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In Annie Hall, a young Woody Allen stand-in is cornered by an irritating avuncular figure who encourages him to remember his name, Joey Nichols, by slapping a nickel onto his greasy forehead to make it stick. "See, Joey Nichols," he says, leaning into the boy's face.

"What an asshole," mutters the young Woody as he walks away.



This more or less approximates my reaction to Professor David Galernter's op-ed on racial profiling in NYC subways in Friday's L.A. Times (and then republished, because it was clearly too good to pass up, by the S.F. Chron today).

When he's not busy teaching computer science at Yale, Galernter is a contributing editor to neocon scribbling board, The Weekly Standard.

The argument goes more or less like this (and then I'll give you the quote that warrants my naughty language): There is danger out there to NY's subways. It is from Arab/Muslim terrorists. We allow the police to profile people who look nervous and those with backpacks so we ought to allow them to profile "dark-skinned people" too. Oh come on, I know it's illegal but don't be so PC, this is for your protection! And now for your quote:


You might argue that dark-skinned people are a special case, given the way the United States has treated them. I agree -- we have treated them so solicitously, and worked so hard to suppress racial prejudice, that dark-skinned people owe their country the benefit of the doubt.
Yes, Jesus, haven't we given these people enough already? God. It reminds me of driving in the car in less-than-ritzy East Oakland the other day while listening to a tech writer on NPR make this offhand comment: "Of course we all benefited from the information economy ... " I had to laugh as we passed boarded-up windows, homeless people and day laborers hovering on street corners.

Here's the micro: Galernter's wrong.

Not just because racial profiling is, as he admits, illegal in America -- probably violating the letter and spirit of the constitution's equal protection clause. Not just because it's unethical and dangerous. But also because it's ineffectual.

What's to stop would-be bombers from detonating their bombs when stopped for inspection? What's to stop them from not doing it in the subway but at the base of the Empire State Building, in Madison Square Garden, or any number of other locations above ground? What's to stop Muslims from shaving their beards, from recruiting disaffected non-Arab or East Asian-looking folks? Not to mention white Christian terrorism ...

No, the real story here isn't one of sacrifice for the good of the nation. If the story were concern for the great city of New York and its residents (of which I'm one), Galernter's rant would've been a criticism of Bush's ongoing disregard for the city's safety. Even the rabid partisans at the Heritage Foundation can't figure out for the life of them why now, years after this problem's been brought to the attention of the administration, Wyoming still gets nearly $38 per citizen for homeland security while California, for example, gets only $5. (New York gets a bit more I believe, something around $6 or $7.)

The real story is the dangerous ideology of fear that drives all neocons, from Bush and Cheney to numbskulls like Galernter. What binds them is the belief that due to fear, we should abandon constitutional (and therefore American) protections to pave the way for unethical and immoral actions that are ineffectual at best and, at worst, make us less secure.

Of course it's crucial to protect ourselves against possible threats. Nobody disputes that fact. But if this joker is serious about NYC's safety, maybe he should start by turning to Bush and asking him to show us the money.

Instead he takes the opportunity to suggest that "dark-skinned" people ought to take one for the team. Again: "what an asshole."

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