Thursday, December 20, 2007

No Fly Zone

This is why I don't want to be a big-time blogger who gets paid to do this. Seriously. Both Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias link to the story of an Icelandic woman who came to America to go shopping. At the airport in New York, however, security discovered she had overstayed a visa a decade ago, and refused to let her enter. What followed for her was a nightmare of deprivation and humiliation that would seem cruel and unusual even for a death-row inmate.

Here, in English on an Icelandic blog, is her story. It's been out there for a while, and U.S. diplomats have gotten involved, and apologies have been issued. The story isn't bogus.

However, neither Matt nor Andrew linked to that site. They linked to a word-for-word lift of the original on this site, which uses it as the liner for a litter box full of vile 9/11-truther and Israel-conspiracy nonsense. Thousands of readers following their links went there, instead of the original site.

How'd that happen? I imagine someone sent in a link, they read the story, found it link-worthy, and did so. If you're trying to crank this stuff out on deadline, that's going to happen. You don't have time to poke around. You don't have a staff of fact-checkers and copy editors to back you up. No, thanks. Not for me.

As for the story itself, it makes you want to smack somebody, but there doesn't seem to be any one culprit and you can't smack a bureaucracy. The commenters -- on both sites -- stupidly see it as evidence of America's fascism. An awful lot of Canadians, especially, seem to be convinced of this.

It's not. But it's why Americans hate to turn anything over to federal government control that is going to touch them more than once in a lifetime. This article will remind you they don't just treat "young Icelandic blondes" that way. They treat U.S. citizens that way, too.

The last person in my family to fly was my (then)-16-year-old son, who went to Japan on an exchange program this summer. My ex-wife, who hasn't been overseas since the Reagan Administration, packed his bags and unwisely put a plastic bottle of barbecue sauce -- a gift for his host family -- in the carry-on bag. It wasn't just that it was confiscated at the gates. It's the way the employees handed it around, commenting on how they looked forward to using it themselves, that made it grating. As for ethnicity and terrorism, my kid looks like any fair-skinned American boy and the security employees who dealt with him were south Asians in turbans. So much for surrealism.

That's the difference between fascism and stupid, mindless bureaucracy. In fascism, the higher up the chain you go, the meaner it gets. In this case, the apologies came from high up. In fascism, you're persecuted because of who you are and who your parents were. In an American airport, you're persecuted because you're there.

For some reason, people who get their paychecks from "public" entities just seem to have a different experience of employment than the rest of us. Their idea of what they're paid to do, and how they're supposed to do it, and what they deserve in return, doesn't seem at all like mine.

Privatize it? The trouble is, some jobs are just so big that the only private entities that can do them are no better than governments. Worse, in some cases. Actively malignant instead of sluggishly thuggish.

UPDATE: Oh, snap!