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Tilting at Windmills

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December 31, 2009

KUNG FU ON AN AIRPLANE.... If you caught yesterday's episode of "Hardball," you saw Chris Matthews host a pretty good discussion between Salon's Joan Walsh and former Dick Cheney aide Ron Christie. It's fair to say Christie didn't get end up looking especially good.

But towards the end of the episode, Matthews slipped back into character. (via John Cole)

"I think we have got to get serious about catching terrorists, not just catching weapons. I'm waiting for the terrorist who knows kung fu or something that gets on an airplane without a weapon. God knows what that is going to be like."

In case you were wondering, you can watch the clip and see that Matthews wasn't kidding. He seems to think this is a legitimate area of concern.

Now, I don't know if Chris Matthews has ever actually been on an airplane, but it's a pretty tight, confined space. A dangerous martial-arts display would be exceedingly difficult in the aisle of even the largest jumbo jet.

And even if a kung-fu-trained terrorist were to start beating up a passenger or crew member, there are still all of the other passengers and crew members to contend with.

Also note the context: Matthews is urging us to "get serious" about counterterrorism, and in the next sentence, warning us of the potentially deadly consequences of terrorists who know "kung fu or something."

Apparently, "getting serious" means not taking security advice from Chris Matthews.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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You gotta remember that we're talking about a guy for whom everything he sees or says has a movie script running in his often confused head. At one time I though Mathews was pretty good, but I've come to see him as a not very bright guy who often makes silly comparisons to no apparent purpose. - Ted

Posted by: Ted Lehmann on December 31, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I guess Chris Matthews was on the same flight I was that showed Kung Fu Panda as the in-flight movie and he got that brain-wave.

Does that mean that Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman are now on the no-fly list?

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on December 31, 2009 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Only Chuck Norris can save us! I'm trademarking the title "Walker, Sky Marshall" right now!

Posted by: Dunstan on December 31, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

We know Tweety is an asshole, and so do his corporate employers: that is their whole point. He keeps reasoned, insightful discussion on tilt to make it harder to appreciate real issues. (I think Steve knows it too, so again: the perplexity act gets tiring, better to just say what needs saying without liberal timidity.)

Posted by: neil b on December 31, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

How about terrorists with super powers? Maybe ones who can make themselves invisible, or have x-ray vision? Why isn't Napolitano getting serious about this?!

Posted by: mike on December 31, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

MTP (otherwise know as the republican lovefest) with David Gregory apparently is going to have on a couple of republicans to bash Obama, let us all keep TV off, or perhaps we could send a message to them to stop this partisan hack and give the show to Rachel (our partisan hack - but she is fair and knows what she is talking about)

Posted by: JS on December 31, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

I don't watch Hardballs, but you must know that there are those Martial Arts Masters who can shatter bricks with their heads, etc. What if one of them punched a hole in the side of the plane and all the people were sucked out? I've seen that in movies (people being sucked out, not someone punching a hole). He/she might also break through the cockpit door and kill the pilots with bare hands. No end of the havoc. All Martial Artists above a certain belt color would go on the no-fly list. Sorry, Chuck, that would include you.

Posted by: st john on December 31, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

I have had it with these motherfucking Cobra Kai on this motherfucking plane!

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on December 31, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

i haven't watched more than a few minutes of the sunday blathering shows in years, and only then by accident.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on December 31, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Matthews raises a legitimate concern. I mean, Jackie Chan can save only the one plane on which he happens to be a passenger.

And there are dangers besides martial arts -- what about poisonous animals smuggled on board? How many snakes can Samuel L. Jackson cuss out at once, anyway?

Posted by: scott_m on December 31, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

You know what I'm worried about? Sarcasm. Undetectable, and potentially lethal. And there aren't enough giant hedgehogs to adequately address the threat.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 31, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a fourth degree black belt in one style and have trained in a bunch of 'em. You could use martial arts at a level I would say is as effective as box cutters were - the training would help in many ways more, but the box cutters had a more visible effect pressed against a neck (not a functional difference, if you know what you're doing you can kill someone pretty quickly either way.)

The difference is in the psychology of the passengers, which is really what protects us from this kind of thing. Prior to 2001, if someone had a box cutter or just a competent looking neck hold on a stewardess, and spoke reassuringly about rediverting the plane to Cuba or making demands of that sort, my default would have been to not risk her life and stay in the seat.

That deal is now broken, heck, it was broken in the D.C. flight where passengers got wise.

Now, in the same situation, I go immediately into stop them mode, using whatever tools I have available. It's no longer an issue of rediverting my flight to Cuba, it's now immediate life or death. The old game is dead.

And, even as a competent martial artist, I can't defend myself from every other passenger going crazy on me, and a stewardess who will not be likely to calmly accept a hostage situation. Yes, in a straight fight, I can take out most individuals, even in confined quarters. I can't take on a whole plane, even with friends on my side.

Actually, the other thing that hurts the scenario is high fuel costs. Airlines aren't running near empty flights where 4-8 competent folks might be able to take over; now their so crowded that can't happen.

Posted by: Fides on December 31, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

If al-Qaeda’s operatives learn kung fu the way the Shoe Bomber and the Undie Bomber learned explosive handling, the first time one of them tried to take over a plane, he’d kick himself in the groin.

Posted by: Seth Gordon on December 31, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Has anyone else noticed that whenever Matthews makes some of his dumber comments his eyes shift and he looks at someone or something of camera?

What's that about?

Posted by: Winknandanod on December 31, 2009 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

While badly put his point is actually a very good one-
We're focusing on weapon interdiction which is a losing proposition. The 9/11 hijackers used freaking box knives. Just about anything can be pressed into use as a weapon. What we should be focused on is identifying the people who might use an everyday item as a weapon.

That's not trivial by any means but trying to create a situation where it is impossible for someone to kill someone else on an airplane is pretty impossible.

Posted by: tlaloc on December 31, 2009 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Winkandanod, Tweety likely is looking at someone off camera: a Recorplican handler who nods or shakes to show Tweety how on-message he is.
BTW I think Fides makes the best point: the game has changed because passenger expectations, which is all the more reason they are indeed part of "the system" - and that part did work, as Napolitano said to undeserved ridicule (even from our own!)

Posted by: neil b, on December 31, 2009 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I've found that the only way I can stand to watch Matthews is to change the channel when a sockpuppet like Ron Christie or a troglodyte like Pat Buchanan appears on the screen, or when Matthews starts talking instead of listening... as a result I've reduced my time with Chris by 70% and raised my IQ by watching reruns of silly ass crime shows.

Posted by: Larry McD on December 31, 2009 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Seth Gordon says: If al-Qaeda’s operatives learn kung fu the way the Shoe Bomber and the Undie Bomber learned explosive handling, the first time one of them tried to take over a plane, he’d kick himself in the groin.

Shoe and Undie Bombers probably graduated at the bottom on their class at the Terrorist Academy.

Posted by: CParis on December 31, 2009 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Honestly, all of us, the passengers, are the last line of defense against a potential terrorist.

The New York MTA has an ad up in most of their trains and buses that I think also applies: 'If you see something, say something'.

I would amend this, in light of the actions of the brave Dutch citizen who tackled the Nigerian terrorist, to: 'If you see something, DO something. Jump into action.'

Better to have a few awkward moments and an apology to a fellow passenger if you're mistaken, than to die in a giant flaming fireball with a couple hundred other innocent passengers.

Posted by: Jim on December 31, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Kung fu, Matthews? Seriously? Would someone please tell Chris Matthews that in real life, you can't have "Matrix" style fights on an airplane? If a guy tried a cool ariel manuever he'd probably whack his head on the overhead bins or catch his foot on a tray table or end up doing "the splits" right onto a seat back and end up a soprano for the rest of his life. It's not going to happen.

Sheesh, media figures, return to the real world for once. We're not in Tarantino Land where martial-arts expert killers are going to stage sword duels at the drop of a hat.

Posted by: gf120581 on December 31, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Pre-9/11, somebody trained in deadly choking techniques might have been able to pull off a 9/11-type hijacking. Remember that nobody was expecting a suicide mission and cabin doors were not locked. Now, though, I doubt it. I wouldn't completely discount it, though. A group trained that way could certainly kill a few and take hostages.

Posted by: Virginia on December 31, 2009 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

"Kung fu, Matthews? Seriously? Would someone please tell Chris Matthews that in real life, you can't have "Matrix" style fights on an airplane?"

People apparently have a very movie sense of martial arts. There are plenty of martial arts that work extremely well in tight quarters. They aren't all flying back kicks. For every Jujitsu there's a Wing Chun.

Posted by: Tlaloc on December 31, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Has anyone else noticed that whenever Matthews makes some of his dumber comments his eyes shift and he looks at someone or something of camera?

What's that about?

Posted by: Winknandanod

Perhaps some frazzled producer, waving his hands frantically, trying to signal the out-of-control host to dial it down.

Posted by: kc on December 31, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

So, a guy learns kung fu and takes out someone on the plane. Even two, or three, someones. Even if he's successful and doesn't follow Seth's scenario at 14:13... How does it push his agenda an iota?

He could have taken out three or more Americans the easier way -- with a gun -- without ever boarding a plane and going through all the rigmarole of security checkups. The reason the crotchfire held off his attempt till they were almost ready to land was because he wasn't satisfied with just a couple of corpses. He wanted the whole plane to go down, checking out nearly 300 people at one blow and, with luck, some more on the ground.

No. Kung fu fighters are nothing to worry about. What we need to worry about are chesty sopranos. A lady like that hits a high C, all the windows blow out, the cabin depressurises, the pilot and co-pilot lose consciousness (along with all the passengers, and cabin crew, of course), and the plane crashes, same as if it had been bombed.

Posted by: exlibra on December 31, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

"There were funky Al-Qaeda Men/In funky Al-Qaeda town..."

Posted by: Carl Douglas on December 31, 2009 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Silly grasshoppers.
Have no fear.
Jedi (Oh-be-One) Can-of-Canoles will protect us.
Blessed be his name.

Posted by: Chopin on December 31, 2009 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Where is Chuck Norris when you REALLY need him? LOL. Maybe Matthews has been watching old episodes of Walker Texas Ranger.

Posted by: majii on December 31, 2009 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

I worry about Gremlins on the wings and not having William Shatner there to shoot at them.

Posted by: Speed on December 31, 2009 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Stopped watching Chris about two months ago - I feel much better. Ron Christie is a geek. There are some GOP talking heads I will listen to but as soon as Ron is on - click goes my station changer.

Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Posted by: onectvoter on December 31, 2009 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

There are fighting methods in confining, tight spaces.

I think the argument Matthews is trying to go with here is "It's not the weapon the terrorist carries, it's the attitude and the will to cause damage." And that's something no airport security checkpoint can stop.

Posted by: PaulW on December 31, 2009 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Matthews' point is not entirely unreasonable. What ever disadvantages posed by tight spaces apply to everyone, not just the terrorist. And someone with superior training would overcome those disadvantage more easily than an untrained person. As for the large number of opponents the terrorist would face, that's less of problem than you might think. The opponents will get in each others way, and that problem is made even worse by the tight quarters. The issue is what would beating up some people accomplish? The cockpit doors are reinforced now and the pilots can lock the door before anyone gets in. If you can't take over the plane and you don't have a bomb, you really can't do much damage. However, a three man terrorist crew consisting of a bomber and two martial arts experts would be very effective. Two black belts could keep the passengers at bay for long enough for the bomber to detonate the bomb. And they could use to tight spaces to their advantage.

Posted by: fostert on December 31, 2009 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

I'd like to echo what some of the other posters are saying here. Yeah, it's lots of fun to ridicule Matthews, and he frequently deserves it. But the mechanics of "kung fu" aside, this is a good point. As events have shown, we're never going to be able to detect all weapons coming onto airplanes. We need an extra layer of security - making sure suspicious people are adequately checked. Whether that can be done without unacceptable compromises in passengers' rights is a valid question, but we should definitely try to come up with a solution.

Posted by: Sean Peters on January 2, 2010 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

Already read a few off your posts, but i think this is one off the best i read so far.

Posted by: zoekmachine optimalisatie on December 28, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK



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