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August 14th, 2006

Comments on the Comments

I have been pleased and surprised by the vast outpouring of comments on my last two journal posts, and heartened by the overwhelming show of support for some of the things I said. Not that there hasn't been a fair amount of disagreement as well, some of it considered and thoughtful, some... less so.

A few of the more recent posters wonder whether I will ever read their thoughts, given the sheer number of comments. Let me assure you that I am reading all the comments. I have even responded to a few, as you will see if you scroll through the pages. For obvious reasons, however, I cannot respond to all of them.

I would like to reply to a few of the things that have been said, however.

A couple of people have argued that flying is not a "fundamental right." I am not really sure how a "fundamental right" differs from an ordinary right, but never mind. This is one we've been hearing since airport "security" was first created thirty years ago. I suspect the wording actually derives from some court decision, since those first security measures were tested in court way back when, and upheld. If so, I think it was a bad decision, and one that to my mind flies in the face of the plain words of the Constitution.

Of course "flying" is not a right. The Constitution predates the Wright Brothers by more than a century, so it is doubtful that its authors would have felt the need to include specific language as regards commercial aviation. What they did write is this:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

That's the Fourth Amendment, part of what we now call the Bill of Rights. That's the reason why the police need to get a search warrant before breaking into your house. That's where the whole concept of "probable cause" comes from.

Note, however, that is it not limited to houses. The framers did not want the police stopping and searching people on the streets either. Besides houses, the Fourth Amendment also gives us the right to be secure in our PERSONS... not only in our homes, but also when we step outside to travel and conduct our business.

That's the "fundamental right" at stake here. There is "right to fly," but neither is there is a "right to ride a horse," "right to travel by stagecoach," or "right to walk down the street." All those are implied by the plain and simple language that is there: our right to be secure in our persons, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Mind you, there is legitimate ground for argument here, and I acknowledge that. The key word is UNREASONABLE. One can argue, legitimately, that airport "security" searches are reasonable and necessary. I do not agree, but there at least there is legitimate ground for debate. There should be no debate on whether we all should have the right to travel as we wish without being stopped and searched, however, whether by trains, planes, automobiles, or our own two feet.

As for "reasonable," well, read the news, read some of the other comments, take a look around the next time you go to the airport. If you think frisking an eleven-year-old girl or an old woman in a wheelchair is reasonable, I'm afraid we have to disagree. If you think that stopping thousands of law-abiding citizens, searching their effects, and seizing their bottles of Evian and tubes of Crest is reasonable, I am at a loss at to what to say to you. We obviously live on different planets. (And one more aside. Not only does airport "security" infringe on the Fourth Amendment, but it also limits the First, the right of free speech that I think all of you would agree IS a "fundamental right." I am talking about those signs you see at every airport warning passengers not to make jokes about bombs and guns. Where else can one be detained and interrogated for MAKING A JOKE, but at an airport? And do please note, I am not saying that joking around at the metal detector is a good idea. It's a stupid thing to do, in fact... but you know, free speech includes the right to say stupid things. And just to forestall the inevitable response, please don't come back to me with the hoary old "fire in a crowded theater" argument. I've heard good ol' boys in security queues saying stuff like, "Hey, better search grandma there, I think she's got an A bomb in her purse," and it is not remotely similar to shouting fire in a crowded theater).

While we are on the subject of rights, one poster argued that our only rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Uh, no... actually, those words are from the Declaration of Independence, and the Declaration, while a splendid and inspirational document, has no standing in American law. You need to read the Constitution, and especially the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. You won't find pursuit of happiness there, but you will find a list of the actual rights that the framers thought were worth protecting.

A couple of posters have asked me for a "solution" to the problem of terrorism. No small order there. Obviously, I don't have a solution. I don't think anyone does. I did, however, put forth one suggestion for a PARTIAL (please note that word) solution, albeit a long-term one. You will find it in my reply to the third comment on the first page. I won't repeat it here, but go and take a look at that if you're interested.

Finally, there is the argument, put forward many times in the comments, that airport "security" is a "small inconvenience" and much preferable to being blown up by terrorists.

The fact that so many people will actually advance this argument with a straight face really does suggest that the terrorists are winning.

Why do you think they call it TERRORISM, folks? The point of terrorism is not to kill us, but to MAKE US AFRAID. And comments like those show that it is working. No one was killed by last week's plot, so in that sense it was a failure... but in the broader sense, the terrorists scored a huge success, since millions of us are now a lot more fearful than we were a week ago.

The truth is that it is VERY unlikely that any of us will die at the hands of terrorists. We stand a better chance of being killed by lightning, and we stand a MUCH better chance of slipping in the shower and cracking our skulls on the tub. Overall, an airplane in flight is a much safer place than the average American bathroom. Shampoo is dangerous stuff, all right... but more so when we use it than when it's packed away in our carry on.

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George R.R. Martin
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