Even More "War on the Unexpected"

We're losing the "War on the Unexpected."

A blind calypso musician and his band removed from an airplane:

The passenger told the pilot of the Sardinia-Stansted flight that he was concerned about the behaviour of Michael Toussaint and four other members of the Caribbean Steel International Orchestra, a court heard. He claimed to be a psychology lecturer from London University and said he had noticed the group in "high spirits" in the terminal building, but that they had sat separately and quietly on board. He also believed Toussaint, who was wearing dark glasses, could have been feigning blindness, the court was told.

A Jewish man removed from a train:

The incident took place on a train that left Chicago early in the morning – when Jewish men are obligated to put on tefillin (phylacteries). The passenger began strapping the head-tefillin to his forehead and passengers unfamiliar with the custom rushed to the conductor and told him there was a man on board who was fastening a box to his head with wires dangling from it."

The conductor approached the passenger but the latter refused to answer him as he was in the middle of the prayer, heightening the conductor's suspicions.

Meanwhile, the passengers grew even more frantic when they noticed that the passenger sitting next to the Jewish man had a Middle-Eastern appearance and wore a turban.

More stories. And the point.

EDITED TO ADD (12/6): Bomb squad in Sarasota, Florida called in to detonate a typewriter.

EDITED TO ADD (2/8/08): The calypso band won damages in court:

A judge ruled that the airline had not acted reasonably and had failed in its duty of care to the passengers, particularly Toussaint, who was entitled to special care because of his disability.

He also found the company had issued a "false and misleading" statement to the BBC, which blamed the incident on the Italian security authorities.

Posted on December 3, 2007 at 6:15 AM • 36 Comments

Comments

jtDecember 3, 2007 6:47 AM

I'm sorta pleased by the ending of the Chicago story "'This incident has given us all an opportunity to learn about other religions and their customs," said the chief of security.'"

jtDecember 3, 2007 6:50 AM

And contrast that with the ending of musicians' story:" 'Do you accept you made a terrible mistake?'

Dunlop replied: '"No, sir, I do not. We did the very best we could in a conservative industry ... It's a very difficult position to be in.'"

Paul RenaultDecember 3, 2007 6:53 AM

In 1991, Denise Perrigo was concerned about her (perfectly normal) sexual arousal when she was breastfeeding her two-year old.
She called a local community center to get the number of the La Leche League. Instead, the volunteer, um, freaked out and reported her to the child abuse holtline. She spent a night in jail and her child was taken from her. It took a year to sort it all out and to get her child back.

"Ordinary citizens don't know what a real terrorist threat looks like"?

Heck, they don't even know what the range of normal behaviour is.

RoyDecember 3, 2007 6:58 AM

I don't see any backlash coming from American citizens, simply because the government has grown so heavy-handed and high-handed that it will never permit dissent.

However, other countries can retaliate by treating Americans abroad the way Americans treat their own visitors.

Turnabout is fair play.

BobDecember 3, 2007 7:08 AM

Perhaps a better solution for the pilot would have been to allow the three anxious families to leave and purchase tickets for the next flight. I think they'd have a harder time suing RyanAir than the band after voluntarily leaving their booked flight!

averrosDecember 3, 2007 7:10 AM

> I don't see any backlash coming from American
> citizens, simply because the government has
> grown so heavy-handed and high-handed that
> it will never permit dissent.

Oh, but there is the backlash. It is called "Ron Paul Revolution". In fact, it is exceeding all expectations, and may well become the turning point at which classically liberal ideas (not to be confused with socialism of "liberals") re-establish themselves as the coherent political force in the American politics.

VickiDecember 3, 2007 7:24 AM

Quite. The pilots should be more prepared to say things like "It's not their fault that we couldn't give them seats together. Would you like to move so they can sit together?" and "We would never force you, or anyone else, to travel if you prefer to stay home. If you would like to disembark, please give us your name so we can remove your checked luggage from the hold."

The trouble-makers would still be disrupting air travel (which we keep being told is a terrorist goal), but at least the main people inconvenienced would be them.

KerubDecember 3, 2007 7:25 AM

ah ah.

both movies to be shot with starring Gene Wilder

1) "See No Evil, Hear No Evil 2: Londoner Psycho"

2) "The Frisco Kid 2: jews on a plane"

Ed T.December 3, 2007 7:38 AM

The Jewish man should be grateful he wasn't in Boston, or else he would have been facing a {del}firing{/del} squad of policemen with {del}fully automatic weapons{/del} drawn guns, to be followed by an indictment for maybe carrying a fake bomb.

~EdT.

green byteDecember 3, 2007 7:41 AM

"Meanwhile, the passengers grew even more frantic when they noticed that the passenger sitting next to the Jewish man had a Middle-Eastern appearance and wore a turban."

Hmmm... "a Jew, an Arab and a paranoiac sit in a train...." ;)

jonDecember 3, 2007 7:45 AM

Thank God that we are winning the war on blind musicians and observant Jews! This must mean that our long national nightmare is nearly over...

Imagine how much worse it would have been if those folks had seen a spider or a mouse. It's no war on terror, more like the war on the unexpected, or the war on things that aren't exactly like me.

There's no negative feedback reinforcement for incorrect alarms. If someone makes you nervous you can shut an international airport down for hours - but there are no repercussions if you were wrong about it. How about a $50 fine if you're wrong and cause great disruption?

It's good that people are paying more attention to what goes on around them. But it's bad that they seem to have no skills to qualify that information and make any sort of reasonable judgement. And worse that people in authority act immediately and in the most abrupt manner when receiving bad tips.

Scott KDecember 3, 2007 8:17 AM

"worse that people in authority act immediately and in the most abrupt manner when receiving bad tips."

The problem is this: If it's a false alarm and you act on it, plenty of inconvenience but you CYA. If it's a real threat and you act on it, kudos all around. If it's a false alarm and you don't act on it, no harm done. If it's a real threat and you don't act on it, woe be unto you. In this terrorized, litigious society, what guard/administrator/flunky is going to risk the "don't act on it" option?

IanDecember 3, 2007 8:33 AM

@green byte: Hmmm... "a Jew, an Arab and a paranoiac sit in a train...." ;)

To be picky, surely that should be: "a Jew, a Sikh, and a paranoiac"

AndrewDecember 3, 2007 8:37 AM

>> In this terrorized, litigious society, what guard/administrator/flunky is going to risk the "don't act on it" option?

Let's be a little more honest. What low-rank guard who is sick of being pushed around by insane rules and frustrated passengers isn't going to get a kick out of pushing the Big Red Button now and again?

It takes common sense and good leadership to provide effective security. How much are security guards, police officers and their supervisors paid again? Enough to have thoughtful, intelligent and educated people in charge? I didn't think so.

nDecember 3, 2007 9:34 AM

Wow, I had never heard of that tefillin thing before. I must say, if I saw someone strapping that to his head, I would be a bit weirded-out. I would probably have assumed he is just insane, though.

AFDecember 3, 2007 9:39 AM

Here in Israel you go through security checkups when you enter every large building, store or mall, yet, we just live with this and don't get into panic. You will not hear stories like that about Elal, or the train or buses (all heavily secured). Leaving the airport in Israel is nice and easy;you are allowed to carry on board lighters, matches and even, god forbid, a beverage.
The fear US and Europe is going through is the true terrorism. This is the achievement and until US and Europe realize this, travel will be hell. Actually, life could be hell.

RSaundersDecember 3, 2007 10:42 AM

Quote:
Police investigators soon realized their mistake and apologized to the passenger.
Unquote.

About time, we're finally starting to see a little emphasis on figuring out that you've done something stupid and making it right. As we've said before, if you employ amateur security forces you shouldn't expect professional results.

Somehow, seeing a Jew and a Sikh sitting together on a train should bring us hope for peace. Yet, we seem to have "security educated" ourselves into fear. And it seems fear does make you stupid.

MarkDecember 3, 2007 10:50 AM

@bob
Perhaps a better solution for the pilot would have been to allow the three anxious families to leave and purchase tickets for the next flight. I think they'd have a harder time suing RyanAir than the band after voluntarily leaving their booked flight!

Or even something along the lines of "if they leave you leave too (and get security checked by the police". Considering that falsely accusing someone can be an effective way of drawing attention away from your own behaviour.

TheDoctorDecember 3, 2007 10:51 AM

What AF said about Israel (a land with a real terror threat) is quite enlighting.

But don't forget: we elected our leaders, we got what we deserve.

foxnomadDecember 3, 2007 11:21 AM

There is huge economic price that the US economy pays for these false alarms. It's just that the impact is not instant, nor direct.

The US is losing billions of dollars because foreigners don't want to travel here.

AnonymousDecember 3, 2007 11:25 AM

It's a misnomer to call all this crap a 'war on the unexpected.' It's really something more sinister: a war on people who aren't absolute conformists to Republican social norms.

RoyDecember 3, 2007 12:03 PM

The problem is poor specificity, which results in virtually all positives being false positives, which means we are squandering our resources to no good at all, while we are harming people we're supposed to be protecting.

Terrorist actions are vanishingly rare in frequency, so much so that unusual actions occur vastly more often, dwarfing the terrorism.

When the blind and the unconscious start looking like terrorists, it is time to stop what you are doing, end it there, and never resume, because you are stealing tax money and frittering it away.

Suppose we had a policy where anybody operating under the authority or direction of Homeland Security, on making an error by stopping an innocent, would then get 90 days in jail for false arrest.

In a matter of seconds, agents would discover that they never have enough reason to stop anyone, so they would stop bothering people and have to be content just to watch them.

If a crazed gunman showed up, they would bet their freedom on guessing right and taking action, even though this might turn out to be only a crazed gunman and not a terrorist.

Agents must be punished for their mistakes, or the insanity will continue and worsen unchecked.

AnonymousDecember 3, 2007 12:03 PM

After looking at this this site 9www.hasofer.com/html/tefillinposition.html) and seeing the various kinds of tefillin, including the arm mounted ones I have to admit that I am very surprised that this hasn't come up before.

I am more concerned though about the bizarre health benefits that are claimed - I mean, it's not like these things are filled with rare earth magnets and Argone energy...

SimonDecember 3, 2007 12:17 PM

As has been written here many times before, real security is expensive - higher paid, trained people are required, and as in the oft cited El Al example, the inconvenience of real security is offset by the reduction in false alarms, and in the long run probably loss of life.
But as real attacks are so rare, the major cost of the amateurish security we get 99% of the time is delay and false positives, both of which are an external cost to those paying for the 'security' - hence no incentive to improve.

BobDecember 3, 2007 12:31 PM

>Somehow, seeing a Jew and a Sikh sitting together on a train should bring
>us hope for peace.


Why would that be? Sikhs and Jews aren't historically known as enemies in the sense that Jews and Muslims might be.


What's more is that a certain amount of on the spot investigation should take place when something particularly odd is going on. Not being informed as to all cultures/religions customs is not evil. How you investigate is. Someone who knows that their lifestyle is far enough from the norm that it may not be familiar to the majority of people should understand that fact and be willing to explain. If a suitable agent of authority approaches you, you should be able to stop what you are doing for a moment, even if it is a prayer, and say, at the least "I am praying, I will talk with you in a moment."

KennethDecember 3, 2007 1:18 PM

Seeing as the band was cleared earlier, I propose that the complaining families should have been the ones kicked off the flight. They were the ones that were concerned; they should have stayed behind. I believe that making the families stay behind would help stop knee jerk reactions because people would have to consider real consequences to their actions.

The problem is that there was commercial interests involved here. The primary concern was about what action would *immediately* cost the airline the most money...

RSaundersDecember 3, 2007 2:56 PM

@ Bob,

I could have been clearer. I was not suggesting that there is a longstanding dispute between the Jews and the Sikhs.

I was suggesting that two individuals that personally take their cultural identity very seriously might nonetheless be able to share public transit. Alas, the rest of the folks on the train, including those "in charge", were not able to share a train with someone outside their "American" culture.

Porlock JuniorDecember 4, 2007 3:17 AM

"However, other countries can retaliate by treating Americans abroad the way Americans treat their own visitors.

Turnabout is fair play."

Now we're getting sensible. And I tell you, any guy shows up around here from Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia -- hey, I'm not one of those STOOPID people who think Iraq had something to do with it -- anyway, he just better not. Not unless he wants me to incinerate him, toss him out of a 75th-storey window and crush him under a million tons of metal, the way he did to my fellow Americans.

(Umm, everyone did read about the guy in the political focus group who explained how he saw nothing wrong with waterboarding a guy -- that's any guy the authorities pick up -- who killed 3,000 Americans. Right?)

SamhDecember 6, 2007 6:26 PM

Here is a new game, pick a passenger on a flight, sound "credible and sensible" and accuse them of acting suspiciously, refuse to fly if they are not removed from the flight. Repeat your "credible and sensible" accusations until all the other passengers refuse to fly also.

What are they going to do ? sue ?

Sherwood BotsfordDecember 11, 2007 6:05 PM

Question: How many terrorists are really out there? Seems to me that they are either incredibly inept, stupid, or lacking in resources.

Remember the fairy tale about the boy who cried wolf?

If part of the role of a terrorist is to make people give up the will to fight, then annoying the hell out of them may be better than killing them.

So terrorist in L.A. doesn't make bombs, he makes phony bombs, and makes phone calls. Result: Incredible confusion, frustration. Only reason to set off a real one is to keep people reacting to the fake ones.

The TSA puts in a 'sniffer' that can detect nitrogen compounds. So the terrorist puts powdered amonium nitrate in toilet paper dispensers in the public part of the terminal Result: dozens of false alarms, as nitrated butts go through the sensors.

Simple, cheap, and almost impossible to circumvent.

For any system the prize is in the reaction. One of the methods during WWII was to get the enemy to waste resources that they needed elsewhere. Tito's resistance fighters tied up 20 divisions of Germans. Just the existence of the Bismark and the Tirpitz caused huge diversions of resources.

From an economic perspective the terrorists are winning. How many billions have we spent reacting to their pranks?


How many billion dollars have we spent reacting to terrorists?

JohnDecember 12, 2007 10:48 AM

> How many billion dollars have we spent reacting to terrorists?

Now you're starting to touch on the real motivations of why this is all happening... spending the money, which obviously has to come from somewhere. I haven't noticed taxes being raised by any great amount, to pay for the increased society-wide surveilance, OR to pay for the war^H^H^Hinvasion and occupation of Iraq, so where is it all coming from?

It's being borrowed, from banks, who then get to charge interest on it, and who KNOW that they will get their money and interest back, even if it takes fifty years, because the "person" borrowing it is the US Government.

Who's paying for all this? OUR GRANDCHILDREN.

UNTERDecember 12, 2007 6:33 PM

@Sherwood & John,

And now we see how these same folks defeated the Soviet Union. They didn't win battles on the ground, they didn't dominate the countryside, they just got the Soviets to invest massive amounts to fight gnats, until the Soviets had to surrender, and the jihadis just walked into Kabul.

The same plan is in effect. It's simple, only requiring a long-term commitment and an idiotic opponent who is more committed to internal politics (i.e., building up a bureaucracy, profiteering on wars, ignoring simple long-term solutions). There's a reason that AQ makes only a couple of spectacular attacks a decade - those are merely to heighten hysteria instead of being an actual attempt to cause direct harm - any direct harm is just a side-benefit.

And how many morons are going to post that all these counter-productive activities are "reasonable"? Just like the Soviet Union's government in the end collaborated with the jihadis, we can see the same thing here... no conspiracy needed.

BritFebruary 6, 2008 1:16 PM

Here's an update about the Calypso band removed from the aircraft by Ryanair - they won damages! (but not much unfortunately)

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/...

The second paragraph contains some untintentional humour:

"To most of the passengers on the Ryanair Flight from Sardinia to London, the five black men sitting quietly in the economy cabin were nothing more sinister than fellow passengers.

But to the psychology professor seated near them, they could only be terrorists ..."

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