Friday, August 1, 2008

problems with the world

1. I know I just LOVE having my gadgets seized at the border indefinitely without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

I haven't fully read through the slashdot debate, but it seems that the standard response to "this violates the 4th amendment" is the "you're not on US soil yet, so the 4th amendment doesn't count" and "border searches are ok". Fine, I'll grant you your quasi-legal border searches, but I damn well be walking into my own country with my iPod unless you are acknowledging that you consider me to be under suspicion of harboring terrorism. (And in that case, wouldn't you lock me up?) As far as I'm aware, border searches != border seizures of laptops. And since I'm "not on US soil yet", does the US customs office actually have any power? If customs decides to confiscate my laptop and suddenly I decide I DON'T want to enter the US, I bet you they would never let me fly back to whatever country I was returning from or send me off to the embassy.

(I especially love how this is one of the most viewed articles, as listed on the Washington Post homepage, but it is still relegated to a link under More Headlines...)

[via Schneier on Security]

2. I love the new Batman movie, which I is not entirely free of the pacing problems brought up by some critics. However, I think it works very well in keeping the viewer interested for the entire movie, which has multiple subplots. I think Taylor's analysis of why Batman does not make a good model for foreign policy hits a number of issues very well:
For example, the most ardent supporters of the administration think that this is the way the War on Terror works–for example, that everyone at Gitmo is obviously a terrorist (even if we know that that is not the case) and that they are all on the same level as Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers. In that world, just having the wrong name or being in the wrong place at the wrong time isn’t a problem as the wrong people are never punished or harmed because, again, we know who the bad guys are and no mistakes are ever made.

I feel that this point is often overlooked by the public (and the Media!) when discussing policy. Justifying policy by citing 24 is ridiculous. I will bet you any large sum of money you want that the number of times we needed to (1) torture a suspected terrorist for the key to disarm a ticking bomb but couldn't because of Geneva conventions, is zero, while the number of times we (2) held foreign and US citizens in Gitmo without access to lawyers or outside contact without charging them with anything, but still subjecting them to waterboarding (which is only "interrogation", regardless of what Hitchens thinks!) is, um, not zero. (I don't want to speculate on the number)

Real-life is NOT a comic-book. And even if we ever ran across situation (1), I'm pretty sure "Jack Bauer" would torture the terrorist, Geneva conventions be damned.

[via Stephen Bainbridge via Scalzi, even if I read a different post than the one Scalzi linked to.]

The overarching point I'm trying to make is that laws should not be made based on some idealistic vision of how they are implemented. In reality, TSA officials are humans, for the most part not rigorously trained, and will give travelers a hard time for questioning them. Yes, everyone SHOULD be polite, but just because you have the authority to make someone's life a living hell, doesn't make you any less evil for doing so because they point out that throwing out plastic water bottles is stupid and doesn't protect anyone from terrorism, but almost certainly contributes to that large gyre of plastic trash in the oceans. And yet, here I go saying people who do that in the TSA are evil, when again, they are just human. It's not entirely their fault that the government decided to give them enormous power without proper training. (1) the government shouldn't give individuals that kind of power to begin with, not without a usable system for reporting wrongdoings and geeting compensated and (2) what happened to training people properly?

These are the kinds of things lawmakers (and certain executive branch officials who think they are lawmakers) should think about before passing legislation. The public has enough to deal with, that they don't need to be tempted into voting for someone because of an idiotic, pandering, law that appeals to our short-term reward system. Politicians need to do what is good for the public's long-term interest, NOT what makes them appear to be tough on terrorism and empathetic with those who pay high gas prices.


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