Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

...And He Is Us

Playing in the background: The sonorous tap-tap-tapping of a hammer on nails
Meters swum today: None. (1.4 km for 2009.)

Once in a while I wonder about us. We humans, I mean. For all we're brilliant beings and the apex of evolution (unless you count octopuses, and I, personally, do; next time around I wanna be a cephelopod) we still do some of the stupidest things imaginable, lots of which flat-out threaten our survival as a species. This isn't that kind of post, though. This is about more mundane stupidity: Tossing people off an airplane because of their conversation.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for tossing people off airplanes. Drunk and disorderly? Toss 'em off. Sick with something communicable and really dangerous, like multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis? Toss 'em off. Parents of small kids who haven't bothered to explain to said kids how one behaves in a situation where one is trapped with dozens of strangers in a small metal tube or don't bother to restrain their little darlings from running up and down the aisles, kicking the seat in front of them and screaming at the top of their lungs? Fergodsake, toss 'em off. I'd be for tossing off the kids, too, but by and large it isn't their fault. We're not born knowing how to be polite in public. We have to be taught. Woe unto us if the people we're born to can't be bothered.

No, what I'm talking about here is booting people who aren't causing any problems off an airplane because you don't like their conversations, their skin color, the way they dress or the language they happen to speak. What I'm talking about here is this Muslim family of nine, on its way to Orlando for a religious retreat, that got kicked off an airplane for the crime of (gasp!) talking about where it's safest to sit:

Officials said two teenage girls sitting nearby became alarmed when they heard Sahin remark that sitting near the engines would not be safe in the event of an accident or an explosion. The girls told their parents, who told a flight attendant, AirTran officials said.

Okay, let's back that up a sec. Hands up who's ever had a conversation about airplane safety. Hands up who's ever had a conversation about airplane safety on an airplane. I thought so. I mean, where else do you discuss airplane safety, a frick'n city bus? All you have to do is pick up the cute little card they stick into the seat pocket in front of you to start a discussion about airplane safety. Myself, I worry about all the things people don't discuss. Like why you shouldn't try to take your carry-ons in the event of an evacuation (the bags hinder the evacuation, and people die) or why you shouldn't inflate your life vest until you're in the water (the life vests are big and bulky, they make it hard to see, they hinder the evacuation, and people die). Look, I know airplane crashes are extremely unlikely, but I've been in several near-disasters and I can tell ya, you need to know what to do in those situations and why. The way you find out what you need to do is to listen to the nice flight attendant doing the demo, reading the little card, and (gasp!) talking to people.

I better back up a sec. My dad flies a light plane, a four-seater one-engine job. He's an ex-Air Force pilot and he taught students for years. If Mom happened to be busy and Dad had a lesson to teach, me and my sister went along for the ride. Among the many things that went wrong; the alternator died on us, we landed without power (several times), one of the students did an unauthorized barrel roll (that was fun, actually); the door popped open at 5,000 feet and we caught ice outside of Heber, Utah and landed sans radio or lights in the dark of night. And one time we almost ran over a coyote but that was kind of my fault. What I'm trying to say here is, big commercial airliners are safe. Stuff like this hardly ever happens. Besides, it all happened to me and I'm still in one piece.

Back to this family, though. It's hard to argue that they got tossed off the airplane for any reason other than their appearance and their conversation. That sucks rocks. If anybody should get tossed off an airplane because of their conversation, it's the half-naked blonde bimbos on the way back from Spring Break who loudly extoll the virtues of oral sex with Tim, or was it Jim, on the beach at Corpus Christi to the entire airplane, whether they want to hear it or not. Or the drunks on their way to Vegas who keep doing high-fives and waving their shirts over their heads to look cool. A Muslim family in religious dress, on its way to a religious retreat, just does not fit into this category.

The FBI and the Homeland Security officials who responded to this non-incident were, by all accounts, professional and polite. The airline, AirTran, has apologized and refunded the tickets to the family, which is only right. Still, I don't think it's fair to blame the airline or the officials. The people responsible for this fiasco are the two teenage girls, who "became alarmed," and their parents, who over-reacted to a single reported snippet of conversation (hearsay!), got freaked out because the people who were having the conversation Didn't Look Like Them, and ended up violating the civil rights of nine people, to say nothing of delaying everybody else for hours. Happy frick'n New Year to you, too.

So there you have it. When it comes down to bad behavior of the human species, in the end we can blame only ourselves, our own prejudices and irrational fears and unwillingness to just let things be what they are. I hope the teenage girls are good and embarrassed. I hope the parents are having a long hard look at themselves. I hope so, but I'm pessimistic. We keep doing this shit. Us, we humans, the whole planet. If I can figure out who's representing these people, I may just send them a written apology. I think they're owed one. Not by the airline, by us. We humans, the whole planet.

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