August 10, 2006

If I Felt Any Safer, I'd Be In A Straight Jacket

Congratulations to the Brits for foiling that bomb plot. Good show, chaps!

In the wake of this news, we have some new rules for flying.

  • No liquids
  • No gels
  • No toothpaste (your breath is going to stink when you get off that long plane ride)
  • Arrive at the airport 2 hours early
  • No iPods or laptops or phones if you’re departing the UK for the US.

The added inconvenience is certainly going to annoy people, especially seasoned business travelers. And some people are going to really be put out to have to pack their electronics into the rough-and-tumble world of checked luggage.

I have to admit, I don’t care much about the inconvenience, personally. I feel for the frequent traveler, but flying is all inconvenience for me because I am not used to it.

What “grinds my gears” is something else. Actually, it doesn’t really grind my gears so much as frighten me. Let me illustrate with a quote from another article.

Laura Yeager left four bottles of Gucci and Cartier perfume for the hotel maid before heading to the Atlanta airport for her flight back to Philadelphia. She still had to give up her lip gloss at the security checkpoint. She just shrugged and tossed it. “It’s better to feel safe. We thought it was going to be a lot worse.

So, what’s wrong with that? It sounds like she’s saying that the TSA is doing its job and she’s happy to know that. But I don’t read it like that at all.

In the wake of new restrictions, I’ve seen at least a couple of people I know online rush to say that the new restrictions make them feel safer — and you can add the woman in this article to the list. Loss of freedom = you feel safer. A segment of the population clearly associates freedom with danger and restriction with safety.

If an organization is inconveniencing you by restricting you, they must be doing it for good reasons, therefore you can go ahead and rest easy; feel free to feel safer. No question about whether the regulations actually work (these bomb plot suspects were not caught while trying to sneak anything onto planes). No question about anything. Go directly to feel safer.

Am I crazy to wish people would have more of a skeptical initial reaction, than a sort of brainwashed “just tell me how to feel safer” one?

Posted by James at August 10, 2006 1:33 PM
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Life is too complicated for deep thought.

Think about it. ;-)

If we thought about everything, we'd huddle in a corner and shake. We have lots of "shortcuts" that we use (which is what confidence artists and salespeople rely on) which usually get us through our day pretty well.

And then, people aren't very good at thinking, and most people don't like to do things they're not good at. We're not really taught how to think in school, and unless we're one of the lucky ones who is naturally gifted, or unless we noticed that we're not good at it and actively tried to get better at it, or unless we were coached somewhere other than school, then it's an activity best left to somebody else.

Just herd me around.

Posted by: Maggie at August 10, 2006 2:20 PM

Wait! You can now feel even safer:

Earlier today, Governor Haircut "mobilzed the National Guard" (I didn't know we had any left--thought they were all in Iraq) to help with security at Logan Airport.

Did you know he's running for president? I never would have guessed.

Back to your main point.

There's a connection between several things and this "gosh, do whatever you want if it makes me safer" attitude:

1. The rising religiosity in this country (vis "sheep," "meek shall inherit the earth," etc.);
2. The utter lack of personal responsibility, which has turned into "the [fill in official body here] will protect me from myself" (think suing McDonald's for making food that [gasp] contains fat;
and 3. Oh, hell, I forgot what I was going to say, and I have to log off and take the cat to the vet, but you know where I'm going with this.

People are, as I have said many times, wilfully ignorant. They want to fob off responsibility to someone else, and right now, Bushco is happy to take over.

It frosts me that people are this willing to let their rights go (not that I'm saying packing mousse is a right, but...). When I read comments like the woman with the lip gloss, I want to shake her roughly.

For all the crusading this country has done against communism over the decades, it sure is strange that we are happy to behave like people pleased to live under state control, and odd that we have a democratic leadership that's acting like the old Soviet leaders.

YIKES! I just hit on what has been bothering me for the past several years!!

Posted by: Patti M. at August 10, 2006 2:30 PM

I remember, back in 1975, my teacher was getting us all excited about the upcoming Bicentennial year, and explaining things to us about the Bill of Rights and some other junk.

Wasn't it cool, in those days, when "patriotism" meant being enthusiastic about the *actual* principles on which the US was founded, and not just waving a flag around and repeating whatever some dude in a suit says on TV?

Posted by: Julie at August 10, 2006 2:35 PM

I wouldn't mind the inconvenience (and I fly frequently) if I was convinced that taking off my shoes, tossing my lighter, checking my laptop, and forswearing hair spray would actually do anything except feed this new sense of false safety - the new "opiate of the masses," as it were.

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at August 10, 2006 3:21 PM

mjfrombuffalo, next time you're at the airport and are about to take off your shoes, ask the "security" dude how often they clean the rug.

Ok, maybe normal people don't think about germs quite like I do, but I really don't want to walk barefoot on a rug that's a) never been cleaned and b) has been trod upon by people who could do with a proper bath and/or a prescription for Lamasil.


Posted by: Patti M. at August 10, 2006 3:53 PM

They want to examine your shoes, not your feet, so you get to keep your socks on.

Posted by: Julie at August 10, 2006 4:01 PM

Not if you're wearing sandals (I try always to wear sneakers).

I found out after my shoes were wanded that my Columbia hiking shoes have a titanium shank. That's probably part of why they were so expensive.

Posted by: Patti M. at August 10, 2006 4:14 PM

Two points that occured to me after writing this post:

1) When you throw away the lip gloss you should be saying "There goes my lip gloss for nothing. I'm giving up my lip gloss for no well-supported increase in safety."
2) Saying "these restrictions make me feel safer" is not only honest, but insightful. That's what the regulations are for -- to make you feel safer. People don't want to oppose restrictions because of how they'll feel if there is another attack. Nobody can tell you if they are safer because of the restrictions.

Posted by: James at August 10, 2006 4:49 PM

I think that's the essential point, MJ, is that it is *not* making us any safer.

The terrorists on 9/11 used boxcutters? Well, nobody can bring anything sharp with them on an airplane then, because somebody might use their toenail clippers to hijack a plane.

Now these guys were going to use liquid explosives, so you can't bring a bottle of water on the plane. You'll probably dehydrate and pick up a few airborne pathogens in that flying germ factory you're about to board, but everybody else feels a lot safer.

What next? What good is it, being one step behind? Not to mention that airport security simply isn't that good... people have gotten through with all kinds of sharp doohickeys that could have been used to hijack the plane.

It's silly and it doesn't address the problems that cause people to become terrorists in the first place. But let's not think about *that*, because that truly is complicated. Let's just build a huge steel-reinforced concrete wall around ourselves, so we can *feel* safer while any determined terrorist with half a brain is buying himself a shovel.

Posted by: Maggie at August 10, 2006 4:52 PM

Good post, JP. To lift my response to the people postong how much freedom they were willing to give up to feel safer in that thread you referenced:

There is no way to make world security for travel more than a smoke screen. I am not willing to give up our personal liberty one small chunk at a time until we are in a fascist or totalitarian regime for a feeling (and nothing more) of false security. That is how many such governments start. You have to think about the problem with a criminal mindset, and not with a politcal "look good - feel good" spin mindset or scared traveler mindset.

There is no way to keep weapons, drugs, bombs, chemicals, or anything else off a plane that someone wants to bring on. No way. There are plastic guns, chemicals soaked into papers and liquids, bombs made to look like every day objects from cell phones to shoes and toothbrushes, biohazards in aerosol, powder and liquid forms, credit card shivs, and a million other ways to commit violent acts toward your fellow man.

It is a waste of money to go beyond the most basic methods of protection - the forces you are up against are simply too dedicated to their cause.

One of our greatest weaknesses as a country, in my opinion, is our inability to see other countries and their customs. Really see them. Not all countries want democracy, or Christianity (shoot, not even every American wants those two things). Not every country sees capitalism as a good goal, or even a workable system for their citizens. Our cultural model is not, and shouldn't be, one size fits all.

Because we, as a country, refuse to see that people are motivated by different things, want different things, care more about different things and ideals than we do, we remain vulnerable to attack, and our short-sighted politicans from both major parties can continue to lull us into complicity with exchanges of time, liberty and privacy for what in the end will always be illusion.

I do not consider myself cavalier about this, but realistic. I am also completely comfortable with the fact that everyone dies, including me, including people I love. I refuse to waste time trying in vain to stop a potential threat I have no control over, when I could be spending that time living my life to its fullest potential.


And of course, Ben Franklin said it best:

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security."

Posted by: leslie at August 10, 2006 4:59 PM

No beverages, hair gel, or lotions, either. Apparently these terrorists were metrosexuals.

Posted by: Keri at August 10, 2006 8:10 PM

I took the woman from the article as saying she can part with her lip gloss because it's easy - she figured she'd have to give up a lot more.

My 9 year old niece was caught trying to smeak a hole puncher on a plane. Imagine that - a hole puncher in a craft bag! The nerve!

Posted by: cristina1 at August 10, 2006 9:27 PM

Apparently the bomb was to be a gatorade drink bottle with a false bottom. The detonator was to be a flash bulb from a disposable camera.

Posted by: Chuck S. at August 10, 2006 9:49 PM

I was thinking Diet Coke and Mentos, but yours seems more plausible, since they haven't banned Mentos.

Posted by: James at August 11, 2006 12:07 AM

You know, it's funny you should mention this, because I had a similarly cynical thought whilst driving home.

What if there was no plot? Suppose they just rounded up some Muslims and embellished just to serve as a very public reminder that these lost freedoms keeps us safe? After all, people don't feel better because liberty is dangerous and needs to be restricted. They are willing to sacrifice freedom because it is necessary to stop the "bad people".

I take a 7 1/4 tinfoil hat, please.

Posted by: briwei at August 11, 2006 2:43 AM

Hey, Diet Coke and Mentos! That combo is actually dangerous, so you might want to contact Chertoff. (Man, does he ever look cadaverous!)

Look out! Next, we won't be able to fly with candy!

Posted by: Patti M. at August 11, 2006 8:42 AM

...the piezoelectric sparks released by cracking wintergreen mints could potentially ignite the fumes of Scope or other types of mouthwash...

Posted by: Chuck S. at August 11, 2006 10:10 AM

...young men between the ages of 18 and 28 wearing nylons will have to remove them before boarding the plane, and will be forced to take a supplement of Gas-X, otherwise it is possible for one to deliberately build up a static charge by rubbing one's legs on the seat cushion, after which one could...

Posted by: Chuck S. at August 11, 2006 10:13 AM

Interesting that you bring this up.

I have a changeable display of cards, and this week's featured card is a woman in a nice evening gown and jewels (very '50s) with this statement next to her:

"I gave up jogging because my thighs kept rubbing together and setting my pantyhose on fire."

Posted by: Patti M. at August 11, 2006 10:28 AM

How about this quote from a CNN article:

"Kingsley Veal, 35, a geologist from England, said his Continental flight from London's Heathrow airport to San Francisco was 'long and boring' because, under British flight restrictions, he couldn't bring any books or music on board. But he thought the no-carry-on policy should always be in effect.

"'If no one's allowed anything, then you'd know, right?' Veal said."

Oh really, Mr. Veal?

It's not just the sheeplike acceptance that bothers me. It's also the pitiful lack of imagination they display. No, you still won't know. It might be more difficult to sneak contraband on, but you still won't know.

It's a bad idea anyway, because I've twice had to spend a night without my checked bags because they were misplaced, and I don't even travel that often. Both times I got them back the next day, and it wasn't a major crisis since I had everything I really needed in my carry-on. But if it gets to a point where I can't even have a carry-on, I don't think I will fly unless there is some type of emergency where I absolutely have to.

Posted by: julie at August 11, 2006 12:33 PM

The final straw for me was when I heard the "no book" policy.

At first, I chaulked it up to my sometimes wacky hearing, but when I heard it again, I was aghast.

What?! No books? WTF!!! Did they think the books would be holllowed out and stuffed with Semtex?

Someone's been watching too many bad spy movies.

There are so many ways to think of the idea of books being banned for any reason, I won't suck up the entire blog.

I read during all meals; I read on the train to and from work; I read while I walk on my way to and from work; I read in bed. I read all the time.

I can not imagine not having a book with me, especially during a trans-atlantic flight.

Fine. If that's how it's going to be, airlines had better provide libraries on board, and I'm not talking Jackie Collins crapola, either.

Posted by: Patti M. at August 11, 2006 2:23 PM

They're not worried that the books would be stuffed with Semtex. They're worried that they might be stuffed with, like, facts and stuff.

I mean, someone could be sitting on the plane, minding their own business, then accidentally catch a glimpse of another passenger's "anti-American" propaganda (perhaps a book by Al Gore) and decide to hijack the plane, using ordinary items he finds around the cabin, a la MacGyver.

And since everyone had to turn the phones in, no one will be able to call for help.

Posted by: Julie at August 11, 2006 3:00 PM

I think they were worried that if you rubbed enough pages together, you could start a fire.

Posted by: briwei at August 11, 2006 9:53 PM

I'm waiting for the discovery of a plot to sneek explosives aboard up ones ass. And the families on their way to Disney happily lining up for their pre-flight anal-probes, you know, 'cos nothing says safe like an anal-probe.

Posted by: woneffe at August 13, 2006 9:59 PM

Aren't anal probes the exclusive domain of aliens?

Seriously, I've thought since the beginning of this "freedom isn't free and that's why you have to take your shoes off and walk on a filthy carpet" airport screening campain that all one has to do is ram a Plastique tampon up one's hoo hoo and that'll be that.

(James, the term "hoo hoo" is used specifically with the thought of not generating orn-pay hits on your blog.)

Posted by: Patti M. at August 14, 2006 10:40 AM

This is all wierd... As soon as they started these restrictions I was like: WHY now? I mean all these think tanks have to have thought of the liquid explosive scenarios... Why is the TSA rushing to implement new security measures? They should have had them in place before something like this happened if they were going to impose this type of restriction (which I am not really in favor). My only answer as to why they are imposing these restrictions is politics. "Oh look we foiled a plot that involved liquid explosives, you must love us! In the wake of this we are going to prevent said plot from happing again... ON PLANES... feel free to bring them on buses, into buildings, etc but once they do that we will restrict that access too."



Posted by: Hooligan at August 14, 2006 9:17 PM

my question is: who travels with five bottles of purfume?

Posted by: katrinkles at August 14, 2006 11:20 PM

Pepe LePeu

Posted by: James at August 14, 2006 11:49 PM

As soon as they started these restrictions I was like: WHY now? I mean all these think tanks have to have thought of the liquid explosive scenarios... They should have had them in place before something like this happened...

Jay, you are absolutely correct to say these measures should have been in place from the get go if it was so important. And, why just planes?

As for your "why now" question, think about it: What's coming up very soon? Elections! Every time an election cycle comes around, this type of mishigas happens.

Not to sound all Oliver Stone about it, but I think it's an awfully convenient coincidence.

Posted by: Patti M. at August 15, 2006 8:29 AM

What Jay said was exactly what I had in mind when I said "lack of imagination." There are lots of ways to blow up a building or hijack a plane, and the ability to use liquids did not just get invented a week ago.

Who buys 5 bottles of perfume - people coming back from a trip to France. You get them much cheaper at the duty-free shop for family/friends at home who request them, and don't have to pay tax on them.

Posted by: Julie at August 15, 2006 9:28 AM

The duty-free shops must be pretty PO'd. Pretty much all their sales are liquor and perfume. Are you really going to waste luggage space on something that might break open and spill all over your clothes when the neanderthals handling your bag drops/throws said bag (never mind if security checks your bag and decides that $100 bottle of scotch would look better in their liquor cabinet than yours)

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at August 15, 2006 2:48 PM

Speaking of spooking the populace just in time for the elections:

9/11 emergency call tapes released

" 'I'm going to die, aren't I?' Melissa Doi asked the dispatcher. She was one of the many people who didn't make it out of the World Trade Towers whose voices are heard on new recordings released today."

Oh, and how could I forget the gems coming from Cheney and the Republicans' poodle Lieberman:

Following Lamont's victory, the White House wasted little time in linking Lamont's opposition to the Iraq war with the "fight against terrorism to attack both Lamont and Democrats in general. During an August 9 conference call with reporters, Vice President Dick Cheney said:

CHENEY: The thing that's partly disturbing about it is the fact that, the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the Al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task...

Lieberman launched an attack on Lamont similar to Cheney's on August 10: "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out [of Iraq] by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

Joe, Joe, Joe...there you go, talking out your tin hat again...

Posted by: Patti M. at August 16, 2006 2:46 PM

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