scared of "strange scribblings"

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WaPo provides a ridiculous example of racial profiling aboard an American Airlines flight:

The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he'd brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over. [...] He appeared laser-focused -- perhaps too laser-focused -- on the task at hand, those strange scribblings.

His suspicious seatmate "flagged down a flight attendant and handed that crew-member a note" which caused the flight to turn around and return to the gate. The suspect, a "darkly-complected foreign man," was removed from the plane and "taken to meet some sort of agent." It was then that he was told about the cause of his seatmate's concern, those "cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn't recognize:"

Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950. She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

The curly-haired man laughed.

He laughed because those scribbles weren't Arabic, or some other terrorist code. They were math.

Yes, math. A differential equation, to be exact.

Had the crew or security members perhaps quickly googled this good-natured, bespectacled passenger before waylaying everyone for several hours, they might have learned that he -- Guido Menzio -- is a young but decorated Ivy League economist. And that he's best known for his relatively technical work on search theory, which helped earn him a tenured associate professorship at the University of Pennsylvania as well as stints at Princeton and Stanford's Hoover Institution.

"Menzio showed the authorities his calculations and was allowed to return to his seat," the piece continues, but his erstwhile "never reboarded to the flight:"

Menzio for his part says he was "treated respectfully throughout," though he remains baffled and frustrated by a "broken system that does not collect information efficiently." He is troubled by the ignorance of his fellow passenger, as well as "A security protocol that is too rigid-in the sense that once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks-and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless."

Menzio wondered, "What might prevent an epidemic of paranoia? It is hard not to recognize in this incident, the ethos of [Donald] Trump's voting base."

They're frightened of anything that they don't understand--and there are so many things beyond their ken.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 7, 2016 12:49 PM.

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