Airport (in)security

I already posted my thoughts on the absurdity of the new airline security measures, but after flying this weekend, I am even more convinced of how pointless they are.  This no liquid thing is entirely for show.

One of the more interesting writers I enjoy reading is Patrick Smith, a pilot laid off in airline cutbacks after 9/11 who writes an “Ask the Pilot” column at  This week's column was a compelling indictment of our current security procedures…

Within the theater of security — and I use the word “theater”
intentionally — has come the first and most noticeable paradigm shift,
one that has left all of us reeling …

The specific changes have been drastic, and largely of two kinds:
those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and
pointless. The first variety have taken place almost entirely out of
view. Armored cockpits and explosives screening for checked luggage
have been the most welcome and, frankly, the longest overdue

The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for the madness going on in
plain view on concourses all over America. After enduring pointless
pat-downs and the senseless confiscation of pointy objects for more
than four years, passengers now face the prohibition of liquids, gels
and even cosmetics….

With respect to the newly introduced rules banning liquids and
gels, the folly is much the same. Regardless of how many hobby knives
and shampoo bottles we confiscate at the X-ray machine, there will
remain an unlimited number of ways to smuggle items onto a plane. We
are not fighting materials per se, we are fighting the imagination and
cleverness of the would-be saboteur who would make them dangerous.
These people are the target.

As security expert Bruce Schneier has remarked, “Terrorism needs to
be stopped at the planning stages. That's where our security can do the
most good.” Few would argue the value of keeping firearms, for
instance, out of people's carry-ons, and there's something to be said
for the deterrence factor that results from visible inspection. But
reliance on airport X-ray screeners as a front-line anti-terror measure
is at best naive.

“Hand-searching passengers who can be pre-screened and positively identified beforehand only diverts resources,” says Johnson.

It's not very glamorous, but according to Johnson, the grunt work
of rooting out terrorists relies on pre-gathered intelligence and, as a
last resort, the on-site use of what experts call “behavioral

In short, these are all hysterical over-reactions to make travelers feel safe, but have almost no impact on our actual safety, e.g., confiscating nail clippers.  Smith points out that the key to the terrorist's success was their element of surprise.  Something they'll never have again when it comes to hijacking a plane.  Now, in contrast:

“Any hijacker will face a planeload of angry and frightened
passengers,” says Ross Johnson, a former Canadian intelligence officer
and aviation security consultant. “And he will be badly injured or
killed by the mob. That introduces significant doubt into his plan.”
Say what you want of terrorists, but they cannot afford to waste time
and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure.

So, what are we doing wasting all our resources making sure nobody takes some contact lens solution on a plane while meanwhile allowing anybody to pretend to be diabetic and take on insulin?  It just does not make any sense. 


Members of Congress = Good liars

A couple of intrepid political scientists have researched just how much members of Congress lie when they are debating major legislation on the floor of the house or Senate.  In short: a lot.  The key summary:

Researchers judged the claims made in only 11 of the 43 debates to have
been largely substantiated by the facts. An additional 16 were deemed
to be “unsubstantiated”– a polite way of saying they were misleading,
mostly false or flatly wrong — while 16 were an artful mix of fact and
fiction, they [Gary Mucciaroni and Paul J. Quirk] report in their new book, “Deliberative Choices: Debating
Public Policy in Congress.”

Apparently, Republicans lied more, but the authors speculate that this is simply because they are the majority party.  It would be interesting to examine legislation prior to 1994 (or after 2007?) to see if this is truly a majority party effect or whether Republicans in Congress simply lie more often than Democrats.

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