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Exercise in futility

I rarely fly these days, but will be buzzing off to New Mexico in a few days for our annual fishing expedition to Vermejo Park Ranch. (Note: Ted Turner may be a loony tranzi goofball, but he runs a fine ranch, and for that alone gets an indulgence in my book.)

Last time I flew, I had a perfectly good and utterly useless-for-highjacking cigar lighter confiscated, which still rankles. Given my impending trip, Christopher Hitchens’ rant about the idiocy of our airport security was both timely, and dead on target.

We learn that there is no real capacity to detect explosives, for example. And we learn that, “If, say, a handgun were discovered, the terrorist would have ample ability to retain control of it. TSA screeners are neither expecting to encounter a real weapon nor are they trained to gain control of it.” Who hasn’t worked that out?

What we are looking at, then, is a hugely costly and oppressive system that is designed to maintain the illusion of safety and the delusion that the state is protecting its citizens. The main beneficiaries seem to be the pilferers employed by this vast bureaucracy—we have had several recent reports about the steep increase in items stolen from luggage. And that is petty theft that takes place off-stage. What amazes me is the willingness of Americans to submit to confiscation at the point of search.

Hence, my “disappeared” lighter. Imagine my irritation at learning that said lighter was only added to the confiscation list last month, so that when it was lifted over a year ago, there was no basis for confiscation at all.

A prediction: when we get hit again, and we will, there will be one almighty and well-deserved backlash against the Republicans who were in charge of this farce, and wasted everyone’s time on the irritations and idiocies of “homeland security” rather than doing something real to meet the most basic obligation of the nation-state – the safety and security of its citizens.

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24 comments to Exercise in futility

  • Euan Gray

    I’ve never understood the logic of a paranoid and officious “security” screening system which prevents you taking scissors on a plane but then provides you with stainless steel cutlery once on board …

    EG

  • Winzeler

    …most basic obligation of the nation-state – the safety and security of its citizens.

    Somebody must have hacked Samizdata and posted this. That doesn’t sound like RC to me. Other than that, this phantom poster makes a good point about the lunacy of “perceived” protection.

  • No, Winzeler, that’s me. I’m an old-fashioned believer in the “night watchman” state. One of the very few legitimate functions of the government is to protect the citizenry against force and fraud. The citizens have their own responsibilities for self-protection, of course, but there is a legitimate governmental role here, as well.

    The US government is failing miserably at taking the most cost-effective and least intrusive measures to prevent attacks on Americans, choosing instead the ridiculous and odious “security” measures, which seem perfectly tuned to grind down the law-abiding while doing nothing to prevent jihadists from doing their worst.

  • “The US government is failing miserably at taking the most cost-effective and least intrusive measures to prevent attacks on Americans, choosing instead the ridiculous and odious “security” measures, which seem perfectly tuned to grind down the law-abiding while doing nothing to prevent jihadists from doing their worst.”

    Now I am confused. I thought you were a supporter of the Iraq war?

  • Fiona

    In my ideal world, there’d be no searches, but a bin just outside the aircraft filled with knives and guns, and passengers would be welcome to borrow one each for the duration of the flight. I bet the result would be no more hijackings ever, and everyone would also be VERY polite to everyone else.

  • ernest young

    Euan,

    Don’t know when you last flew into, from, or through the USA. but they do not use metal cutlery, not on any airline. One airline recently tried to bring back metal cutlery for first class passengers, and it was met with such derision from all quarters, that they reverted to plastic.

  • Euan Gray

    Don’t know when you last flew into, from, or through the USA. but they do not use metal cutlery, not on any airline

    Continental were using it on transatlantic runs to France last April to my certain knowledge (I was on the plane in cattle class), and anecdotally on other routes.

    EG

  • Irrespective of the cutlery question, you certainly can buy heavy glass bottles in any duty free shop that can rapidly be made into a far deadlier weapon than either an airline butter knife or an ornamental cigar lighter.

  • GCooper

    Euan Gray writes:

    “Continental were using it on transatlantic runs to France last April to my certain knowledge (I was on the plane in cattle class), and anecdotally on other routes.”

    I’m sorry ernest young, but Mr. Gray is quite correct – including on flights to the UK.

  • Bernie

    I had nothing to add to the comments here until I read the one by Fionna which made me laugh out loud…. in agreement.

  • Winzeler

    RC, as long as you concede that the individual retains the exclusive right to personal protection (which they may delegate to more competent parties -provided they may reclaim them at any given time, for any given reason), then I will concede that it really is you and not some imposter.

  • Bombadil

    Fiona:

    I suggested something similar in a comments section on another blog over a year ago … collapsible batons in the bulkheads over each seat, rigged to an alarm.

    The idea being that in the event of an attempted terrorist takeover of the plane, all the passengers could immediately arm themselves, while still keeping drunken rowdies from having weapons readily available to beat each other up in-flight. Penalties for removing the baton in a non-emergency sisuation, similar to the emergency button on trains etc.

    If we accept the premise that terrorists will, at some point in the future, succeed in smuggling weapons on board a flight, the question becomes “Do we want the rest of the passengers to be armed or do we want them to be unarmed?” At the very least, it presents a tactical difficulty that the potential terrorist must surmount, in addition to the usual ones.

  • Verity

    I too chuckled at Fiona’s post. Bombadill has a couple of good points, too, though.

    The Ozzies have invented bullets that will not penetrate the skin of an aeroplane, but can kill people, which is a step forward.

  • ernest young

    Perhaps it is only on flights to the US that only have plastic cutlery…

    I will refrain from making obvious jokes about crashing planes into buildings in France, or for that matter in the UK…

    Very remiss of me for taking at face value, the airline’s excuse for providing plastic utensils.

    However, point taken.

  • veryretired

    Number of planes comandeered since 9/11?

    Number of people killed in areas controlled by TSA by terrorist acts?

    Just imagine all the fussy little whines we would hear from all the fussy little people who whine for a living if those numbers weren’t both zero.

    As my buddy Opus’ friend Bill would say, “Phbbbbbbbt”.

  • Yeah, okay, so there haven’t been any more hijackings.

    But taking lighters, GI Joe’s guns, nail files and such is just absurd. I’m also not surprised to find that the pilfery of items from baggage has become an issue; after all, these clowns were “federalized” with the promise that much higher standards would be applied in their hire, but—miraculously!—those standards were promptly declared “racist” once the Demmies had themselves a nice new chunk of Federal employees for the polls every two years.

    Fiona got a loud long laugh from me too. Bombadil‘s suggestion is probably the best one though. The passengers have a vested interest in administering the beatdown to any hijackers, as the days of “sit tight everyone, we just got diverted to Beruit” are long gone.

  • CujoQuarrel

    If you want your lighter back go to eBay and bid on it. They sell off the confiscated stuff there. Just search for NTSA.

    So far I’ve bought 125 pocket knives in various conditions really cheap.

  • The reasons for my support of both the Afghan and Iraq wars are unchanged, but those reasons have to do with the ultimate, long-range victory in the war with the Islamists.

    “Homeland security” is bitter joke. There are some things the feds should be doing on that front to address the kinds of threats the Islamists can pose, and they are doing almost none of them, choosing instead the farce of cracking down on airplane passengers.

  • The NTSA airport follies are meant to demonstrate to the American public that the government is protecting them. They are, after all, the government, and they are here to help us.

    Of course the NTSA provides no security; it is a public relations program. The airlines know, if the government does not, that it is an exceptionally bad PR program. People understand that it doesn’t provide security; the line workers harass the airlines’ paying customers (nothing brings out the thug in a base person quicker than giving him a badge and a uniform); and those working for and with the NTSA skim off sums ranging from pin money to billions of dollars. And who’s paying the bill? In other words, as a PR program it’s a complete bust, but it’s a fairly typical government program.

    I will stipulate that some random moron may sieze control of a plane sometime and fly it into a building. His main weapon probably will be a shoestring or such. But does anyone actually believe that serious jihadists are going to repeat the 9/11 stunt? We are, as the generations of fools before us have done, fighting the last war. Or the last battle, if you prefer.

  • Jerry

    ‘The Ozzies have invented bullets that will not penetrate the skin of an aeroplane, but can kill people, which is a step forward.’
    Doesn’t matter – time for Uncle Jerry’s ‘forget the movies, you cannot down an airliner by poking a few dozen holes in the skin’
    1) modern ailiner skin is about the same as 5 layers of the aluminum foil you have in your kitchen (you can put a hole in it with your elbow if you try !!)
    2) airliners are NOT sealed – they vent air CONSTANTLY via a valve called an outflow valve which maintains the pressurization at a certain level controled by the flight engineer. (think about it, if the fusalage were sealed, everyone onboard would die of asphixiation quite quickly)
    3) a few holes , even several dozen would merely cause the valve to close slightly, lowering the amount of air passing through the valve.
    4) Forget the movies (Goldfinger in particular) – OMG, there’s a hole! We’re all gonna be sucked through it )
    5) Stories in the ‘news’ about 50 Cal. bolt action rifles being able to ‘down’ commercial airliners on take off/landing with a single round !! – Yeah, right. These people need to ready the stats on the average number of 50 Cal. rounds expended to down Migs in Korea (hint – the number is 4 DIGITS and from multiple full auto guns)
    The airlines don’t want pilots/passengers armed because of liability (‘course, if the ‘government’ shoots down a plane because of a perceived threat, that’s OK, because the government can’t be sued)
    The government doesn’t want the pilots/passengers armed because that would decrease the need for THOUSANDS of ‘security people’.
    Lose lose situation.
    But PLEASE stop perpetuating the myth that a pistol can cause enough physical damage to an airliner to cause it to ‘fall out of the sky’.

  • John K

    airliners are NOT sealed – they vent air CONSTANTLY via a valve called an outflow valve which maintains the pressurization at a certain level controled by the flight engineer.

    Not many airliners still have flight engineers do they? It’s mostly two man cockpits these days.

    I don’t like the thought of guns being fired on airliners. How about every passenger was given a taser to go with their sick bag and in flight magaizine? A few dozen tasers would surely trump a box cutter.

  • “veryretired” — I’m one of those “fussy little people”, and I’ll bet I fly more than you do. In any case, I’m here to give you a hearty “go fuck yourself” over your presumptuous shitty little wisecrack, you goddamned asshole. You don’t have to believe it, but I know the truth: I’d rather take my chances with the terrorists.

  • Strophyx

    I was discussing airport security last week with a highly experienced specialist from Israel. He ridiculed the way that the US does a sort of Potempkin villiage version of security screening, focusing particular scorn on their politically correct insistance on treating WASP matrons and 20-something Arab males with equal scrutinty and their seeming phobia of manicure scissors and nail files. At that point several of us in the group nodded and smiled simultaneously, while pulling stainless steel pens from our jacket pockets. Although the TSA seems to view as completely safe, every one of us could use them to kill more efficiently than 90% of the items that are now prohibited on planes.

    veryretired’s argument (?) reminds me of an old comedy routine where some simple sort insists on performing some bizzare ritual constantly, annoying everyone else. When asked why he does it, he claims that it’s necessary to keep the rogue elephants away. Someone points out that there aren’t any elephants, rogue or otherwise within a hundred miles, and then only in the zoo. Our village idiot smiles and nods knowingly, saying “See, it works!”

  • Not many airliners still have flight engineers do they? It’s mostly two man cockpits these days.

    I don’t like the thought of guns being fired on airliners. How about every passenger was given a taser to go with their sick bag and in flight magaizine? A few dozen tasers would surely trump a box cutter.