Thursday, September 14, 2006

Harry Potter and the security Nazis

Everyone but the willfully blind realize that the security Nazis at the airports have gone overboard. Bush's poodle, Tony Blair, has taken absurdity to new heights with his panicky regulations. And one of the most recent individuals caught up in his snare was the boy wizard Harry Potter.

Of course Potter is the imaginary character in the books churned out by J.K. Rowlings. Personally I think the series mildly entertaining but the work of someone who can't write a plot. After all when you delve in magic you can just make happen what needs to happen without any of the unpleasant constraints of reality. So when Harry needs to be invisible suddenly an invisibility cloak appears. That is lazy writing. But she sells and I don't begrudge her the success she has. I just don't think it's that well done.

Rowlings was in New York where she was giving a charity reading with some other authors. With her was the handwritten manuscript of the last of the Potter series. She had also done some new writing while in the States and had no copies of it securely placed elsewhere. She went to board her flight to the UK and was told she was not allowed to take anything aboard the plane. Terrorists you see! Those pages of the manuscript might magically turn into a bomb.

Are we seeing how silly and absurd this has become? Worse, it is more than silly and absurd it is authoritarian. Anyone care? Certainly not conservatives who have stopped feigning a belief in "small government" and now yearn for imperial power. Well, Rowlings fought and argued and in the end they allowed her to carry the manuscript on board. Imagine the cost to her if the manuscript had to be placed in luggage and the luggage got lost. Or imagine if some dishonest security Nazis opened the bag (something they do to people all the time) and decided to lift the manuscript. It could happen. And the cost to Rowling would be millions.

Now would Rowling have won her argument with the airport Nazis if she were not a famous author? I doubt it. Let Joe Blow take a manuscript on board that he slaved over for years and see what happens. That Rowling could buy the airline certainly didn't hurt either.

Let look at what happened to famed magician Penn Jillette of the act Penn & Teller. He writes about going through security and having a guard getting rather close to his crotch with a pat down. When Penn told the man it was a bit overdone the guard said: "Once you cross that line, I can do whatever I want." Typical security Nazi. The guard made it clear that unless Penn succumbed to his gropes he would be thrown out of the airport and miss his flight. Penn allowed the search to finish and then asked for his supervisor and the police.

The brownshirt told him that wasn't necessary. He was free to go. Penn insisted. The supervisor came over and listened to the complaint and then told Penn he could go. He again said he wanted the police. Finally a police officer arrives and he's a fan of the magic act. Penn also says he gets the impression that the cop is himself a little sick of the federal agents playing police. The feds try to get the police officer to leave. He says if a citizen is complaining of an assault he has to pay attention. Now they are concerned about Penn missing his flight. He informs them he can take a private jet in the morning.

The top brownshirt says a complaint would require looking at video of the incident. Penn is thrilled. He says: "Go get it." They don't want to. They given Penn a number where he can call with a complaint -- but it is a disconnected number that doesn't work. Finally, after much effort he reaches someone. The woman on the line tells him she would like to discuss the situation and then says that everyone likes to meet a celebrity!

Penn tells her that freedom is sort of a hobby of his and he has the disposable income to allow him to spend what is needed to get more liberty for people. She wants to know when he is next flying and says she will personally show up to see to it he has no problems. He writes: " I tell her that I'm still thinking about pressing charges, and I don't just care about me, it's freedom in general. I say the only thing that was good about it, was that while they were dealing with me, maybe they weren't beating up people in wheelchairs. It was amazing. All she was trying to do was make me happy." He advised his readers, "my advice to everyone is complain all you can and call the cops. I think it might make a little difference. Maybe you can become a VIP too."

That's the problem. VIPs can get the special treatment. Penn can be escorted by a government official who will make sure he doesn't have a problem. Rowling can take carry on baggage when others aren't even allowed to toothbrush. When government grows and becomes oppressive it knows that it can't afford high profile incidents. And celebrities are potentially high profile so they get treatment not afforded to the average person. And that ought to be a scandal. At least Penn is willing to go to mat on it and refused the special treatment. They were apologizing all over themselves and he still insisted on a police officer. Of course had the officer not known who Penn was the situation could turn out differently. The police state always comes down hard on the average Joe.