Skip to main content

On irrational security measures

I'm currently flying across the country (actually, laid over in Charlotte) having just slogged through LAX security this morning. As always, I had to remove my shoes, take out my laptop and throw away what remained of my coffee. I had to throw away my coffee not because the amount of liquid exceeded the arbitrary 3 oz. limit, but because the original cup once contained, or could potentially contain more than 3 oz. Into the box full of shampoos, deodorant and bottled water it went. I'm sure everyone felt a lot safer as a result.

It was similar to the time I had my beautifully gift-wrapped bottle of authentic Chinese Maotai ripped apart and taken from me by the Newark TSA staff because...well, because...I don't even know anymore. It doesn't matter that I could have gotten that liquor through the checkpoint if were frozen and packed into a box. Or poured into a dozen individual 3 oz bottles. It doesn't matter if those dozen 3 oz bottles contained napalm instead of liquor. I was forced to be a bit player in our ongoing airport security theater act. The underpaid TSA staff member did their dance, I stood there in my socks and watched, and after it was done I was able to board my flight.

So it was pretty good timing when I stumbled upon Patrick Smith's latest article on Salon, because it was that much less that I have to write and vent at the moment. In the article, Smith recounts having his safety scissors confiscated, and once again pleads with his audience to understand a simple fact
When it came right down to it, the success of the Sept. 11 attacks had nothing -- nothing -- to do with box cutters. The hijackers could have used anything. They were not exploiting a weakness in luggage screening, but rather a weakness in our mind-set -- our understanding and expectations of what a hijacking was and how it would unfold. The hijackers weren't relying on weapons, they were relying on the element of surprise.
Sadly, I think he's right when he concludes
There in [the airport] it hit me, in a moment of gloomy clarity: These rules are never going to change, are they?
Nope, they're not likely to change because when it comes down to it, these rules are what we want. When I say "we" I mean the American populous, myself included. We've evolved from individualists to a scared collective mess. We're more concerned with the winner of American Idol than we are about the basic rights daily stripped from us in the name of security. We'll suffer a little humiliation at a check point in order to feel better, which is something we desperately need after the perpetually-on CNN-tuned TV monitor in the waiting area yells at us about the latest stroller recall or the latest cancer study. Oh, and you need to buy acne medicine and better clothes. This just in!

The rules aren't likely to change because we won't demand it, and we won't demand it because we've been conditioned not to care anymore.

Dang, I didn't mean to end on such a downer. I fully intended to end with a joke about deplaning (when do we ever plane a plane?). But writing has made everything a bit clearer, if nothing else. I'm gonna go get a Jamba Juice.

Comments

blissful_e said…
Somehow I feel better about the humiliating and cumbersome American system than I do about the very hit-or-miss Egyptian system (I believe security personnel worked under the assumption that the terrorists would be on their side).
JohnJohn said…
Thanks, e, for the perspective :)

Popular posts from this blog

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:


It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…

The subtle yet real racism of the Supreme Court

Judge Roberts, a member of the highest court in the land, which is currently hearing the sad story of mediocre college aspirant Abigail Fischer, recently asked, "What unique ­perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class? I’m just wondering what the benefits of diversity are in that situation?" 
Did you catch the white supremacy in this question? If not, don't feel bad because it's subtly hidden beneath the cloaking field of colorblind racism. (As for Scalia's ign'nt-ass statements, I'm not even...)
Try rephrasing the question: "What unique perspective does a white student bring to a physics classroom?" The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing! Why? Because race isn't biological, and is therefore not deterministic of cognitive abilities. Did you perhaps forget that you knew that when considering Roberts' question? If so, again, it's understandable. Our society and culture condition all of us to forget basic facts …