Despised Minorities

Lots of people dislike me because I am a pilot, a radio amateur and a Jew.

Lest this page appear to be whining, let me say up front that I have a good life, reasonably free from oppression and definitely not one of suffering or deprivation.  Most of my family, friends and acquaintances enjoy similar good fortune.  Here I describe three aspects of my identity that do suffer the disdain of others, but I understand that things could be worse.  I describe these problems as examples of how badly awry some people's attitudes can be.

I am a pilot.

After many years of procrastination, I finally achieved one of mankind's fondest dreams:  I learned to fly. Then I discovered that there are people out there who would deny me the privilege if they could.  One hundred years ago, flying was the great undiscovered frontier of technology, celebrated by all. Pilots were heroes. Fifty years ago, following the barnstorming era and the aerial successes of the World Wars, aviation was honored, respected and pursued by many.  Aviation shrank the planet and enabled much of the commerce that built and sustains our society.  Today, however, intolerance has caused many to hate anyone who pursues any activity which they find annoying and do not themselves enjoy.  That includes flying.  Visionaries build airports.  Developers build houses around the airports.  People buy the houses and discover, lo and behold, that airplanes make noise!  They could have had the insight not to buy a home near something that annoys them.  Or they could move elsewhere, selling their homes to more tolerant individuals, but they choose instead to fight the airport, the pilots who use it and the businesses that support it.  Go figure. (More on aviation)

I am a radio amateur.

Since Marconi first communicated without wires, amateur radio has been a wellspring of the telecommunications industry.  It has been and remains the source of last resort for communications in disasters.  When flood, fire, hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption, insurrection, terrorism and other emergencies disable commercial communications facilities, individual radio amateurs take over, moving vital messages across town, across the nation and around the world. 

But "no good deed goes unpunished."  Radio transmitters generate radio frequency energy.  Many consumer devices are sensitive to radio frequency energy that they should be able to ignore.  These include some telephones, stereos, televisions and more.  When the radio transmits, the device makes noise or displays a faulty picture.  This is usually not the fault of the radio transmitter, nor is it a sadly unavoidable law of physics.  Rather, it is an avoidable consequence of intentionally poor design: Designers of consumer electronics can easily make their products immune to most radio frequency energy by adding a few parts, usually a couple dollars worth or less.  But since they sell millions of devices and only a few thousand will ever be exposed to nearby radio transmitters, they choose to save the money and sell these inadvertent radio receivers to the unsuspecting public.  "There ought to be a law!" you declare?  Well, actually, there is.  In the United States, the FCC regulates those consumer devices and stipulates that they must tolerate legally generated radio energy.  But they don't actively enforce the regulations.  All they do is wait until some poor consumer complains about "that ham down the street."  Then they inform the consumer, quite correctly and most unhelpfully, that it is the fault of his electronics, not the ham radio operator.  Some consolation.  The ham ends up being hated more than the culpable consumer device manufacturer or the quietly complicit FCC. 

But all is not lost. In most cases, external filters or internal modifications can be added to protect the consumer device ... if the consumer will allow it. Most radio amateurs are eager to help resolve these RF interference problems even though, in our litigious society, they are likely to be blamed the next time the consumer's toilet backs up. If you suffer RF interference triggered by an amateur radio station or even some other consumer device, by all means ask your local ham for help. If you cooperate, together you can probably find a solution. Remember, it's not the ham's fault and he or she wants to help you solve the problems with your consumer devices.

It gets worse.  Most long distance amateur radio communication takes place on shortwave frequencies. To do this reliably requires some fairly large antennas.  Despite the protection provided by amateur radio in communications emergencies, communities are becoming increasingly intolerant of antennas, usually because the residents dislike their appearance.  There are virtually no subdivisions being built in America today without restrictive covenants that forbid outdoor antennas.  Most counties, towns and cities vigorously enforce codes that explicitly forbid or drastically limit antennas.  Congress has enacted legislation to require "reasonable accommodation" of amateur radio antennas, but few hams have the financial resources necessary to fight local authorities who often ignore this relatively new law.  Even when amateurs do successfully challenge overbearing municipal codes and home-owner association restrictions, offended officials often seek retribution, persecuting the amateur on unrelated fronts.  Sometimes an amateur may be legally vindicated, but in the end is literally driven away from his home.  It is a sad situation and it is getting worse.  (More on amateur radio)

I am a Jew

Perhaps no other minority in history has suffered the hatred of the masses more or longer than the Jews.  I don't really know why but I have some ideas which I will elaborate later.  The "People of the Book," who gave the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to all humanity, most countably the Christians and the Muslims, are often hated by their beneficiaries.  We don't run crusades.  We don't pursue jihad.  We don't send our children to blow themselves up in public places.  We don't claim infallibility for our religion.  We rarely proselytize at all.  We are avid pluralists, humanists and philanthropists.  We are a tiny minority of the population with a  disproportionate presence on the roles of Nobel laureates, business leaders, medical professionals, lawyers, engineers, scientists, financiers and entertainers.  We are successful in most things we attempt, with the notable exception of achieving recognition as first-class members of the human race.  In fact, we have made great progress in parts of the United States and a few other places. But in more than half the world we are little better off than we were during the Middle Ages. Click the link for some thoughts on Judaism.