Thursday, July 22, 2004

White Socks

Way back when, when I was just out of college and fighting with the local draft board, I lived in a sort of "off-campus dorm" arrangement. One fine day (actually, since this was Phoenix at the height of summer, "fine" probably isn't the right word), the elevator door opened and out came two guys. One was wearing an immaculate gray suit, and the other was a cartoon "hippie" -- ratty fatigues, anomyous t-shirt, long hair with headband, beads. And sandals. With white socks. I immediately put out the word -- "Narcs! With FBI!" Turns out I wasn't the only one to spot them -- the word had gone out as soon as they walked onto the grounds.

What brings up this bit of early 1970s nostalgia? Well, there was a bit of a kerfluffle a few days ago that started with a writer named Annie Jacobsen, who writes for a Website called Women's Wall She had a scary (to her) experience on a flight with a group of obviously Arabic men. Now, the story is a nice little piece of paranoia, ending with a call to keep obviously Arabic men off of airplanes. However, it has a number of obvious holes. (World o' Crap has been following the story, here, here, here, here, here, and here. To cut to the chase, they were a Syrian band going to a gig at a casino.

Anyway, one of the things that caught my eye was that a stewardess told Ms Jacobsen that there were numerous Air Marshals on the plane, and that they were watching things. Now, I'd think that telling a passenger that there were Air Marshals on board would be a firing offense -- the whole idea is to keep things like that quiet. Since there are far too few Air Marshals to put them on every flight, they need to be as inconspicuous as possible. Hopefully, potential terrorists won't be able to tell if there is a marshal on board or not. ("Do you feel lucky, punk?")

Now, this all depends on the marshals being inconspicuous. If potential terrorists could spot a marshal, they could overpower the marshals first, or just wait for a flight that didn't have any marshals. So how do the marshals remain inconspicuous? Well, a lot of people have had dark suspicions, but proof has finally surfaced: The Air Marshal's Dress Code. Yep. Sport jacket, shirt with collar, nice slacks with crease, no athletic shoes, no facial hair, no jeans.

Now, if you fly anywhere nowdays, you will see people either dressed very casually or businessmen in full wool-armor regalia. The outfit you won't see at all is sport coat and slacks, except possibly among the Sun City set. It's not comfortable on the plane, and it's not formal enough for business. Mark this one down as another example of Terror Theater -- keep people nervous, let people see that you're Doing Something, and ignore whether it really does any good or not.

Doesn't help that cops, as a class, seem to have a fashion sense somewhere between computer hackers and construction workers.

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