27 September, 2004: Shite on sight

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Disappointingly few people answered the one-question quiz in my previous piece, and all but one got the answer correct. (Apologies, by the way, for the long delay in writing this piece, which has rendered it mostly out of date.) Nick summarised the reasoning -- such as it was -- basically correctly; Pete's answer was imaginative, but for once national-security idiocy trumped intellectual-property idiocy. The (alleged) TERRORIST, was, of course, the chap who dressed up as an Abu Ghraib torture victim and protested outside a US Army recruiting centre; the Massachusetts Police arrested him for,

disturbing the peace and felony charges of making a false bomb threat and using a hoax device. The charges apparently reflect the District Attorney's concern that Mr. Previtera might have been mistaken for a terrorist.

`Apparently' indeed. If anything the charges reflect the fact that the Attorney General of Massachusetts is an ass. But I think we already knew that that is no disqualification for becoming the Attorney General of an American state. Thank goodness that would never happen here.

When writing the quiz I should have added the anti-hunting protesters who recently found their way into the chamber of the House of Commons to the multiple-choice options, but unfortunately I wrote the piece before they'd done the deed. Meanwhile I am entertained to see that while numerous MPs have been complaining that this is the greatest violation of the privileges of the Commons since Charles I attempted to arrest five MPs in 1642, none of them should have mentioned the Luftwaffe's success in bombing the place out in 1941. I suppose that in the interests of European unity it's best that they didn't.

So, lately, there have been several shocking security breaches in this country. A protester dressed as Batman(R) got onto a balcony at Buckingham Palace; his accomplice, dressed as Robin(TM), didn't, because a police office threatened to shoot him unless he got down off a ladder. So he did. I don't know about you, but I don't much fancy living in a country where police officers routinely threaten to shoot people who don't obey their commands, but I suppose now that we're `at war', we have to put up with this crap.

Secondly, anti-hunting protestors got into the chamber of the House of Commons, provoking more calls for a shoot-on-sight policy (as opposed to a get-threatened-by-man-wearing-tights-and-a-sword policy, which is what the House of Commons presently has). And a journalist from the Sunday Times got into Holyrood until he was challenged by a builder. I don't think that anyone's called for a shoot on sight policy to apply to journalists from Sunday newspapers, but I don't claim to follow these things rigourously.

Calls by journalists (or, worse, other web-loggers) for shoot-on-sight policies are, I suppose, best interpreted as evidence for a slow news day rather than (for instance) any actual qualifications for prescribing new security policies, but for those who may be tempted by these ideas, ask yourself the following question:

Suppose that guards outside the House of Commons are armed and given instructions to shoot any person who does not promptly show the proper credentials. Who is more likely to be shot? Is it (a) a suicide bomber; (b) an anti-hunting protestor; (c) a cleaner, absent-minded MP, visitor or other innocent person?

Give up? Well, a clue: it's not (a) and it's not (b).

Coincidentally this is the same problem as expected for proposed biometric security screening at airports (in particular, for the laughable `facial geometry' thing proposed for new passports).

(And one other thing: I don't normally do these `Google bomb' things, but I suppose I may as well direct you to Harry Hutton's splendid killer fact about the British National Party, which might cheer you up.)

Copyright (c) 2004 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.