Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Terrorists Have Won: Knee-Jerk Kabuki "Security" Measures and Media Madness

The terrorists have won. Sad but true: the United States has been driven to its collective cowering knees by a mental patient who managed to light his pants on fire in an attempt to blow up a Northwest/Delta flight landing at DTW.

I hate to divert my blog away from the holidays for a post or two, but as a frequent traveler who takes 50 or more flights a year, I feel both the need and the authority to speak on the attempted bombing, or, more particularly, on the reaction by government agencies like the TSA.

We're seeing reports of draconian kabuki "security" which will do nothing but make the travel experience far more miserable than it already is. Things like requiring passengers be seated for the final hour of their flight (with taxi times, that means not going to the lavs for up to two hours--good luck finding a flight where people can hold it that long...). Or during that last hour banning all access to carry-ons. Yes, you heard me: you cannot even read a book for the last hour of a flight, according to Air Canada and American Airlines on their Web sites. (Hey, terrorists: guess that means you have to blow the plane up at 61 minutes from landing...)

Screenshot of travel restrictions posted on Air Canada's Web site
Ostensibly, this is to make air travel "safer." Even a five year old could see through the illusion of the security emperor's new clothes, though. Honestly, no "air show" in-flight map display so that terrorists can't see when they're over the US? You mean terrorists are too dumb to look out the window and see that they've crossed over from water to land, or that they're approaching a city?

Stay in your seats for the last hour? Well, this dude was seated at the time he tried to blow himself up. So how's that supposed to make us safer? I guess Depends made a campaign contribution somewhere for that particular rule.

Of course, the "Ma and Pa Kettles" of the aviation world--those people who travel at most once a year and for whom the entire airline experience is something like a trip to Disney World--are already nodding their heads in typical "ditto" fashion. For example, consider the lunacy of preventing an 18 month old child from playing with toys during the last hour of a flight. Yet the parents afterward said they "understand where it's coming from and wanted to comply." Really? Keeping your 18-month-old from having a toy during the last hour of a long flight made us safer exactly how? Probably raised the chances of a passenger "going postal," if you ask me, given that meant an hour of a screaming toddler in the cabin...

And don't even start with the idiocy that these measures make us safer, that it would be "more annoying / inconvenient / whatever to be blown up." Simple statistics show stupid this knee-jerk "anything for safety" reasoning is: you are four orders of magnitude (roughly 10,000x) more likely to die of a cardiovascular illness than in an air travel disaster of any sort. You are three orders of magnitude (roughly 1000x) more likely to die in a car accident than an air travel disaster. These are pulled from CDC mortality statistics, and though you can juggle the numbers in different ways--such as factoring in distance traveled, time spent in car vs. plane, etc., the raw numbers are still telling. Given the CDC combines "water, air, and space" transportation deaths into the same category, and given that includes deaths which come about due to normal accident--and thus terrorism is a small subset thereof--clearly, your chances of dying from a terrorist attack in the air are far less than your chances of contracting and dying from TB (0.2 instances/100,000 people), much less cars (15.2 instances / 100,000 people), or cardiovascular illness (277.3 instances/100,000 people).

Yet here we are, acting like we have to force everyone to fly stripped naked, sedated, and bound to their seats all to make us "safer" in an activity which is already far safer than many everyday activities like riding in a car!

The terrorists don't even have to successfully carry out a bombing or hijacking any more; they achieve just as much terror and chaos through the abortive actions like the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and now this moron and self-styled al-Qaeda member and his "pants bomb." Heck, groups like al-Qaeda don't even have to invest the time or effort in any meaningful training any longer, given even a failure drives government authorities and media blowhards into spasms of conniption. Get a guy onto a plane with a "bomb" that stands very little chance of actually detonating, have him light himself on fire, and sit back in some cave in Pakistan and laugh at how the world runs around like a chicken with its head cut off, led by the United States.

Knee-jerk, thy name is TSA.

(Worst thing is: the TSA doesn't deserve the blame for this moron getting on the flight, nor for his getting a potential bomb onboard; they had nothing to do with either. Yet now they're overreacting to the nth degree, and for that, they deserve all the scorn that can possibly be heaped upon them.)


John Nolley II said...

I can't believe I'm saying this, but of all the cable news outlets, Fox News (aka Faux News for the non-Republicans of us out there) has given this story the best coverage. Now, all the Fox talking heads who have criticized the stupidity of the "no standing" (aka diaper dandy) rule, etc., are doing so in criticism of Obama, but still, at least SOMEONE is saying what needs to be said about how ridiculously ineffective and inane these knee-jerk "security" measures are.

And while CNN was going on and on for three hours earlier today about a "possible second attack," Fox News had even made the right call at the very start: the disruption had been caused by an ill passenger who had to keep hitting the loo, and who got angry at the stupidity of the restrictions when the flight attendants broke into the bathroom and physically removed him during one ... well, one bout of illness. Meanwhile, CNN was interviewing all sorts of airheads and speculating about the "connection" and "emergency" etc., spectacularizing and sensationalizing the news as Faux is so often guilty of doing.

John Nolley II said...

Ah, some sanity returns: the TSA relaxed the rules ahead of their scheduled expiration today, allowing captains to use their discretion in allowing people up within the last hour of flight (and reports are, not surprisingly, that the vast majority of captains used that latitude to rescind the stupid diaper rule entirely). Unfortunately, Transport Canada has forced passengers going from Canada to the US to not have any carry-ons but purses and laptops (and a few other items), resulting in massive delays and cancellations on the Canada-US routes.