset of 'fire-in-a-crowded-theatre' restrictions.

It's a matter of degree, isn't it, though? There have been some silly cases of security blacklisting people with biographies of Osama bin Laden in their hand luggage. But a 'Suspected Terrorist' badge is daft and provocative. Gilmore doesn't help his case, either, by saying that he refuses to fly within the US because he has to show photo ID:

I'm not willing to show ID -- an "internal passport" -- to fly within my own country.

Boo fucking hoo. And I'm guessing he mustn't go to bars often. Which is a pity, because he could do with a large glass of take-the-stick-out-of-your-arse and tonic.
posted by riviera at 12:51 PM on July 19, 2003


Meanwhile, the real problem of people being crowded into fire-prone theatres is ignored while everyone tells each other to keep quiet and not say anything about that fire over there.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:56 PM on July 19, 2003


So if Rosa Parks was only pretending to be tired then she'd be nothing more than an uppity negro?

I'm getting tempted to go hand out these pins at airports.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:08 PM on July 19, 2003


Gosh. Argybarg seems to be awfully annoyed by all this "gibbering on about freedom." That's the response that is truly telling.

No one has ever forced Argybarg or anyone else to pay one whit of attention to the metagibber that goes on here. What lies behind the defensiveness? Why do people tell other people to shut up or insult them for saying what they do?

Gilmore (and many others) believe passionately that a basic principle is violated in the methods currently being used to identify terrorists. Because those methods are demonstrably failing, it seems pretty clear to me that these citizens are justified in challenging the status quo. If they didn't, they would not be good Americans.

I say to everyone: keep discussing, no matter how stupid you are. There is no other road to democracy.
posted by divrsional at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2003


Your freedom is speech is limited even beyond 'fire in the crowded theater' situations which pose an immediate danger. Societal ettiquette also limits the freedom of speech. You would not be allowed to wear a t-shirt saying something like 'Raping babies is fun. Molest your nearest infant today!' for very long!

What's more, the whole 'freedom of speech' thing only applies in terms of the government prohibiting what you say. If you are on someone else's private property (i.e. a plane, a bar, wherever) and they don't like what you're saying, they retain the right to boot you out, and this isn't against your Constitutional rights.
posted by wackybrit at 1:23 PM on July 19, 2003


How is justice ever going to be maintained if one must wait for their civil rights to be so emaciated that we really do find ourselves beginning this race from Rosa Parks' starting block? That would seem to me to be the very point of progress.

Sure, Gilmore has money, he gets to travel the world, he's relatively famous, white and Rosa Parks in her time was nor had any of those traits. But isn't it best to maintain rationalism about civil rights lest our hysteria stamp those out too?

Standing on the shoulders of those who came before you comes to mind.

One needn't drain the cold bath water completely before filling it again in order to take a bath. Just boil some more. Add to tub. Enjoy. It's not that difficult.

And indeed, I completely agree with the ballsiness of Gilmore. There will be plenty of time to go to London in a just and pragmatic world. We're all potential terrorists. And no, we do not have to put up with it. The reason is, because we're not all potential or suspected terrorists. What a sad and absurd thing that so many today go around believing.

On preview:
. . .and this isn't against your Constitutional rights.

But it is stupid is it not?

A lot like equating a button that says "Suspected Terrorist" with Raping babies is fun. Molest your nearest infant today!"

Get a hold of yourself.
posted by crasspastor at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2003


but a small (1" diameter badge) saying "suspected terrorist" isn't equivalent to a t-shirt saying "raping babies is fun", any more than it is equivalent to shouting fire in a theatre. it's clearly related to a political stance - this guy has a reasoned, rational argument and that badge is a restricted, moderate presentation of his opinion.

this is indicated by the response of those sitting near him - apparently no-one cared very much. the only people who seemed to care were those who have power to abuse.

sure, the aeroplane is private property - that doesn't mean that evicting gilmore was morally right.

why do people need to draw inappropriate parallels before criticisng gilmore? is it because it's easy to argue someone shouldn't shout fire in a theatre, but very hard indeed to see what harm he was doing here?
posted by andrew cooke at 1:40 PM on July 19, 2003


You would not be allowed to wear a t-shirt saying something like 'Raping babies is fun. Molest your nearest infant today!' for very long!

However, thanks to the freedoms outlined for us in certain documents, you're more than welcome to try it out yourself and see.

Now, if only cafepress let you make buttons...
posted by majcher at 1:49 PM on July 19, 2003


divrsional:

You are misquoting me in bad faith. Please re-read that full sentence and see if you agree.

As for "why all the defensiveness," I take MetaFilter to be a community of intelligent contrarians who can handle me "telling them to shut up" sniff sniff.

More to the point, I find it sad when the energies of libertarians in general are wasted on self-important nonsense instead of being deeply engaged in substantive issues in which useful (as opposed to merely noisy) friction might be generated.

There are two ways to show your committment to free speech: exercise it on issues that include as many points of contact among thinking citizens as possible; or look for the fringe issues that excite everyone's passions and make the largest, most annoying clattering noise they can.

Rosa Parks was protesting at the point of contact, at the heart of civic life; Gilmore is making a big self-important squawk. If you have a superficial committment to civic life in a democracy, Gilmore probably seems very impressive.
posted by argybarg at 2:05 PM on July 19, 2003


What Vraxoin said, way up there: in no way was this guy being a jerk. Disagreeing with authority, (and refusing to be a sheep, tow the line etc.) is not being a jerk, (to anyone but a sheep!)

British Airways is the company that recently bumped a paying customer out of his first class seat when Elizabeth Hurley got shitty at check-in, that she and her bf could not sit together:
She had BA staff downgrade another passenger, businessman Kevin Ward, so she could hold hands with Arun in the luxury of first-class, reports PeopleNews.

Frequent flyer Kevin, who was returning from a holiday with his family, arrived at Bridgetown airport looking forward to a relaxing journey on the eight-hour flight home, only to find that he had been moved to business class.
The pilot was a dick.

It would be my hypothesis that he thought that terrorism was a bad thing and assumed that Gilmore was making light of it, and used his authority to enact revenge. Everyone else fell in line, and failed to think for themselves.
posted by Blue Stone at 2:20 PM on July 19, 2003


jammer: However, the airline is a private carrier.

No, the airline is a common carrier. They are obligated to transport anyone who can pay the fare. Otherwise they could use the same logic to exclude people based on race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.

wackybrit: If you are on someone else's private property (i.e. a plane, a bar, wherever) and they don't like what you're saying, they retain the right to boot you out, and this isn't against your Constitutional rights.

ITYM "violation of," and the reality is, it depends. Property rights do not automatically trump First Amendment. The courts have ruled against private property arguments in a number of cases where the "private property" was ostensibly public (like a mall) and no equivalent alternative venue existed.
posted by Cerebus at 2:21 PM on July 19, 2003


argybarg: Here's a good-faith effort to answer your position.

If you think it's a waste of time to argue the point that Gilmore is making, then why are you?

I think it's a much bigger waste of time to tell people that what's important to them is impoverished, superficial, juvenile crap. What's important to people is important to them. Follow your own advice.
posted by divrsional at 2:46 PM on July 19, 2003


exercise it on issues that include as many points of contact among thinking citizens as possible

Whether you care to admit it or not, many of the rights guaranteed to citizens of this country are being chipped away (some might say "attacked"). Many people here, some with perhaps a little more age and perspective, remember when this country and its citizens weren't so apathetic about their freedom. Of course, it was far easier to get angry back then because the perpetrators were so tactless and the mistakes so grievous. These days, things are handled much more subtly, and have far better PR representatives to give high moral spin to what amounts to Machiavellian pragmatism.

exercise it on issues that include as many points of contact among thinking citizens as possible

Clearly you don't care about "creative" uses of our rights, (particularly when someone's just trying to make a point), but compound enough shrugging shoulders and you establish a dangerous precedent that can later be pointed to when more rights are taken away "for your own protection." I would contest that you have a "superficial commitment to civic life in a democracy" because of your objection to criticism that doesn't fall on your own radar. It's obvious you've never had to fight for anything in your life that was greater than your own self-interest. Your complacency is the rot of this country.

And let's not forget that this is the co-founder of the EFF we're talking about -- an organization that many corporations in this country would happily call terrorist, anti-capitalistic defenders of all that is evil.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:01 PM on July 19, 2003


Damn, that second quote was supposed to be: There are two ways to show your committment to free speech: exercise it on issues that include as many points of contact among thinking citizens as possible; .
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:03 PM on July 19, 2003


Civil Disobedient:

It's obvious that you take cases such as these as the test of whether one cares about civil liberties or not. That's where we disagree -- and perhaps too rancorously on both sides. I apologize for my part.

Heroes and villains, good and evil, noble martyrs vs. "the rot of this country." Change a few labels and everyone's talking (or screeching) the same language. What a drag we can't meet closer to the middle and just talk. Maybe that day is gone.
posted by argybarg at 3:35 PM on July 19, 2003


Or maybe it just hasn't come yet.

I think people who disapprove of this test of freedoms are the same people who don't understand or approve of the ACLU. For the record, I think the ACLU take on some of the most horrible cases imaginable. They work to see that the worst scum on earth get fair trials, they defend the rights of the indefensible to say and do disgusting, but legal, things.

And I send them money every year to keep right on doing it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:08 PM on July 19, 2003


George:
So do I. You'll find the ACLU card in my wallet if you take the trouble to pick my pocket.

But I also think that more often the central issues of freedom of speech get eroded from, well, the center than from the fringes. And all this declaring that whoever isn't on the side of God/logic/Liberty on this one absurd and annoying case must be sheep and rot and don't understand liberty -- it does nothing to make a custom of subtantive free speech. If anything, it puts us backwards.
posted by argybarg at 4:55 PM on July 19, 2003


If you're suggesting that the head of the EFF is somehow not concerned with the central issues of liberty as well as the idiotic behaviour of airlines I'd suggest that you're embarking up the wrong tree there.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:24 PM on July 19, 2003


I don't agree with the button, but truth is I completely support him and his right to wear it, freedom ain't always pretty, but the right to it needs to be protected.
posted by geist at 5:32 PM on July 19, 2003


/s/head/co-founder/g
posted by Space Coyote at 5:50 PM on July 19, 2003


I would never do what John Gilmore did (too much of the "don't make trouble" instinct) but I am really glad that he did it. The current "security" regulations in this country are a travesty, and someone who has the resources to do so needs to make a big noise about it. The whole idea that he should just "not be a jerk" is maddening - it's thinking like that which lets our civil liberties get chipped away. Jerks have rights too, and jerks need them even more than people that everyone likes.

If I'd been on his flight I would have applauded.
posted by maciej at 7:25 PM on July 19, 2003


i've yet to donate money to the various social justice collectives out there, but the EFF has five bucks coming its way.

more if i buy domestic beer tonight.
posted by fishfucker at 7:53 PM on July 19, 2003


Man denied access to his legally purchased seat on a commercial flight because he sported a button? In the land of the free, home of the brave?

I hate to be the chicken little in this thread, but if I could take a bet on the future, I'd bet for "USA is turning into a police state, and we'll all be applauding it".

Also, try this little thought experiment:
Would he been allowed on the flight if the button said "suspected communist"? 40 years ago?
What if the button said "suspected jew"?
posted by spazzm at 7:58 PM on July 19, 2003


The Bush administration, the source of the current crop of meaningless "security" measures at airports, is also the source of several alarming skirmishes with the First Amendment, via John Ashcroft, among others. Creating an atmosphere in which a citizen of this country is thrown off a plane for taking a stand on what he perceives as a fundamental right is emblematic, even if not everyone thinks so. The fact that some people think so makes it important.

Who is the arbiter of what constitutes "fringe issues" versus issues that have significant "points of contact"? No matter how strongly you believe you know the difference, you are not that arbiter. Ultimately, of course, the SCOTUS is, but till it gets to that point, the citizenry, through the actions of idealistic individuals, sits in that role. That's why it's a democracy. A lot of people didn't agree with the participants of the Boston Tea Party either.

I'll repeat this observation: it is no skin off anyone's nose for Gilmore to take this stand. It does not undermine civil liberties in any way to discuss every single facet of this issue loudly and publicly.
posted by divrsional at 7:59 PM on July 19, 2003


A little perspective on the 20/20 nature of hindsight: I'll bet that the Rosa Parks incident looked to most decent white folks on their way home from work like a "jerk" taking a "fringe stand" for no good reason. Fer Pete's sake, go ask your nearest relative from the WWII generation... half of them probably still think she was just a trouble-maker. Folks who complain about the inconvenience that they attribute to Gilmore in this case blow my mind.
posted by squirrel at 8:15 PM on July 19, 2003


Okay, I'll admit my example was a bit obtuse and exaggerated. Let's make a different comparison.

Wearing a badge on a passenger airline stating that you're a 'Suspected Terrorist' is more similar to wearing a badge saying 'Suspected Pedophile' on a visit to your child's school. It's just highly tasteless.

And, no, it's not too different. One could argue, as this guy has with terrorists, that everyone is a suspected pedophile these days. And one could argue, as this guy has also, that you're not a danger either.. yet you're still likely to be kicked out for being tasteless, because both terrorists and pedophiles are both extremely feared within these two environments.
posted by wackybrit at 10:47 PM on July 19, 2003


"It's just highly tasteless."

And since when is it a no-fly offence to be in poor taste?
If I wear mint-green pants and a yellow tie, does that mean I can't fly, or just that I have to sit in the back of the plane, with the other people with poor taste in color?
posted by spazzm at 10:55 PM on July 19, 2003


Also, if anybody's acting childish, isn't it the pilot (Capt. Peter Hughes) who turned the aircraft around and thereby delayed 300 passengers because of a button he disapproved of?

The pilot may be the highest authority on a plane, but he has no place infringing on basic freedoms except in emergencies.
A 1" button is not an emergency.
posted by spazzm at 11:08 PM on July 19, 2003


davidmsc, you're the type of brown shirt bush was hoping would become the norm [hey jonson, this is before I read nofundy's post, so no record for most godwinned threads for me, ok]. It's called freedom of expression. Some asshat pilot doesn't want someone on his plane with a fucking button that he finds objectionable?

Then I'll assume the pilot doesn't believe all that "security" is doing really fuck all to stop hijackings and suicide pilots taking over a plane again, right? But tossing this guy off his plane will fucking solve everything, right?

Yeah, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Gilmore didn't delay 300 passengers, he was already cleared to go, the fuckwit pilot screwed with 300 passengers' plans for a prompt take off after everyone had been cleared to go. WTF!

Next thing you know, the security people will make Jews wear yellow stars? Where's the fucking logic here? This is what I find dismaying [it also makes me swear a lot]. These people [the pilot, #1 and #2 the flight crew] are getting paid how much? I wouldn't pay them to clean the fucking loo with brains like that!

divrsional, exactly. They're all so full of their rules and regulations and able to spout the corporate "safety" mantra they fail to see that logic has just run off with my goddamned baggage and no one stopped that guy. They're so busy with keeping up appearances and decorum, they failed to see a crime in progress AND failed to do anythinmg about it!


When Gilmore paid for his seat on the airplane, was there some small disclaimer he missed that stated we [British Airways] can kick your ass off the plane if we think you didn't brush your teeth and/or wear buttons with provocative statements?

Next you'll fucking tell me he was asking for it. Right? eh asshole?

Yah right. Go ahead, blame the messenger. Hell, why don't you kill him for good measure.
posted by alicesshoe at 11:46 PM on July 19, 2003


It's quite interesting to note the differences in opinions on Metafilter and over on fark.com, particularly all the ways you can badmouth a person. :)
posted by madman at 12:19 AM on July 20, 2003


I do not want to get on a plane whose crew is even slightly distracted from doing their job, for any reason, including stunts being pulled by publicity-seeking civil libertarians.

If the captain of this particular flight found Gilmore sufficiently distracting to the crew that the plane was safer with him off it, I will take him at his word. He is the only one in any position to know.

When you start trying to tell a professional how to do his job, people tend to die. So don't do that.
posted by kindall at 1:01 AM on July 20, 2003


I'm truly surprised at how many people seem to think that the airline is in the right here.

As someone who, since 9/11, is singled out whenever entering the US or Canada, ending up in a queue in the "special Immigration back room" with a whole bunch of people whose skin colour is the only common factor, I am not surprised at the selective and arbitrary fascism demonstrated by the airline, or the rest of the so-called security apparatus involved in flying.

This, though, is an act of such blatant stupidity that it's almost comic, and is completely on-message with current security thinking, which is that if we don't wear provocative t-shirts or badges, or don't take nail scissors onto a plane then we're all safe.
posted by urbanjunkie at 1:30 AM on July 20, 2003


If the captain of this particular flight found Gilmore sufficiently distracting to the crew that the plane was safer with him off it, I will take him at his word.

A flight crew which can be distracted to instability by a piscatorial button is a flip waiting to out. If the pilot believed that the plane's safety was being threatened by his button-freaked crew, he should have turned the plane around, landed, broken the key off in the ignition, fired the fuddled crew, bought a bottle of scotch, and gone off to chat with the FAA.

When you start trying to tell a professional how to do his job, people tend to die.

Phffft.
C'mon, who is this really - what is kindall's mother's maiden name?
posted by Opus Dark at 2:40 AM on July 20, 2003


When you start trying to tell a professional how to do his job, people tend to die.

the captains job is to fly the craft. he has no competence in the area of terrorist threat detection. (though in a blind test i have no doubt he would far exceed the performance of that horde of intellectually challenged pinkerton's washouts they've got goosestepping around airports these days.)
posted by quonsar at 3:19 AM on July 20, 2003


I'm going to print up a big t-shirt with the goatse.cx guy all over the front, and the tubgirl picture all over the back, and try to get onto flights and complain like a little girl when I get kicked off. I will be the next Martin Luther King.

There is only so long they can oppress my right to make others feel uncomfortable! The "Receiver" for President!
posted by wackybrit at 6:58 AM on July 20, 2003


I'm truly surprised at how many people seem to think that the airline is in the right here.

Me too. Threads like this are useful for reminding me that MeFites are no smarter or more thoughtful than the run of the population; they just have computers. And argybarg, I really, really don't understand why someone with an ACLU card doesn't understand that this is a substantive free speech issue. Take a step back from the stated position you're so determined to defend and think about it afresh, will you? It's precisely the "nuts" and "extremists" and "provocateurs" who patrol the borders for the rest of us. Why do you think it was so important to uphold the Klan's right to march? However little you think of this guy (and like maciej, I would have applauded him) you can't possibly think he's worse than the Klan. He was making a statement, the airline made him and others suffer for it, and unthinking people are cheering the airline and jeering him. It's depressing as hell.
posted by languagehat at 7:02 AM on July 20, 2003


Hear hear, languagehat. I have been corrected in my ways by the words of socially, intellectually and emotionally superior people like yourself. Anyway, I'm off to the airport to start telling everyone that I am a suspected terrorist, but no, I really don't have a bomb, so it's okay! If I get kicked out, I'll give them what-for and let you know, so you can write to your Congressman. Please start wringing your hands in anticipation.
posted by wackybrit at 7:26 AM on July 20, 2003


wackybrit: Yeah, sorry, that came off as snootier than I intended. It's just that the free-speech issue really pushes my buttons. But, like spazzm, I find it odd that you seem to think "being tasteless" is grounds for being kicked off an airplane.
posted by languagehat at 9:13 AM on July 20, 2003


This is most freaky as a cultural signpost, and not as some sort of "who's fault is it/who's being stupid" test. We should all for a moment ignore our solemn duties to arbit moral rightness and legal/judical precedents as regards everything we see, and just sit back, look, and say "that happened."

Yuck. That one word, whether it is necessary or not, has enough power to turn around an airplane, make a bunch of people here yell at each other, spark lawsuits, etc, etc. This leads me to the conlcusion that every assumption of the War on Terror ought to be examined and justified. But it would be nice if we could all at least acknowledge that the War on Terror is changing who Americans are as a people
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:25 AM on July 20, 2003


This war on terrorism, is it working? Kinda like the war on drugs..... throw everyone in prison and the streets will be safe again. Oh yah.

Say, what happened to Osama anyways??? Where is HE holidaying these days?
posted by alicesshoe at 9:35 AM on July 20, 2003


Say, what happened to Osama anyways??? Where is HE holidaying these days?

Last I heard, he'd tried to board a plane to the U.S. to surrender himself, having finally realized the error of his ways, but was kicked off for refusing to remove his "France R0x0rs Vous" T-shirt. Then he stole some chick's luggage while she was going through security and wandered off to sell it for crack and a Shick Quattro™ shaving system.

Oh, but he'll be back, mark my words. And just so you don't forget, they're written on this little button I wear on my lapel....
posted by SpaceBass at 11:53 AM on July 20, 2003


A flight crew which can be distracted to instability by a piscatorial button is a flip waiting to out.

A huh waiting to what?

I'm sorry, you have how many hours as captain of commercial airliner? You neglected to mention that.

Since I don't know anything about flying airplanes, I'm going to shut up and let the man do his job. Maybe you should do the same, eh?
posted by kindall at 11:54 AM on July 20, 2003


But, like spazzm, I find it odd that you seem to think "being tasteless" is grounds for being kicked off an airplane.

Being tasteless is grounds for being kicked out of a lot of places. Not tasteless in an aesthetic or passive way, but tasteless as in offending or infringing on the rights of others, or being socially unacceptable.

a) The guy who lets his phone ring throughout a movie and talks to someone on the phone.. he will be asked to turn the phone off, or be kicked out of the theater. b) The guy who starts shouting at a public meeting.. he will be asked to quieten down, or be kicked out. c) Sit down in a posh restaurant, take off your shirt, you'll be asked to put it back on, or told to leave. d) The guy who think it's funny to tell everyone he's a 'suspected terrorist' while on an airplane (and whose passengers are likely jumpy about terrorism), will be asked to tone down, or be kicked out. It is not an unreasonable request to be asked to respect others, whether it breaches 'free speech' or not.

Modern society thrives on etiquette, and when you're in a public space or on someone else's property, you are labelled a jackass if you don't practice it, rights or no rights.
posted by wackybrit at 12:18 PM on July 20, 2003


Wacky, I take your point on "etiquette" but in no way was this an example of bad manners. He was not, as you imply, "tell[ing] everyone he's a 'suspected terrorist'" he was simply wearing a button, for Christ's sake. How do you "tone down" wearing a button without giving into the unreasonable pressure (in my view) to remove it?

I have to say, the intolerance shown by some posters here has only reconfirmed my inital view that Gilmore was fully justified in carrying out (and following through with) his little protest. All credit to him.
posted by cbrody at 1:05 PM on July 20, 2003


wackybrit,

Get a grip, please.

Wearing a 1" badge with the words "suspected terrorist" is hardly akin to "thinking its funny to tell everyone he's a suspected terrorist"

There were no security or taste issues - this is just a sad little exercise in making sure that no dissenting opinions are seen or heard.

"If no one saw the badge, would it have existed ?"
posted by urbanjunkie at 1:16 PM on July 20, 2003


wackybrit, your examples a and b show someone substantially in conflict with the patron's ability to use the service they're there for. A 1" button does not impede passengers from getting to their destination. Not under any reasonable circumstances, anyway.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:17 PM on July 20, 2003


kindall,

You seem like a good, obedient citizen.

But, tell me, what would this captain need to do to make you think that he's crossed the line ?

Also, given the captain's commendable concern for the safety of his craft, I'm surprised he didn't insist on passengers surrendering all CD players, computers, mp3 players and other emitters of noise which [the various airlines inform us] pose a far graver risk to the plane than most buttons.
posted by urbanjunkie at 1:28 PM on July 20, 2003


Does anyone have actual statistics on how many planes have crashed because of "buttons deemed to be in poor taste"?

Facts, people, let's discuss facts!
posted by signal at 1:39 PM on July 20, 2003


I'm sorry, you have how many hours as captain of commercial airliner? You neglected to mention that.

Since I don't know anything about flying airplanes, I'm going to shut up and let the man do his job. Maybe you should do the same, eh?


likewise, you've spent how many hours as president of the united states? Hey, if the professional in charge says it's okay, who are we to question? Kings know how to rule and peasants obey...

I mean, come on. I agree it would be stupid as a non-pilot to try to explain to a pilot the mechanics of landing an aircraft. I do not see how that skill provides the captain with a greater cogniscence of the boundaries of free speech. And most of all, I don't see why you think this captain's decision is in any way based on his experience as a captain. It is obviously just more idiocy. Opus Dark put it well above - if a lapel pin was going to have any impact on the crew's abilities, they were a sorry excuse for a crew.

wackybrit, I appreciate your attempt to discern between the actions seen as threatening and those merely seen as rude, but remember this was a small button on the collar of the man's shirt. Most people probably didn't even notice it. There is no indication that he tried to make people notice it, or even thought about the fact that he was wearing it. He was simply making a point about the culture of fear that terrorism has succeeded in creating. I would have thought he was overreacting if I'd seen it, but given the actions of the flight personnel and the reactions of many in this thread, it looks like I was naively optimistic and this guy was dead on.

Rudeness has an actual impact on what happens around you (nudity is a sort of strange subset of rudeness, but in our culture is considered as distracting as talking during a performance, etc). Wearing a pin is no more rude than having an opinion is - you can believe people are wrong about things they believe, but it isn't "rude" of them to believe those things, or to express them. (It's rude to stand up and shout them in the middle of a concert, but it's rude to stand up and shout ANYTHING in the middle of a concert - that's context, not content.)

Confiscating nail clippers will not have any effect at all on the terrorist threat, but the worst side effect of it will be a minimal rise in unwanted hangnails. Removing people whose political opinions make others uncomfortable will also have no impact whatsoever on the terrorist threat: but long term consequences of actions like this could be much more dire.
posted by mdn at 2:03 PM on July 20, 2003


likewise, you've spent how many hours as president of the united states?

Which is why I rarely criticize the President of the United States. I do have some experience in public speaking, so I feel free to say he's not very good at that. But certainly I'm not versed in military strategy or foreign policy, nor am I so naive that I believe I have all the information about a given situation that the President has. Thus my opinions tend to be very tentative on these matters, and as they are tentative, they are rarely worth expressing in public.

Yes, I have noticed that this doesn't stop anyone else here, whose opinions almost certainly just as tentative as mine, from speaking their piece. Maybe they just don't realize their opinions are by nature tentative and not worth expressing in public. Or maybe they have a lot more free time and better sources for information than I do, although I have a hard time believing that's true of so many.

Confiscating nail clippers will not have any effect at all on the terrorist threat

This is not about terrorist threats, but rather of allowing a known troublemaker onto the plane. The only reason one would wear a button that says "Suspected Terrorist" is to cause trouble. The initial incident may be only a small bit of trouble, and it may or may not directly effect the safety of the plane, butby his actions Gilmore flagged himself as a random factor. He has already done something unexpected, and you don't know what else he will do, so you get him off the plane. A routine flight is, after all, a good flight. They would do exactly the same thing if Gilmore made a joke about a bomb, even if it was clearly a joke, and they would have done the same thing before 9/11.

long term consequences of actions like this could be much more dire.

Yes, people may actually have to learn to use common sense and good manners in social situations. They may come to understand that not every situation is a place to whip out the soapbox. Clearly this would be catastrophic.
posted by kindall at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2003


kindall, what is your take on Rosa Parks' behavior?
posted by squirrel at 3:00 PM on July 20, 2003


a terrorist bitch if i ever heard of one, that rosa parks. good thing that driver was captain of his bus.
posted by quonsar at 3:17 PM on July 20, 2003


He has already done something unexpected, and you don't know what else he will do, so you get him off the plane.

Ah, yes. The inevitable "If you're different, you're scary and bad." Kindall is perfectly right: if you all would just shut the hell up and act exactly as everyone else does and never question those in authority, everything will be perfectly hunky-dory. Sure, we'd still be a British protectorate right now, and Europe would be speaking german, but it's a small price to pay for that peace of mind in the knowledge that you won't ever have any frightful surprises upsetting your normal routine, isn't it?
posted by SpaceBass at 3:19 PM on July 20, 2003


heh, pinkerton's. maybe flight crews these days are all comprised of ninjas. they're just waiting for the slightest excuse to flip out and kill people, y'know?

and just wait until the airport security drones have the mind-scanners (or rfid, whichever comes first). "vegetarian?! not on my fscking plane, my son!"
posted by dorian at 3:36 PM on July 20, 2003


kindall, what is your take on Rosa Parks' behavior?

I've got no problem with her and even a measure of admiration. There are several differences between her and Gilmore's:
  1. She was taking public transportation, and public transportation has a much higher burden to serve members of the public equally than does a private airline.
  2. From what I've heard, she didn't set out to take a stand (although apparently there is some debate over this), whereas Gilmore clearly did.
  3. There were at the time vast swaths of life which blacks were not permitted to participate in, but I have a hard time seeing Gilmore, a white male, as being an oppressed class.
  4. People had no reason to be jumpy about being on a bus or Parks's presence on it. She certainly never said or did anything that hinted (even slightly, in a joking fashion) that she might, oh, kill everyone on the bus.
if you all would just shut the hell up and act exactly as everyone else does and never question those in authority, everything will be perfectly hunky-dory. Sure, we'd still be a British protectorate right now, and Europe would be speaking german, but it's a small price to pay for that peace of mind in the knowledge that you won't ever have any frightful surprises upsetting your normal routine, isn't it?

Yes, being expected to comport yourself with a modicum of decorum for a few hours while on an airplane is exactly just like what you said. Exactly. 100%. Because, you know, every situation is identical, and behavior that is apporpriate in one situation is therefore appropriate in all situations.
posted by kindall at 3:57 PM on July 20, 2003


My last post on the topic:

Let's imagine that Gilmore wins his case and we are now permitted to travel with buttons, t-shirts, and tattoos openly mocking airport security and making jokes about being a terrorist. Have we won some important new freedom? No, the freedom we have won is an entirely trivial and pointless one -- one that only an asshole would exercise.

I suppose some of you will say that that is the entire point, that if the First Amendment covers assholes then it covers us all, but I say that a right that, as a practical matter, is granted only to assholes merely gives assholes license to engage in assholery. I would also argue that airlines are perfectly within their rights to require passengers not to be assholes for a few hours out of their lives.

Not tolerating assholery has been the policy of airports and airlines for decades. It was a gag in "Airplane," for God's sake (remember the guy who yells out "Hi, Jack!" in the terminal and is piled on by security?). It has nothing to do with 9/11 or the new airport security. It represents no change whatsoever from the policies you objected not at all to in, say, August of 2001. The only difference is that 9/11 has given people new and different ideas for how to be assholes.

To me, this is so obviously a case of "fire in a crowded theater" that I'm frankly flabbergasted that so many people are taking Gilmore's side.
posted by kindall at 4:11 PM on July 20, 2003


The only difference is that 9/11 has given people new and different ideas for how to be assholes.

...and legislation like the PATRIOT ACT (not shouting). I sympathize with your points, kindall, and as always they're well presented, and even further I think Gilmore's game was ill-considered (I'd have worn a badge saying 'Not A Suspected Terrorist' instead) at best, but I don't think it's a matter of 'winning some new important freedom,' but rather of preserving a freedom that is ostensibly one of which Americans are so proud. One that they believe they can impose by force of arms, odd as that may seem to the rest of the world.

Freedom of speech is not only for assholes. Or, put differently, I agree there's no right that should be enshrined anywhere preserving one's 'right to be an asshole,' but I disagree that in this case that's what we're talking about.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:25 PM on July 20, 2003


Okay, the Rosa Parks comparison. It's ridiculous. Rosa Parks was asserting her right to engage in normal behavior that everyone had a right to engage in. Her act of "defiance" was to do what she thought she, and everyone else, ought to be able to do: sit in public transportation wherever she pleased. If what she did was offensive or scary to some people, then that was so obviously their problem that they made the point for her. In other words, her game wasn't being as offensive as possible to make a noise -- it was being as normal and everyday as possible.

Now if some airline had banned, say, Muslim literature on planes and Gilmore sat down and read the Koran to challenge that ban, I'd say fuckin' A, sign me up for the defense fund. Because people ought to be able to read Muslim literature on a plane. That's a substantial right that speaks to the everyday lives of Muslims.

But wearing that snarky little button to be offensive and act like a martyr -- that, to you, is as heroic as Rosa Parks? We can't afford to be tone-deaf or indiscriminatory with these differences -- we're dumbing ourselves to the point where all instances of "free speech" are equally valuable, and that's manifestly not true.

We should fight the hardest for people to be able to do what matters, what comes out of and affects their daily lives, what goes the deepest into civic discourse. Otherwise it's just juvenalia, and the fight for free speech becomes bitter and trivialized.

But clearly -- I don't have my own brain, I'm just a sheep and a conformist. So feel free to disregard what I say.
posted by argybarg at 5:13 PM on July 20, 2003


Which is why I rarely criticize the President of the United States.

So, what, only former presidents can criticize the president? You need to take a class in critical thinking. If something is true, it can be communicated to others; knowledge can be shared and explained. If something is true, we should all be able to see that it is true. Authorities who make claims to some kind of hidden knowledge are not very trustworthy.

You've got it backwards about Parks and Gilmore in terms of planning, I think; Parks' action was definitely planned (and why would that be a negative thing??), while I see no indication that Gilmore's was. He wasn't trying to do some activist thing; he was just traveling and declined to remove an expression of his opinion when it was requested of him. I don't see why you think this was a "joke" on his part, or some kind of "assholery" - he obviously believes that the government is becoming to dominating and restricting, and he expresses this political viewpoint by stating that citizens are now treated as potential terrorists. He was wearing a button that expressed this view when he boarded the plane. Can you explain why a button that says "suspected terrorist" should make anyone nervous or uncomfortable? How could people possibly interpret that as threatening?

we're dumbing ourselves to the point where all instances of "free speech" are equally valuable, and that's manifestly not true.

who decides which opinions are "valuable" and which are not? In fact, if there is someone defining what is valuable, then how can we even say it's free? The KKK is idiotic; their viewpoint can hardly be called "valuable" - should it be illegal? Kindall seems to think speaking against the president isn't valuable, since we don't have direct experience as world leaders; should we restrict that? This guy had an opinion - one you may consider idiotic - that the government is treating all its citizens like criminals and basically bowing to terrorism. I think he has a right to express that.
posted by mdn at 5:41 PM on July 20, 2003


argybarg, I agree that there are differences between the Parks and Gilmore cases. I don't see anyone here saying that these cases are "equally valuable" or that Gilmore is "equally heroic." There are some parallels, though, I think you would agree. For example, Gilmore's defiance was to him what he thought he and everyone else should be able to do: wear a political pin. The message on the pin wasn't threatening to anything but the status quo of treating citizens as suspects, which I would argue warrants expression today.

For many people who have posted to this thread, it seems that Gilmore's arrogance, or chutzpah or snarkiness (however you look at it) appears to be a large deciding factor for how they register his button-wearing. For those who see him as an asshole, per se, independent of the button, they feel he should therefore be deprived the rights others may enjoy in the same way that an overly grabby child should be deprived of desert. The freedom of speech doesn't work this way.

kindall, this relates to you on a couple of points:

[parks] didn't set out to take a stand...

You're wrong, but this point is irrelevant. The right was hers, and she claimed it. The passengers and driver disagreed with her, but the courts sided with her. Whether she sat down with a loud harumph or meekly requested a place to rest matters not one whit.

People had no reason to be jumpy about being on a bus or Parks's presence on it.

I agree with you, but the people on that bus sure thought they did. You see, all it takes it one uppity negro stepping out of her place--with impunity!--to set the who racial balance on the downhill slide toward racial mongrelization. That defiance was a big deal at the time.

And Gilmore's defiance, much more than the sentiment on his pin alone, is what is such a big deal now. Gilmore was standing up against the unwritten rile that you don't challenge authority when it comes to anything related to 9-11, and I agree with most poster to this thread that he was right in doing so, even if it did make him look like an ass.
posted by squirrel at 6:20 PM on July 20, 2003


who decides which opinions are "valuable" and which are not?

Well, we do. We're grown adults, and I've been assured many times on this thread that we're independent-minded. So how about we not deny ourselves the right to render judgement on what is crucial and what is trivial?

We who talk about these cases and debate them have the right, or even the obligation, to make such decisions. More generally, in a society committed to civic involvement such determinations -- of what is worthwhile, and thereby what is worth defending -- must be made through democratic processes.

The alternative is that we leave it to the courts to defend our freedom. The courts, and the rules they hand down. Which leads to the uncomfortable corrolary that when the courts decide something crucial is not a freedom we can enjoy, the most we can do is plead with them.
posted by argybarg at 6:31 PM on July 20, 2003


Let's see. Gilmore believes and is willing to state publicly that what passes for airline security is not only a waste of money and time, but also happens to violate what he believes is a fundamental right. Not a few people happen to agree with him. The only substantive argument against his tactics that I've observed in this thread are that he's an asshole and trying to draw attention to himself. And yet I see a political stance that he's drawing public attention to. Hmmm.

But of course he's not black, therefore his position has no validity. And he premeditated it. Asshole. And people are jumpy on airplanes, precisely because of those practices that
Gilmore abhors. And as has been pointed out, an airline is more than just a private piece of property.

There was no fire. Gilmore did not yell fire. He stated his beliefs, quietly and firmly. Those who think he should be kept from doing that should move to China.
posted by divrsional at 6:40 PM on July 20, 2003


Well, we do. We're grown adults... The alternative is that we leave it to the courts to defend our freedom.

what you're advocating is not constitutional democracy, but mob rule. Minority viewpoints often suffer when the majority unsystematically intuits responses - when unfamiliar or different people, attitudes, or opinions surface, the majority may wish they would just go away. If we don't have rules in place which defend the minority viewpoint, the majority will often feel justified in repressing it, without empathetically comprehending the importance it holds for the minority.

For instance, many white bus riders probably felt that the segregated seating was no big deal, that it wasn't a judgment but just a proper, civilized arrangement that allowed each to be with his own kind, etc. Many heteros have probably thought it's no big deal to ask queer couples to refrain from holding hands in public - it's simply the "polite" thing for them to do.

But for the minority, these may be much more important issues. You didn't respond to my suggestions of other "valueless" speech - do you think they ought to be protected? The only kind of speech that should be restricted is that which directly impacts action - yelling fire means everyone has to get out of the theatre. Wearing a button should have no effect on anyone's action.
posted by mdn at 7:38 PM on July 20, 2003


oh, also harassment and distracting speech, but that's restricted as action rather than as expression of opinion
posted by mdn at 7:39 PM on July 20, 2003


"Modern society thrives on etiquette..."

No. Modern society, and most societies since (at least) biblical times, thrives on the rule of law. Law is based on the elusive principle of "fairness". On of the oldest examples of practical guidelines derived from this principle is the intention to let 'the punishment fit the crime'; long jail sentences for rapists, fines for parking by the firehydrant - not the other way around.

Punishing Gilmore and 300 passengers in this way for the crime of wearing a button that a flight attendant deemed "offensive" is in no way appropriate.

About the whole civility and etiquette thing; one of the basic things every child learns early on in childhood is that when you're in a public space, you can't force everyone to behave like you want them to.

Obviously, the pilot had been shielded from this learning experience.

The pilot might be god almighty in the eyes of himself and certain parts of the public, but his job is to get the plane safely from A to B. Outside of that job, he has no more special authority than Joe Sixpack. He is, in short, a glorified busdriver. (Cue Rosa Parks analogy here).
That button had, as signal so wittily pointed out, no impact on the pilots job of keeping the plane safe.
The pilot wasted everyones time and the airlines money for no good reason other than to needlessly assert his own authority. He should be fired, not applauded, and I lament the state of affairs that has led to the opposite happening.
posted by spazzm at 8:00 PM on July 20, 2003


you know, I try to believe in democracy, and then a story like this reminds me that 90% of the population are just retarded.

Well, we can all be as enlightened as you. Forgive us mere mortals.

I'm putting in a knee jerk response, but hey I guess that's what 90% of us would do. Seriously is being insulting and elitist the way to hel them see the light?

Yes this whole episode is idiotic, but let's be honest, Barlow lives for this shit, any result short of this would've probably been a disppointment.

He wore the button to impress the type of people that impresses, and the security people arrested him to impress the type of people who are impressed by that.

This is what it's all come to, politically I suppose, one big stupid pointless pissing contest. I don't like living uder GW Bush, but I'm that convinced that life under those who oppose him would be any better.
posted by jonmc at 8:06 PM on July 20, 2003


mdn:

There's a good argument that Gilmore did in an action rather than an expression of opinion. It would have been more clearcut if he had stood at the security check and shouted "I AM A TERRORIST! I HAVE A BOMB!" but I think what he did is along similar lines of, say, burning a cross in someone's yard. Or tacking a photo of a burning cross to someone's door. There's no specific threat, but it conveys danger in a context that's volatile.

Anyway, you're summoning the days when Alexander Hamilton and his ilk railed against "the demorats, moborats and all the other rats." They thought that the people weren't fit to govern; they'd make anarchy out of society. They put all sorts of institutions in the way of the decisions that the people might make and thus we wound up with something closer to an elective aristocracy.

The problem is that if the people can't be trusted to make decisions about their own society, who can? The somehow-nobler institutions that are supposed to trump the whims of the people have turned in decisions just as brutal as anything the people might have come up with (see the Dred Scott case). Is it those lovely robes the justices wear that gives them that supernal ability to oversee us without our consent?

And what form of government do you really wind up with if you view the people as rabble? You may say "representative democracy" but the "democracy" part is tokenism. If the people aren't to be trusted, who winds up making decisions? And how?

The point is not that these cases should come down to lynch mobs or toll-free-number polls. There are methods by which people can arrive at informed consensus, including, perhaps, debates like those we're having here (although some of us are supposed to go to China because we're unfit, gosh)

And there is no holy text or legal document that can specify every one of our rights and the proper decisions in each niggling case. There isn't even an absolutist opinion even one step shy of outright anarchy that doesn't involve some human interpretation of the law.

The key is reliance on a generative, democratic process that summons the best and most intelligent decisions, rather than a reliance on institutions to take care of these problems for us.

Otherwise, what's the point of free speech anyway? If our political opinions are just the voice of the mob, why are they worth protecting? Just on principle?

(And I probably shouldn't have said "valueless" speech when I meant something more like "insubstantial".)
posted by argybarg at 8:29 PM on July 20, 2003


[...]I think what he did is along similar lines of, say, burning a cross in someone's yard.

Oh please. How is setting fire to a large wood construct on someone else's home in the middle of the night, without permission or warning, similar to wearing a 1" button with text in a public space?

"Public space" and "Freedom" means that you can't make everybody else behave the way you think they should.

The airplane might have been private property, but so was Rosa Park's bus - and both were still public spaces, because the public had access to them.
posted by spazzm at 8:46 PM on July 20, 2003


kendall: Which is why I rarely criticize the President of the United States. I do have some experience in public speaking, so I feel free to say he's not very good at that. But certainly I'm not versed in military strategy or foreign policy, nor am I so naive that I believe I have all the information about a given situation that the President has. Thus my opinions tend to be very tentative on these matters, and as they are tentative, they are rarely worth expressing in public.

But isn't there a slight difference here in that the office of the presidency is set up to be the ultimate servant of the people, and therefore criticism of the president is not only a legal right, but a civic duty?

That is, after all is said and done, why the early major battles over freedom of speech were fought. Furthemore, how can voters, as the ultimate judge of the president's performance participate in democracy at the ballot box if they censor themsemselves in the months prior to the election?

This is not about terrorist threats, but rather of allowing a known troublemaker onto the plane. The only reason one would wear a button that says "Suspected Terrorist" is to cause trouble. The initial incident may be only a small bit of trouble, and it may or may not directly effect the safety of the plane, butby his actions Gilmore flagged himself as a random factor. He has already done something unexpected, and you don't know what else he will do, so you get him off the plane.

I had no idea that the intent of wearing a one-inch button (which you have to get pretty darn close into the person's physical space in order to read) is "to cause trouble." But the big problem is that a huge number of other things recently have been deemed as potential trouble-making from reading left-wing editorials at Carabou Coffee, to membership in the Green Party, to entering the United States to give raw foods workshops, to reading the wrong type of fiction, to simply having the wrong color of skin on an aeroplane.

The fundamental difference of opinion seems to be that wearing a one-inch button is "asshole" behavior. Evidently, none of his fellow passengers objected, so his status as an asshole is open to debate.

argybarg: It would have been more clearcut if he had stood at the security check and shouted "I AM A TERRORIST! I HAVE A BOMB!" but I think what he did is along similar lines of, say, burning a cross in someone's yard. Or tacking a photo of a burning cross to someone's door. There's no specific threat, but it conveys danger in a context that's volatile.

None of these seem to be analogous. I think the old analysis that "your rights end at my nose" holds sway here. Shouting that one has a bomb is an obvious threat that should be treated as such. Burning a cross or tacking a photo of a burning cross is tresspass. An article of clothing that most of us agree should be treated as having an ironic message is hardly tresspass.

The problem is that is it really possible for a 1" button to convey danger when the 1" button is widely recognized as a medium for political and cultural expression? And furthermore, fellow passengers apparently got the point and did not see the button as threatening?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:48 PM on July 20, 2003


He wore the button to impress the type of people that impresses, and the security people arrested him to impress the type of people who are impressed by that.

jonmc, perhaps you're right. For my own reasons, I believe that his motivations (and theirs) were more complex. But I don't know, so let's suppose you're right. In this case, I'm still free to view it as a challenge to free speech, regardless of his/their motivations. If you find this case inconsequential, why discuss it? Can you deny the consequence that others have drawn from it?

argybarg, I think you have a point, and I think I might agree with it. Could you please rephrase?
posted by squirrel at 8:55 PM on July 20, 2003


Also, mdn rocks.
posted by squirrel at 8:57 PM on July 20, 2003


The only reason one would wear a button that says "Suspected Terrorist" is to cause trouble.

If you can name a single hard-fought freedom that has been won within the boundaries of polite behavior, be my guest.
posted by rcade at 9:28 PM on July 20, 2003


Also, is it at all possible to recognize that Gilmore was being provocative and quite possibly in poor taste, while also recognizing that he has a legitimate point about airports going a bit overboard in their definitions of threatening behavior?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:32 PM on July 20, 2003


but I have a hard time seeing Gilmore, a white male, as being an oppressed class.

Oh, but we are, kindall! What's the difference between a married American male and a single Chinese guy?

The Chinese guy can leave his home whenever he likes, but he can't leave his country, but the married American guy can leave his country whenever he wants, but can't leave the house!
posted by wackybrit at 1:25 AM on July 21, 2003


selfish bastard. make your ideological stands on your own time - don't make 300 people suffer just so you can be principled about your beliefs.
posted by luriete at 10:14 AM on July 21, 2003


Gilmore didn't make them wait, luriete, the captain did.
posted by squirrel at 10:31 AM on July 21, 2003


Or maybe that's who you meant.
posted by squirrel at 10:32 AM on July 21, 2003


If a one inch pin is asking for trouble, does that mean we can rape scantily clad women now?

I mean, they're obviously asking for it, right?
posted by witchycal at 1:15 PM on July 21, 2003


Nice strawman, there witchycal. I put this more along the lines of passing out drunk a park bench with 500 bucks in your wallet and then complaining when you get robbed. Sure, it's wrong to steal, but the victims a boob.

Plus I can kinda understand the pilots desire to give him a hrad time. An airline pilot, is someone for whom the threat of terrorism is very real. I imagine him seeing that button and thinking, "yeah, real funny asshole."

Does it justify what happened here, no. But come on, that button was basically a flesh-life troll. The main thing they did wrong was to rise to the bait.
posted by jonmc at 1:33 PM on July 21, 2003


You still put Gilmore as doing a particular action. I think my strawman is just as valid as everyone else's.

His attire seems equivalent to passing out drunk, yelling in a crowded theatre, refusing to get off the phone, and stripping in a posh restaurant. However all of your examples require action.

Mine only requires the offending person to enter one's line of vision, which is exactly what happened. Sure he resisted after being asked. But he should never have been asked.

Especially if we want to pretend that we're modeled after a polite society. A snooty glance and perhaps a nasty rumor was all that a silly pin would warrant in a polite society. People wouldn't want to make a scene in polite society.

If we want to talk about polite society, it's not Gilmore who fails.
posted by witchycal at 2:27 PM on July 21, 2003


The problem is that if the people can't be trusted to make decisions about their own society, who can?

The people have to commit to a standard rule of law and then stand by it even when in individual situations they can't see why it's needed. It's like a moral code you might have for yourself: perhaps you feel tempted to cheat on your wife, but your second voice pops in and reminds you, no, you're not that sort of guy.

The constitution is our collective moral code. Even if we're tempted, in individual situations, to say, well, he's a jerk, or, what he wants to say is inconsequential to me, we have to stand by our overarching system. Sometimes what seems inconsequential or rude at the time, in the thick of it, so to speak, turns out to be more important than you thought. As long as the speech is not intruding on the rights of others, it should be allowed.

To claim that a small pin on a man's shirt is intruding on your rights is just silly. To you, his need to express it was superficial, but it may be important to him. As I said above, there are many times where the majority doesn't see why the minority is going on about something. The back of the bus is just as good as the front; what's the big deal? Don't cause trouble...

jonmc, I'm sorry about that comment. I'm just feeling a little disillusioned. I'm becoming more and more convinced that an entry level course in critical thinking should be required at every high school in the country, though.
posted by mdn at 3:09 PM on July 21, 2003


So, where can I get one of these "suspected terrorist" buttons? I don't have the balls to wear it on a plane, but I might be up to generally wearing it about.

In other news, I'm pretty alarmed that people here think the right to express political opinions ends when you are a jerk, and that we should all decide democratically when free speech applies and when it doesn't. Today a majority may agree with you that some particular form of expression is not valid, but tomorrow you may find yourself on the other side of the fence.

A gay couple holding hands (cited by someone else on that thread) or even (gasp!) kissing in public is an excellent example. I bet most Americans would consider such behavior in very poor taste, and perhaps a majority would vote that it's not valid or protected expression. Don't believe me? Consider that until recently many states had laws about what kind of sexual activity you may engage in in the privacy of your own home. Consider that most people still consider the idea of gay marriage an affront.

Be careful what kind of can of worms you're opening up.

Yes, those 9 guys in robes are fallible, but they are a critical counterbalance to society's whims of the moment. Think of them as our superego - the impulse control we need to avoid breaking good rules that are sometimes hard to follow.
posted by maciej at 4:39 AM on July 22, 2003


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