Monday, January 10, 2011

Elevation of Rhetoric Unsafe at Any Altitude

Much is being said today about the elevated temperature of discourse in American politics in light of the apparent attempted assassination of newly elected Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday. Readers of Flying Lessons may remember that I've been writing, writing, and writing some more about how the increasingly hostile us-versus-them tone has seeped into aviation. 

In a nine-minute lecture on MSNBC, commentator Keith Olbermann waxed with a fury on the subject of the shooting, including quoting the Pima County Sheriff investigating the mass slayings at a Tucson shopping center as attributing the violence in part to the "black cloud of violence that has enveloped our politics." 

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," the sheriff, Clarence W. Dupnik, said. I'm with Olbermann and Sheriff Dupnik.  

Sarah Palin's cross-hairs are, in retrospect, an ill conceived image for targeting political opponents, forgive my use of the word "target". 

But there's a fine line between seeing the color black and being the pot that calls it. Liberals don't get a pass. Hurtful hyperbole, reckless ranting, trash talk define contemporary discourse from all quarters and in many parts of the world.

No less a political stateswoman than the late Golda Meir of Israel opined famously, "Peace will come when Arabs love their children more than they hate us." She's been dead more than thirty years. Similar messages intended to reduce complex issues to a simple "I'm right and you're wrong" continue to generate rancor. Ten months ago, the Wall Street Journal told the story of a young American Muslim who posted the home addresses of Trey Parker and Matt Stone online along with the suggestion that death was the likely outcome for the two producers of the "blasphemous" television show, South Park

Some people who I love are big fans of partisan television. On a recent visit to their home, I joined them in the living room to watch it for a while. As the carping rolled forth, my friends' fury expanded, as if the words being broadcast had actual mass. It was like viewing the inflation of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. I fear the consequences when acrimony exceeds our emotional ability to process it. I think I know what the consequences are. 

What does all this have to to with aviation? Really, I didn't forget that's how I got started this morning. We can't change the entire world, but we can start in our little corner. I propose we look at the Tuscon shooting as our opportunity to get a little altitude on the dialogue right here in our industry. We can and do disagree on many issues, airline customer service, airport user fees, crew rest, security. Yep security. We may not like what that's become but we can do better than the woman who wrote the letter below.

The excerpt is part of a two-page diatribe sent to the TSA from an unhappy air traveler. The middle-aged Virginia matron who wrote it - and who I will not name, don't ask - was displeased that the TSA confiscated and later wrote her a warning letter about the empty firearms magazine she accidentally toted into the security checkpoint in Colorado Springs.

"If I were on a plane and Osama bin Laden tried to hijack it with an empty firearms magazine, I would kick that son of a bitch right in the balls and wait for someone in better physical condition to choke the jihad out of his worthless ass.

Considering this issue took over 5 months to work its way through the plumbing over at DHS/TSA and amidst all the non-consensual balls and titty grabbing you guys are guilty of these days, I hardly think this is an issue. I’m going to go ahead an issue DHS/TSA with a WARNING NOTICE for being completely retarded in every aspect of air travel, especially lately."

I'm just sayin' do we really need to talk this way? If the answer is yes, then crank up the TV and fasten your seat belt because more news like what happened in Tuscon is bound to be the result.

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