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January 22, 2006


On my recent flight back to the UK, I found that I had too much luggage; they generously let me take one of my big bags on as hand-luggage. While going through security, they searched that bag and found my scissors in there. I always travel with scissors and duct tape; my friend Marlene told me that it's a sign of a seasoned traveler. So she took these scissors out of the bag and, while my fear of authority figures began to surface, I said, "I'm sorry, I forgot they were in there." I thought they were going to throw them away, but they measured them, and found that the blades were less than four inches long; they were a hair's breadth shorter than four inches, so she said I could take them on. I was absolutely dumb-struck; this was a full size pair of scissors. I said, "I can't believe you're going to let me take these on." And she replied, "It's the regulations, I know it's crazy." I mean, what could I need a full size pair of scissors on the plane for? Was I going to do some kind of collage or something, to pass the time? It wasn't so long ago that you couldn't take nail clippers on board.

This reminds me of the form that you fill out when you enter the US as a visitor. One of the questions on that form is: "Have you ever committed genocide?" Now, I can't remember ever committing genocide, so I always answer no; in fact, I haven't killed even one person, touch wood. But I can imagine the confusion that this question poses for some. They might choose to write on the form, "Does a remote village count?" or, "What percentage of a race must you wipe out, before it is considered genocide?" Writing this article prompted a little investigation into genocide; it turns out that although there's a lot of legal precedent, because of all the trials and so on, there's actually a lot of ambiguity and dispute about what the word genocide means. Interestingly, the organization Genocide Watch defines the eighth and final stage of genocide as denial. So really, this question is looking for someone who has committed genocide, but has been through recovery and accepted themselves; and although they felt no qualm about genocide, lying on forms is simply beneath them.

That form has changed: back in the 60s, it asked: "Do you own more than five guns?" I don't own any weapons of any kind, but I can imagine what they were attempting to achieve with this question. Take the man, or woman, with five guns: I guess they need one for the house, one for the car, one for the office, one for the shooting range, and one ... one for luck; so that's five; that makes sense, right? Now consider the person with six guns; things start to get a little bit scary now; what are they doing with that sixth gun? I would be pretty suspicious of that person with six guns; I wouldn't want to be friends — or enemies — with them. If we could cast our previously hypothesized despot back to the psychedelic 60s, how might they answer the guns question: "Do weapons mounted to vehicles count as guns, such as wing mounted rockets?" or, "They don't legally belong to me, they belong to my 'organization'."

So I guess I've been having some fun with bureaucracy. I hope I haven't offended anyone. I think that the Department of Homeland Security has a very serious, important, and difficult task. I also love the USA, and what it stands for, very much.

Genocide Watch: www.genocidewatch.org
Department of Homeland Security: www.dhs.gov

"... Brilliant and subtle observations about what is quite obviously absurd once it is noticed and pointed out. 'Have you ever committed genocide?' What the f***? Who thought to put that on a form?" — Charley


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