Monday, 13 February 2017

Just One Question

Another day, another outrage.  It all gets very depressing fast. Very reductive.

Very boring.

For those not following the travelling outrage circus, yesterday, it was reported (first, in fringe media, then more mainstream) that a NASA Jet Propulsions Lab (JPL) scientist called Sidd Bikkannavar had been detained at Houston Intercontinental Airport at the weekend following an approximately month-long trip to Chile. According to the story, Bikkannavar, in addition to (apparently) being an actual rocket scientist, likes to travel the world racing solar-powered cars as a hobby. He was in Chile to compete.

Upon landing at IAH, he was selected, for reasons that no one has yet stated, for questioning by agents of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). During the inquiry,  Bikkannavar was ordered to surrender his JPL-issued phone and access code (PIN) so that agents could check it. 

Again, what they were looking for and why has not yet been disclosed. 

Apparently, the phone carries certain highly classified information, and after much cajoling, and many failed attempts to explain the situation to the agents, Bikkannavar was handed a tear sheet explaining that, in fact, he could be compelled as a condition of entry to the US to hand over the phone and allow for its contents to be searched, wherein he complied.

Dr Bikkannavar is an American, born and raised in these United States. He was travelling with a US Passport.


This story could be described as a gross over-reach by hyperactive federal agents of the sort that happen when too much authority is given to them. It could be described as yet another erosion into our freedoms.

But of course, we no longer live in normal times, and so headlines (and Twitter and Facebook feeds) screech about the malevolence of the Trump "Muslim Ban" (sic). The all-too-familiar-now complaints about how this is "not my America" (there is even a hash-tag ready to go that effect) are being promiscuosuly trafficked.  Some headlines in less reputable news sources add "American Born Muslim Scientist Detained" (emphasis added.)

Here is the problem with this.

First, for people who actually care about the truth, there is no "Muslim Ban." The talking point has become, as clichés often do, a foot soldier in the battle of ignorance to control public opinion. Whatever one feels about the propriety of Trump's executive action (and for the record, I personally think it was a clumsy, ham-fisted, and poorly-constructed attempt to try to be seen to be "doing something" rather than a measured approach), it is not a Muslim ban. In fact, it is a temporary order (90 days), and hence, not even in truth a "ban" at all.

Second, as of now, Dr Bikkannavar had, by his own admission, not visited any of the seven countries on the list. And the order had been stayed by court action anyways. So it seems that this ugly incident is, at best, co-incidental.

Third, despite claims that Dr. Bikkannavar has been profiled ethnically, here are two photos of him from the stories.

Now, I am not schooled in the finer skills of racially profiling people to be sure, but he looks to be pretty indistinguishable from a lot of young "white" guys I know here in California. Give him an over-priced Philz Coffee and a wool hat, and he could be a make-believe "entrepreneur" in my old SOMA neighbourhood in San Francisco, prattling on about the next "beta" release.

Compare his photo above with the one below:

The photo is of actor Justin Long, perhaps most famous for those obnoxious Apple adverts 20 or so years ago. He's got the hipster wannabe look down, but he's about as "white" as they come - son of a Latin professor raised in suburban Connecticut.

If they ever make a movie about this incident, I know whom casting should call.

Fourth, nowhere has Dr. Bikkannavar said, in the many interviews, that he actually is a Muslim (when I saw the story, I reckoned from his photo and name, that he was from Finland); according to accounts, his name arises from Southern India. I suspect that Sidd might be short for Siddhartha, which of course, is unlikely to be a "Muslim" name. More to the point, I am not sure how a guy working in a $10 an hour job at CPB can look at his name, his US passport, and his entry from Chile and decide, "Hey; this guy is a Muslim trying to sneak in under a ban that is, in fact, not actually a ban - of Muslims or anyone else." 

Of course, it does not matter whether this guy is a Muslim or not - as an American, he should not be subject to such contraventions of his freedom. Until I hear otherwise, I am angry that an American citizen was so detained, as should you be.

But the most grotesque truth for those looking for yet another reason to be offended by Donald Trump is that this guy was detained ACCORDING TO A RULE PUT IN PLACE IN 2013, BY THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION.

I would honestly like to know, from those who keep posting maudlin images about how sad they are that the previous president is gone: "Where in Hell you were four years ago when this was being put in place?"


The lesson is this for those on the left (and, now, right): The time to squawk about violations of our rights is when it is YOUR GUY DOING it. You do not like that CBP can seize your phone and order you to unlock it? Neither do I.

But you damned well should opened your mouth then, when it was Obama and Holder who were doing this.

It's worth repeating: your guy is not going to be in power forever; it is at best stupid and at worst hypocritical to stay silent because "hey; he's a good guy. He would NEVER abuse such a rule."

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