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« Quote Of The Day | WILLisms.com | Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 67 »

Facing the real foe

One of the more disturbing aspects of social change over the fast few decades has to be the depersonalization of responsibility. The trend has been, more and more, not to blame people for their actions, but the objects they use in the commission of their misdeeds.

I initially thought this was a partisan phenomenon, but the longer I considered the matter, the more I came to realize that it pretty much crossed party lines – the difference is in how it is expressed.

Let’s start off with drugs. We have very strong, very strict drug laws in this country. Manufacturing, transporting, selling, possessing, and using illegal drugs all have very strict penalties attached to them.

Speaking strictly personally, I have never been harmed by cocaine (just to pick one drug). I have nothing against it, and it has never hurt me. The reason for that is simple – I’ve never taken it. I have no interest in cocaine whatsoever, so it is utterly harmless to me.

I am far more concerned with the actions of addicts than their addiction itself. If treating their addiction will reduce the crimes they commit, then wonderful. But the vast majority of addicts first tried their substance of choice willingly, and the consequences of that choice should solely rest on their shoulders.

Another odd byblow of the war on drugs is the idea of the government filing charges against inanimate objects. “The United States vs. $125,000 in various bills” is one such case going around, when people found to be transporting large sums of cash have it taken from them. Other cases I can recall involve buildings and motor vehicles.

The obscenity of this practice is only surpassed by its absurdity. I simply don’t understand how any halfway competent lawyer hasn’t embraced the silliness and destroyed the practice through sheer ridicule.

“Officer Jones, you were the arresting officer who took this briefcase of money into custody?”

“I am.”

“When you arrested it, did you read the cash its Miranda rights?”

“Um… yes, sir.”

“And did the cash indicate that it understood these rights?”

This doesn’t even begin to address the issues of the accused pile of money being given its other rights, such as the right to choose its own counsel, the right to confront its accusers, and trial by a jury of its peers. I also wonder if the accused cash could offer up a portion of itself as bail.

On the left, we have the fascinating issue of gun control (or, as some 2nd Amendment advocates are starting to call it, “victim disarmament”). The idea seems to be that guns are inherently evil and dangerous, and the instant they touch human flesh they transform the person into a psychotic killing machine.

Again, like cocaine, guns have never harmed me. I’ve held a few, even shot them a few times, and I am no better or no worse off for the experience.

Firearms, though, unlike drugs, are Constitutionally protected. Which makes it a trifle more difficult for the nanny-staters to take them away from law-abiding citizens before they are transformed into unfeeling killing machines.

Finally, we have the item that prompted my recent thoughts: the banning of most liquids from airline flights. The reasoning is sound, on the surface – there is strong and compelling evidence that some people in England were planning to bring down several airliners with liquid explosives, smuggled aboard in carryon packages disguised as ordinary, harmless liquids. In the wake of that, all sorts of liquids and gels – drinks, shampoos, cosmetics -– were banned from the cabins and banished to the holds.

This was done, they say, in the interests of safety and fairness. We should not and dare not exempt anyone from these measures, so everyone gets treated equally –- and all are equally scrutinized.

This is not just wrong, it is wrong-headed.

To repeat my earlier point, no airliner has ever been destroyed by a bomb. They have been destroyed by terrorists who used bombs, but the bombs themselves bore no malice and had no intent. Just as no hammer ever built a house and no computer ever created a virus, the bomb was a tool, a simple means to an end.

We have focused far too much of our effort on finding the tools, and skimped on seeking out the tool’s user. That is purely a defensive strategy, and the danger of such an approach is that the attacker can try again and again with impunity –- and only has to succeed once. The defender has to be perfect each and every single time, for a single slip-up can be fatal. And there is no provision for ending the attacks.

And so that is why it is time to start looking not just for bombs, but bombers.

“Profiling” has acquired such an ugly reputation among many, and that is unjust. Profiling, in its truest sense, is evaluating known common characteristics of past perpetrators and using them to identify others who may be likely to commit (or have committed) the same offense. It’s also known as “good police work,” “noticing,” or simply paying attention.

So far, the vast majority of terrorists have fit a certain profile: Middle-Eastern men, ages 18 to 45, of the Muslim faith.

Of course, I am NOT calling for the mass roundup of everyone who might fit that description. But I think it is no great violation of our Constitution if people like that, especially if coupled with suspicious behavior, get a little extra attention from security officials.

Profiling may not be pretty, but it can work. I speak as a single white male in his late 30’s who is a bit of a loner -– no family connections, very few friends. If there’s ever a serial killer here in Manchester, I fully expect the police to give me a looksee. And if that were to happen, I would cooperate with them as fully as I could to eliminate myself as a suspect, so they could get on with finding the real killer.

Some critics of the profiling approach say that it will become useless, as the terrorists will find more people like Richard Reid or John Walker Lindh, neither of whom readily fit the profile, to commit their deeds. But that is oversimplifying the problem.

The vast majority of the terrorists do fit that profile, and xenophobia –- fear of strangers -– is a key element of their theology and ideology. For all their proclamations of how Islam is the great equalizer, how all people are the same in the eyes of Allah and all Muslims are brothers, they still have some very bitter prejudices that show through. The different denominations of Islam are quite virulent when it comes to the violent extremists. There are also tribal and nationalistic differences that can lead to very unpleasant friction.

Toss in one final element: they know that they are hunted, and at every opportunity their enemies (us) are looking to infiltrate them. With all those factors calculated in, their success in finding, recruiting, training, and using non-profiled individuals is quite slim –- and our opportunities for discovering and infiltrating them goes up accordingly.

We must never forget that we are not fighting bombs, or bullets, or hijackings, or missiles, or rockets, or even box-cutters. We are fighting human beings who use those items as tools to wage war. If all we do is to continually disarm them, they will continue to find new weapons and keep fighting.

And as the attacker, they can fail a hundred times, a thousand times, for each success, and still declare victory.

Posted by Jay Tea · 22 August 2006 12:00 PM


Heheheh too funny.

The U.S. Government versus a big pile of money . . . the victor in the encounter is pretty much preordained.

The 'U.S. v. $235,000' type cases are actually pretty common. That is how forfeiture cases are titled.

Posted by: Ken McCracken at August 22, 2006 02:29 PM

Of course, a bunch of those "US versus a big pile of cash" cases are aimed at some money they found in a guy's car, where he claims he had no idea what that money was doing in the vehicle he was driving from Chicago to Mexico. This gives them a huge number of precedents that nobody ever challenged.

I remember a few years back, when some guy got nabbed selling drugs out of his parents' house, and the official policy was to confiscate the house. Except that the person who owned the house was a local politico, so the confiscation never happened.

Posted by: cirby at August 22, 2006 02:40 PM

Jay Tea, you always seem to nail it. Great job. Love reading your stuff.

Posted by: Kevin at August 22, 2006 03:32 PM

For what it's worth, I have to disagree. We don't allow guns on airplanes, nor would I want to ride on an airplane if such a policy was not enforced. I suppose the rebuttal would be, "But if guns can be banned from airplanes, where do we draw the line?"
I may be wrong, but it seems like you're advocating that guns should not be prohibited from airlines. If you're not saying this, how does this differentiate from what you are saying? Why should we ban guns from airplanes if guns are not dangerous?
I know I'm probably misunderstanding you here. It's gotten so difficult online to ask someone to explain something without making them all defensive.

Posted by: JohnJ at August 22, 2006 04:42 PM

JohnJ, I appreciate the civil tone, and I'll try to clarify.

To get absurd, I'll repeat my point: a gun, by itself, is pretty harmless. It's only dangerous when it's picked up and used by a bad guy -- and we're watching for them. Stop the bad guy, you stop the gun, too -- or, at least, render it harmless.

Seriously, though, you're right, and I'm calling for the people screening in addition to the item screening. Ideals and principles aside, I'm not enamored of travelling in a plane with armed folk (air marshals and law enforcement officials aside) either.


Posted by: Jay Tea at August 22, 2006 04:50 PM

I kind of like the idea of air marshals and law enforcement these days. It's not like a bomb straps itself to a plane, OR a gun puts itself in the hands of a radical Islamist. The radical Islamist intends on killing the infidel. If it kills them all the better, as far as they are concerned. That is the sad reality!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at August 22, 2006 05:04 PM

Jay, your racial profiling" is already in place, particularly from fellow passengers. It is the old conundrum; sure we must protect ourself from crazy politically and religious minded fanatics..but, at the same time, I think it would be wise to address what is driving so many of them crazy too, since our failure to do so, will only create more of them.

Posted by: Steve Crickmore at August 22, 2006 06:12 PM

It is bad enough that we are tolerating the war on terror slide with Ahmadinejad, a known terrorist. It would be very foolish to not use racial profiling as a defense in our behalf.

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at August 22, 2006 07:43 PM

Yeah, Steve, I saw that. But that is hardly sufficient, to me. The fact that the people had to take such actions on their own shows me they have given up on expecting their government to protect them -- and I don't care for that at all. I don't trust the government to do many things, but basic security like this is pretty damned high on that list.


Posted by: Jay Tea at August 22, 2006 08:38 PM

Just a hypothetical side note: As a peron who has done a lot of IPSC shooting matches there is a certain amount of calm, reason and general politeness in events where everyone has a gun. For that reason, I'd probably me more inclined to fly on a flight where everyone had a gun if offered for the simple reason that the infered result to a hijacking attempt is pretty forgone.

Posted by: Rob B. at August 23, 2006 11:58 AM

I doubt that mutually assured destruction would work with the terrorists. That's basically the reason we don't want every country to have the bomb, and it's the reason why allowing everyone on a flight to have a gun wouldn't necessarily make it any safer. The entire reason we don't just arrest all the bad guys is because it is hard to tell who the bad guys are. Sure, we could shoot all the muslims and that would eliminate a lot of terrorists. But we have to ask if the cost would outweigh the benefits. I understand the necessity of racial profiling during WW2, but perhaps we can do it better now. As an alternative to racial profiling, we could try to institute a form of profiling based on immigration status. While it's easy to say that identification can be faked, so can race. Anything can be faked. We have to try to go with what works best. What do you think?

Posted by: JohnJ at August 26, 2006 04:01 PM