Grate Expectations

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Now
the “water cooler” talk is all about the FCC giving us permission
to use our cell phones whilst winging our way across the Fruited
Plain.

Let’s
think – as opposed to “feel” – about this…

First,
doesn’t it strike you as a tad condescending our Public Servants
are cast – or cast themselves – as “granting permission” to us to
exercise various legal activities, like talking on a phone? If you
had a maid, would you ask her permission to make yourself a sandwich?
Would you ask your gardener if he would permit you to ride the lawnmower?

So
far, the rhetoric has been how irritating on-board cell phone conversations
would be to fellow passengers. While a case might be made against
People Speaking Loudly On Cell Phones (in any venue), the same could
be said for inconsiderate jerks speaking overly loud to a traveling
companion – or the new Best Friend across the aisle. Wanna hear
about the 3 teenage brats behind me who fairly yelled at each another
for 3-plus hours from BWI to DFW – despite admonitions from the
flight attendant? Personally, I’d prefer eavesdropping on one side
of a phone conversation. Who knows? I could write about it here
and we could all speculate what was happening at the other end!

And
let’s not overlook the fact that some flights already have phones
available, cleverly cradled in the back of the seat in front of
you. Not having an EE degree, I can only imagine those phones are
rigged to absolutely prevent any possible interference with the
important stuff in the cockpit. Of course, the rates to use those
phones are also at an altitude higher than the plane itself which
is the only reason on-board yapping hasn’t already reached the epidemic
proportions forecast by the nay-sayers, worry-warts and terminally
intolerant.

But
if the potential for irksome cell phone conversations still has
your panties in a wad, let’s talk about the ever-present In-Flight
Screaming Baby. Anyone who has been trapped on anything smaller
than a 747 with some un-Midasized ankle-biter knows the thrill of
which I type. Eustacean problems among the tiny notwithstanding,
passengers traveling with children under the age of 21 should be
confined to the back of the plane. Non-kid toting travelers would
be given fair warning at check-in should their seat be on The Borderline
and offered an alternative: a distant seat or those highly touted
Bose noise-blocking headphones (at no extra charge). Personally,
I’ve long believed some entrepreneur could make a tidy bundle establishing
“No Kids Airlines – with daily service to the top 20 markets.”
I’d pay whatever the fare to be guaranteed a seat on a screamless
flight.

Interestingly,
the ubiquitous “surveys” have shown no one has a problem with the
FCC’s other recently issued “permission slip”: in-flight wireless
computer usage. This is hailed as “productive” and “pleasurable,”
to while away the flight time rather than suffering through a B-grade
movie – even for free. Just wait until some mini-geeks fire
up their laptops with the new “Mega-Blaster Brain Dissolver Sound
Card” and attempt to break the world record for Grand Theft Auto
XXVL or check out the latest rap “tunes” by Jabberwocky and the
Slithy Toves.

Now tell me how much you hate cell phone conversation.

One
final thought: Where is it written that anyone has an inalienable
right to silence? Freedom has and will always be a little messy
for some. No airline ever suggested their flights cruised through
a library atmosphere. Why would anyone expect otherwise? There are
several alternatives to bothersome cell phoners other than putting
another bullet in the foot of individual freeedom. Why are we always
in such a rush to create another “law," “rule” or “regulation” that
forces others to give up a measure of their freedom to accommodate
our personal preferences – or intolerance?

For
those who want to lose some sleep over this issue, consider this
pearl from James Bovard’s The
Bush Betrayal
(Palgrave Macmillan): “In lieu of permitting
pilots to arm themselves, the Bush administration authorized military
jets to shoot down hijacked airplanes anywhere over the United States.
The TSA also considered creating a toll-free phone number that passengers
could call when their planes have been hijacked – and perhaps
thereby expedite the shoot-down." Conclusion: Your government
may not allow you to phone home – but you may be able to scramble
a squadron of F16′s and guarantee you’re untimely demise will be
the lead story on the Evening News.

Our
Servants are still studying the only relevant issue in all this
blather: do cell phones hamper the safe operation of the aircraft?
If the Wizards of Ohms conclude those little transmitters do not
represent a safety hazard, then ridiculous nanny regulations should
be dropped immediately; freedom of expression can then be exercised
and enjoyed at 60,000 feet. Don’t like it? Call Amtrak and reserve
a seat in the Quiet Car.

December
22, 2004

Brian
Wilson [send him mail] is
a talk show host, author and speaker. He’s heard on better talk
radio stations across the country through his Vacation Relief Service
and most recently vented his libertarian views on KSFO/San Francisco.

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