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December 28, 2009

The Worldchanging Power of International Terror Klutzes
Posted by Patrick at 01:45 PM *

John Rogers of Kung Fu Monkey has been posting “reruns” during the holiday break, and this one, from 2006, is particularly appropriate to the Now.

I am absolutely buffaloed by the people who insist I man up and take it in the teeth for the great Clash of Civilizations—“Come ON, people, this is the EPIC LAST WAR!! You just don’t have the stones to face that fact head-on!”—who at the whiff of an actual terror plot will, with no apparent sense of irony, transform and run around shrieking, eyes rolling and Hello Kitty panties flashing like Japanese schoolgirls who have just realized that the call is coming from inside the house!

I may have shared too much there.

To be honest, it’s not like I’m a brave man. I’m not. At all. It just, well, it doesn’t take that much strength of will not to be scared. Who the hell am I supposed to be scared of? Joseph Padilla, dirty bomber who didn’t actually know how to build a bomb, had no allies or supplies, and against whom the government case is so weak they’re now shuffling him from court to court to avoid the public embarassment of a trial? The fuckwits who were going to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches? Richard Reid, the Zeppo of suicide bombers? The great Canadian plot that had organized over the internet, was penetrated by the Mounties on day one, and we were told had a TRUCK FULL OF EXPLOSIVES…which they had bought from the Mounties in a sting operation but hey let’s skip right over that. Or how about the “compound” of Christian cultists in Florida who were planning on blowing up the Sears Tower with…kung fu?

Despite which, for now at least, it appears we’ll be spending the last hour of flights into the US, and randomly-selected domestic flights as well, confined to our seats and forbidden to use the bathroom. Good thing the international terror masterminds will never think to blow up their underwear fully 65 minutes before landing!

(Rogers is, among other things, co-creator and showrunner of the amusing TNT series Leverage. In further proof that there are only 15,000 people in the world, my brother Benjamin was a props-and-sets guy on that show during the production of its most recent season.)

Comments on The Worldchanging Power of International Terror Klutzes:
#1 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 01:50 PM:

(Crossposted from the Open Thread)

According to KLM's excellent blog, even the TSA has realized the one-hour restriction is untenably stupid and given it up.

Airplane pilots are no longer allowed to be tour guides, however. We'll have to rely on our general knowledge to figure out what that mountain out the window is.

#2 ::: Kate Y. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 01:53 PM:

The conspiracy-minded (or merely observant?) might think they want to isolate the US population from the rest of the world.

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Good to hear they're walking back the insane no-peeing-for-the-last-hour rule.

Perhaps this is the difference between the Bush and Obama administrations. Under both Bush and Obama, the TSA types go completely crazy retarded over the crisis posed by a commedia del'arte renegade with exploding pants. But under Obama, after 48 to 72 hours they begin to hesitantly crawl back to something resembling consensus reality. Maybe I'm being optimistic. It's nice to hope, at any rate.

I still have trouble imagining which catastrophic terror assaults will be forestalled by not letting the cabin crew point out landmarks. "No, Ahmed, we must not detonate the underwear bomb; the stewardess hasn't confirmed that that's the Empire State Building."

#4 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:14 PM:

With any luck, the Obama administration will also be taking the opportunity to weed out some of the Nervous Nellies in the TSA.

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:21 PM:

I figure we were lucky the TSA didn't decide to just ban all underwear from airplanes.

#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:21 PM:

I wish I were confident of that. As I was just now saying to Abi in IM, I think DHS secretary Janet Napolitano was about as liberal and decent a governor as Arizona was going to get in this decade, but I also think her years of sparring with Maricopa County sheriff and racist demagogue Joe Arpaio have made her highly averse to the kind of conflict that's going to be necessary to get the krrrrrazy Fatherland Security apparat under reasonable control.

#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:22 PM:

(#6 was responding to #4.)

#8 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:22 PM:

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, we're making our final approach to O'Hare - or maybe we're not -- and we should be landing in the next 30 minutes. Or 45. Or whenever. Sorry, TSA regs require that we be vague about such things as where we are. In the meantime the weather at your destination, whatever that may be, is partly cloudy, sunny, or freezing."

#9 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:22 PM:

"Oh look, kids, It's the Grand Canyon!" says Dad, who upon landing is hauled off to an Undisclosed Location, never to be seen again...

#10 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:25 PM:

Any news of them backing off on the "nothing on your lap for the last hour" part of the latest insanity?

My brother and sister-in-law often fly with my niece to visit, and I'm not keen on the idea of her traveling in the luggage bins.

#11 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:27 PM:

Would they have found the underpants powder during a pat-down? How much groping do they normally do? Seems to me this terrorist's plot worked - assuming he had intended to detonate his groin. Didn't take the plane down, but I suppose that kind of weapon would have require quantities more suitable to a suspiciously large explosive codpiece rather than just underpants.

I'm thrilled I'll be able to read a book and have access to a bathroom should I be so inclined, but this is still silly.

#12 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:32 PM:

I suppose the millimeter wave scanner is going to be rolled out to more airports, and personally, I would prefer that to a patdown.

#13 ::: Doug Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:36 PM:

Interesting- Delta still allowed GPS receivers when I flew to Ireland in September. I wish I'd had mine out coming back, I always wonder where I am over the desert east of the Sierra.

#14 ::: Doug Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:37 PM:

Interesting- Delta still allowed GPS receivers when I flew to Ireland in September. I wish I'd had mine out coming back, I always wonder where I am over the desert east of the Sierra.

#15 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:37 PM:

Y'know, would-be terrorists could only use a pilot's identification of landmarks to estimate time-to-arrival if they know how fast the plane is going. So maybe the TSA should require the pilots to take inspiration from Heisenberg, and tell passengers either the plane's position or its velocity, but not both.

#16 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:37 PM:

Hi all from Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson airport, where I'm already inside TSA security. From the horse's mouth, I can tell you that security was not worried today, and lines were short.

Also, I have a book, and I'm not afraid to use it.

#17 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:39 PM:

Patrick, #3: IHNC,IJWTS the crisis posed by a commedia del'arte renegade with exploding pants again.

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:39 PM:

Phase 1: Blow up underwear.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Achieve political goals!

#19 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:41 PM:

Damn, three seconds after hitting Submit I realized that Phase 3 should be "Caliphate!".

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:42 PM:

Ursula @10:

Yes, according to the information I linked to, the "nothing in your lap" rules are part of the one-hour restrictions that have been withdrawn.

#21 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:54 PM:

As one who experiences pat-down security everytime I fly, no, it would not have detected the exploding underpants. But it would have detected the syringe of catalyst taped to his thigh.

Places to hide weapons or explosives: In the underwire sleeve of a woman's brassiere. In the frozen gel packs cooling liquid medication (i.e., insulin) In orthopedic inserts in shoes. As knitting needles. Inside the wall of a double-walled thermos that is otherwise empty.

I could go on. Exploding underpants? These guys sound like they went to clown school, not terrorist camp.

Oh, no, they don't pat me down because I'm smart enough to think of these things. They pat me down because I can't go through a metal detector without setting it off.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 02:55 PM:

What vexes me is that the security model for air travel is stupid and wasteful.

It basically relegates the passenger population to the status of livestock, which the security apparatus must separate into sheep and maybe-goats of increasing probability. (Is your name on the Goat List? Do you go trip-trap when we send you over a bridge?). It's predicated on the common assumption that people, collectively, make the wrong decisions under stress.

Fortunately for those of us who have been in natural disasters (or unnatural disasters, for that matter), that assumption is not correct. Even on 9/11, with the paradigm for dealing with airplane hijackings changing as we watched, the community of passengers was an effective preventative force. This is another example of the same thing; this guy was stopped by the people around him.

This is not to say that the body of passengers, in their current state, is an effective tool in the prevention of these incidents. People cry wolf, make racist assumptions, act selfishly. (But then, so do officials.) But surely we could educate the traveling population and use them to improve security.

There's always the argument that revealing the guidelines that we use to assess threats allows The Terrorists to find loopholes in them. But I'm afraid this makes me think of something Schneier wrote about open-source encryption verses closed-source encryption. If you can break the security by seeing the protocols, surely you need better protocols.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:00 PM:

beth @21:

Speaking as a woman, I can think of one place I could hide a small quantity of materiel. Speaking as someone who has read Papillon, I can think of somewhere that anyone could.

Any security system short of universal cavity search is already making compromises. I wish we'd admit it and work with it.

#24 ::: Kate Y. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:00 PM:

Re #21: Please, not the knitting needles again. Can we pick on glasses frames for a while instead?

#25 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:01 PM:

As Jim Henley wrote years ago, in the immediate wake of 9/11, government should encourage citizens to be "a pack, not a herd."

#26 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:04 PM:

At CNN: Why did security checks fail to spot explosives?

Answer: Because security is incapable of detecting anything that someone wants to bring aboard for nefarious purposes.

Sure, you can dump tons of shampoo down the drain so people will have to buy new on arrival or risk filthy hair. Sure, you can confiscate a hundred thousand pocket knives that guys forgot they left in their pockets. But you can't stop someone who wants to expend a little ingenuity. This is why sneak attacks always work.

You know the jokes about how glad we are that Richard Reid was known as The Shoe Bomber, not The Underwear Bomber? Well, now some clown has tried, so we'll see what kind of foolishness the TSA comes up with.

(Disbanding the TSA would be a good first step to defeating terrorism, of course.)

#27 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:09 PM:

I imagine the "random" flights selected for air marshals will be a bit less random in the future, at least for a little while. Then you can play Spot the Air Marshal.

#28 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:17 PM:

Speaking as a woman, I can think of one place I could hide a small quantity of materiel. Speaking as someone who has read Papillon, I can think of somewhere that anyone could.

There were carnival performers whose specialty was swallowing and regurgitating objects. A mere cavity search wouldn't have stopped those guys.

#29 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:23 PM:

want to defeat the check that stops syringes?

Recruit eiuther someone who is an actual diabetic or forge the approprate documentation.

refill an actual vial of insulin with your catalyst.

C'mon people.

If I can think of this in 90 seconds so can the Bad Guys.

#30 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:31 PM:

#22 ::: abi :::
What vexes me is that the security model for air travel is stupid and wasteful.

From where I travel it feels fairly possible that the TSA is really about training Usians to do whatever we're told without question so that if / when the so-called former middle class will go peacefully into the cattle cars when sp is
POTUS in about 4 years.

Love, c.

#31 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:33 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 3:

Perhaps the flight crews objected to the strong possibility that they'd be forced to deal with bottles of warm liquid of dubious provenance.

Regarding GPSs:

A lot of international flights have TVs for each passenger, and display current location, speed, temperature and other goodies over a map on one of the channels.

#32 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:41 PM:

Constance @30, have you noticed that your theory views "go[ing] peacefully into the cattle cars" both as a thing that only some horrible future president ("sp" = Sarah Palin, right?) would do, and as a thing that current, non-Palin administrations are working towards? If Obama's TSA is willing to consciously and deliberately condition people for being herded into camps by Palin, then surely Obama's administration would also be willing to do the actual herding.

#33 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:45 PM:

Keith S. -

I just read that because removing the flight map channel from the rest of the line-up is Un-Possible, the whole Personal Inflight Entertainment rig has been disabled.
http://jakelodwick.tumblr.com/post/303472695/after-boarding-my-jetblue-flight-from-san-juan-to

#34 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:53 PM:

avram's 18 + 19 is a classic.

jim @26--
agree that most of what tsa does is useless. so how would you redesign the system if they gave you complete say-so?

i ask in good earnest: what are the most cost-efficient methods, where cost is measured in dollars and traveler-hours expended, and efficiency is measured in avoidance of avoidable incidents?

as a minimum model, to zero out the scale, let's start from the city bus model, where anyone can walk on, drop coins in the tray, and ride from here to there. no advance bookings, cash is fine, no searches, bring on anything you can carry, no id or questions asked.

what i want to know is: what would you *add* to that model for airplane travel?

passport requirements seem reasonable. advance bookings and non-cash purchase also seem reasonable and low-cost (yes, some people will be inconvenienced, but most of us have learned to book ahead).

after that, what? any searches? any scans?

i really would be interested to hear proposals.

#35 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:56 PM:

Whoops! URL fail! Let's try this again:

Airplane and map not actually to scale

#36 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 03:57 PM:

Can we just send the terrorists a trophy, or a medal or something, and start a new game? "Okay, you won. Now we're going to be sane for a while."

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:05 PM:

A few years ago my wife and I had to fly to the eastern Caribbean. In one of my carry-on bags was a corkscrew. I'd simply forgotten it. It was undetected at Hartsfield-Jackson. It was detected when we were on our way back from Grenada. That search was much more thorough.

In general, airport searches in the Caribbean are far more detailed than in the US. Every bag, whether checked or carry-on, is hand-inspected in Trinidad and Jamaica.

#38 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:08 PM:

what i want to know is: what would you *add* to that model for airplane travel?

Nothing.

#39 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:19 PM:

huh. i'm surprised. not even passport requirements?

also: on city buses they sometimes let you strap your bike onto the front bumper.
scaled up to air-travel, wouldn't that increase wind-resistance?

#40 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:22 PM:

#34: Passports to travel *within* the US? That doesn't seem reasonable to me.

#41 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:24 PM:

#39: I'm not too worried about the wind resistance, but stopping every five minutes to let people on is going to slow down the flight something fierce.

#42 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:25 PM:

I don't mind security efforts to prevent firearms from being carried on airplanes. I think that crazy people should be prevented from taking knives aboard airplanes. Or buses and trains, for that matter.

I don't actually object to being patted down when I fly. I do set off the metal detector, and the metal can't be removed. I would prefer the visual scan machine, though.

#43 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:26 PM:

In my experience, trends usually trump morality, and we're gettingthisclose to a national ID card.

#44 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:30 PM:

The security problem will not be solved at the airports or aboard the airliners. That's not where the problem lies -- it is, in fact, merely the single point of failure that the adversaries are attacking. Secure the airliners and they'll just hit somewhere else -- for example, suicide belts in the turnstile queues at ball games are horrifyingly effective, as the Russians have discovered.

The solution to the security problem won't be found by pursuing reactive defensive measures. It'll be found by examining the adversaries' goals, and working to uncouple radical groups from the pool of potential recruits by marginalizing them. Once isolated, the remaining adversaries will either disarm voluntarily or succumb, one by one, to regular police/detective tactics: with no new recruits, insurgencies burn themselves out.

But a vital prerequisite for this approach to succeed (as it has in France, in Germany, Italy, Northern Ireland, and many other places) is a willingness to compromise with more moderate elements and find a middle ground. And when the root of the grievance is something as vast as a global imperial hegemon's geopolitical machinations in the middle east, that's going to be hard.

Personally, I don't expect the airline/terror nexus to cease as a threat to the US until the USA enters its post-hegemonic era (which will bring other, more serious problems). But I hope I'm wrong ...

#45 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:31 PM:

I have no problem with the metal detector check for planes, because we have as many guns as people in the US and I don't want guns on planes.

Once you have an assassin who is willing to die, there's nothing you can do to guarantee that people don't have a small bomb concealed, short of autopsy. Fortunately, people that committed are rare, so I say we don't try to come up with ways to search everyone to that degree.

I also think we should throw out the half-million names on the un-vetted, un-maintained warning list. Unless we have a way to validate and maintain the list, it is useful only for driving innocent people nuts.

#46 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:33 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 44: Thank you!

#47 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:54 PM:

Perhaps they could put potty bags in the seat pocket along with the barf bags. (Or perhaps barf bags can be renamed.) Just imagine the flight attendant coming down the aisle to collect everyone's feces just before landing.

Also, the planes could be reupholstered in chux pads for each flight.

(It would be so disappointing if the TSA backpedaled on the bathroom thing.)

#48 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 04:59 PM:

Avram@18: I think you need to be more specific there in step 2!

#49 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:00 PM:

Does nobody read earlier posts in the thread? They did backpedal on the bathroom thing. Thank goodness.

#50 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:01 PM:

@44--

yeah, i agree with most of that. in particular, i agree that if you frame the problem as "how can the security problem be solved?", then you have to think very long term, think root causes, think politics, diplomacy, culture change, and so on.

but that was not exactly my question (for one thing, i don't think of the "security problem" as one to be solved at all; there is amelioration, there is better and worse, there is cost-effectiveness, but i don't think there's a solution).

you see, i'm old enough to remember when airplane security had nothing to do with islam, nothing to do with the middle east at all. back in the day, cuba was the popular destination. for a while, profit was also a motive (hello, mr. cooper!). attacking airplanes has been a popular thing for lots of reasons.

so i would love to see the current "clash of civilizations" nonsense retired, and i hope that peace will reign throughout the middle east, and i'll sign on to all of your points about margarinizing radicals (take that, trans-fatwahs!)

but we might want to think about security on airplanes, even after that.

and even before that, too. 'cause even if you are right about the long game, there is still a short game to be played for the next number of years.

again--i'm not looking for a solution. but what can we do by way of amelioration?

#51 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:03 PM:

Kathryn, the TSA has already backpedalled on the sixty minute idiocy (if you believe KLM's blog, and as a major carrier flying to/from the USA, I'm inclined to do so). Here's the summary of the remaining security precautions in effect for international flights to destinations in the USA:

Extended security wait times, allow at least two hours for security at the gate. While this may be faster at some airports, you need to allow this time to ensure you won’t miss your flight

- A physical pat down by security at the gate prior to boarding all flights to the United States

- A complete physical inspection of all bags being carried on flights to the United States

- Flight crew may make no announcements or reference to position or landmarks while flying over US airspace, such as “Out the left side you can see the Empire State Building and Manhattan”

... But you're allowed to use the toilets or your laptop or security blanket right up until the usual preparations for final approach. And these temporary measures are due for review on January 1st, and again, in February.

(I am hopeful that the TSA is showing signs, under the Obama administration, of being less inclined to go bull-goose batshit crazy and stay that way for several weeks at a time.)

#52 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:04 PM:

I am authoritatively informed that it's entirely possible that David Dyer-Bennet isn't actually familiar with the Underpants Gnomes.

#53 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:05 PM:

and i can easily believe that even framed as a matter of cost-effective amelioration, jim mcd's "nothing" answer may still be right.
i'm not assuming in advance that there must be *something* we can do to make things better--sometimes there isn't.

#54 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:05 PM:

From what I remember, metal detectors to check for guns was an effective response to a particular situation - a wave of hijackings of commercial flights, diverting them to Cuba.

It was a repeating problem, and the repetition lent itself to looking for a structural/organizational solution, such as a generally applied security measure.

Looking for guns seems reasonable, because relatively few people carry them routinely, so a criminal with a gun has an advantage that is unlikely to be matched in a random selection of passengers.

With knives (particularly small pocket knives) many people carry them routinely, so the chances of a criminal actually intimidating a cabin full of passengers (esp. post 9/11) is small.

For risks from passengers on planes, it seems to me that the focus should be on limiting the potential dangers that can get through to the sorts of things that the crew and other passengers can deal with.

At this point, another 9/11, terrorists taking control of a plane to damage more than the plane itself, seems impossible, due to lack of cooperation. The worst that might happen is another Flight 93 - the plane crashing as the people on board try to stop the attack. But even that seems highly unlikely, as passengers and crew know about 9/11, and the attackers are unlikely to gain control of the cockpit to effect a crash.

The 9/11 problem solved itself. If another problem arises, and arises as a repeating problem, then security needs to address it. But tying everyone in knots to stop every possible imaginable threat is nonsense.

#55 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:05 PM:

Abi@22: I agree, there has been a real paradigm shift in the heads of travelers, as early as flight 93. However, I don't believe it's reasonable to say that this latest nut-job was stopped, by the Dutch video producer or anybody else. (Brave action, correct action, but so far as I can tell, too late.)

So far as I can see, he succeeded -- he got out his syringe and squirted the catalyst where he wanted it.

It just didn't work right.

I suspect it kind of stings. Which is okay with me, really.

But, in terms of safety of future flights -- this guy succeeded. He did what he wanted to do, and nobody reacted in time to stop him.

#56 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:17 PM:

Patrick@52: a three-step plan requiring a miracle to replace the under-specified step 2 always takes me to the classic cartoon, which I can't find online, where a blackboard is full of equations, and step 2 says "then a miracle occurs". The other person says "I think you need to be a bit more specific there in step 2". This predates Southpark by ages, and it wouldn't surprise me if they were referring to it.

#57 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:28 PM:

Speaking of the politics of the TSA, this is interesting.

Quick summary: The TSA has been running without an administrator for months, because Obama's nominee, Erroll Southers, has been blocked by Senator Jim DiMint (R-SC), who suspects the FBI veteran of being too willing to let TSA workers unionize.

There's your Republican Party all over. Terror threats are useful for getting the yokels riled, but stopping unions is the important day-in, day-out work. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost.

Democrats have their own ways of being awful. And I have no reason to believe that Southers is some kind of paladin. But the lengths to which Republicans will go to beat unions down is breathtaking. It's pretty much their prime directive. I think if Democrats could figure out some way to force Republicans to choose between being anti-abortion and being anti-union, it might make the computer explode. Wait, what am I saying? We're talking Republicans here. They'd choose "anti-union" in a heartbeat. Those unborn kids don't write checks.

#58 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:29 PM:

David @56: Sol Harris, wasn't it? Sidestepping your point, I've often thought that the Underpants Gnomes and their lectures on business models and profits were a bit of a salute to the couple of cartoons Warner Brothers made (with Wall Street money) to inform viewers of the wonders of capitalism. If memory serves, one was a shoemaker-and-elves thing, and the other had Sylvester being lectured on how to invest his inheritance.

#59 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:47 PM:

Michael Roberts #16: I have a book, and I'm not afraid to use it

That would make a great bumper sticker.

#60 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 05:50 PM:

David @55, I don't care whether he succeeded on his own terms. What he wanted to do was stupid and ineffectual. I mean, people noticed the guy because he'd set fire to his crotch. Nothing short of telepathy can keep people from doing stupid weird shit. We can't keep passengers from setting fire to their crotches any more than we can keep them from trying to bash out the windows with their heads.

Good security isn't a matter of preventing extremely low-probability events. Therefore, some extremely low-probability events will take place. I'll be satisfied if the TSA keeps would-be terrorists from executing plans that have some reasonable hope of success.

#61 ::: Kate Y. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 06:11 PM:

tnh @60: Good security isn't a matter of preventing extremely low-probability events. Therefore, some extremely low-probability events will take place.

Oh, well said. That's it in a nutshell, innit!

#62 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 06:21 PM:

David @56, Kip W@58:

Sidney Harris

#63 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 06:32 PM:

PNH (#57)
The "WTF?!" surreal moment in the article is this quote from the Senator:

...DeMint, in a statement, said that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted terror attack in Detroit "is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA."...

I reluctantly now must cast my vote.

Irony and sarcasm are now officially dead-and-buried...

#64 ::: Elizabeth Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 06:33 PM:

@58 I remember those cartoons, and even though they confused me at the time (I didn't understand that "profit" didn't include the salary a businessperson paid themselves. I just wondered how the heck you were supposed to live if you spent your hard-earned money on new equipment and not food.) that shoemaker/elves cartoon is probably my only education on how capitalism works.
When I did get around to starting my own small craft business, the basic message of that cartoon (invest your earnings back in the business) stuck with me.

#65 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 06:35 PM:

Beth @42: I think that crazy people should be prevented from taking knives aboard airplanes. Or buses and trains, for that matter.

How do you test for craziness? I carry a Leatherman Wave around on my belt, including when I'm buses and trains. (I actually had one confiscated by Greyhound a few years back, and haven't been back on a Greyhound-owned bus since.) It's annoying to have to leave it behind, or check luggage, when I take an airplane trip. How do I prove I'm not crazy?

I actually think that, of the three methods of travel you mentioned, airplanes ought to be the least vulnerable to trouble caused by knife-wielding nuts, since there's a sturdy separation between the passenger cabin and the cockpit. On a bus, a nut could sneak up on the driver and stab him, wrecking the bus. In a plane, that's not really plausible if the pilots are at all concerned about safety.

TNH @60, I think David's point is that Abdulmutallab's failure was due, not to the intervention of Jasper Schuringa, but to the poor design or construction of his device.

#66 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 06:49 PM:

Ledasmom @41: Here is your internets. I laughed so loudly that even the dogs were startled.

Returning to the topic at hand: security is truly a matter of risk management, which is exactly how we protect research animals. I can protect this room full of valuable mice from every known pathogen by preventing all researchers from accessing the area, by enclosing the mice in special cages with filtered ventilation, etc., etc. -- but then no research can be accomplished. Instead, we manage risk by training, access, proper equipment, and routine health monitoring. Yes, we do get cases of infections that affect all research, but these are far fewer than they used to be, and instead of taking down an entire facility, they affect a room or even just part of a room.

Risk is never completely preventable. It's so misunderstood, too, because the perception of risk overwhelms the true risk. How many women worry about breast cancer (one in nine!) when in reality they should be much more worried about cardiovascular disease?

All the TSA security theater drama really does is justify the existence of the TSA. There's no management of risk at all, just over-reactions and a whole lot of "fighting the last battle".

What we need is what Great Britain and Ireland did, and Lebanon, and Nelson Mandela's South Africa: address the concerns of the at-risk population, and marginalize the extremists. Maintain human and signals intelligence for information flows and watch for trends, not snapshots. Quit worrying about hijackers creating another 9/11 -- that was a one-time deal, and no future hijackers will ever succeed at anything but killing themselves.

The key to transportation security is not in tight controls that anger all the real customers and blind everyone to the criminals exploiting loopholes; it's in mass information spread -- think of it like a vaccination. Inform the public of the danger signals and let us police ourselves knowingly, not out of fear or hatred.

I keep thinking of England and Ireland during the troubles. We have to approach our security in a mindful manner, and not like a bunch of headless chickens.

#67 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 06:54 PM:

Something we tend to forget is that these terrorists are mostly stupid.

The guys who go out and try to blow themselves up or whatever aren't officers; they're grunts, and not terribly bright ones. Nor are the ramshackle organizations that back them terribly effective. And when they're attacking the USA or EU states they're working in a hostile environment at the end of a long and tenuous supply chain with poor intelligence.

This is why for every 9/11 or 7/7 or 11/3 there are a dozen murderous clowns who sets fire to their pants, or events like the Glasgow Airport attack (which was so successful that the next day the local newspaper headline ran I KICKED BURNING TERRORIST SO HARD IN BALLS THAT I TORE A TENDON IN MY FOOT). And a hundred more conspiracies that are shut down before they get anywhere.

Outside of the Tribal Territories on the Pakistan border, the backwoods of the Yemen, and Afghanistan, we aren't facing anything remotely as organized as the Provisional IRA or Sendero Luminoso these days -- for which I am deeply grateful.

#68 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 07:05 PM:

Ginjer @66: the British went through a harsh learning process during the troubles -- all the mistakes you see the USA making in dealing with Al Qaida, basically, only on a smaller scale.

Waterboarding and torturing prisoners? Check. Rounding up folks almost at random or on the basis of denunciations and sticking them in don't-call-them-that concentration camps? Check. Legislative over-reactions in the wake of bombings with mass fatalities? Check. Deploying soldiers trained in war-fighting to act as auxilliary police officers, with hideous consequences? Check. Surges to quell unpolicable areas with a massive show of force? Check. Shoot-to-kill policy for dealing with insurgents? Check.

Been there. Did that. None of it worked (with limited very short-term exceptions and horrible blowback). It took 20 years to learn better, but we got there in the end -- to our shame, because the lessons should have been clear within the first five years.

(Then Tony Fscking Blair threw away all the hard-won institutional knowledge and dragged us in after W. Go figure.)

#69 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 07:30 PM:

Charlie @68: I know the British made a lot of mistakes, which only makes the USian idiocy all that more appalling. The Troubles went on far longer because of all the brutality -- and stopped so rapidly once the approach was changed. If only we hadn't elected a fake cowboy with a burning need to impress his Dad...

I'm beginning to think my country is a teenager with undiagnosed ADHD as well as anger issues. Every time someone else has clearly Learned A Lesson, we come along and --ooh! Shiny! Completely miss the point, reinvent the wheel, and waste a lot of time, effort, lives, or all three.

#70 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 07:36 PM:

Ginger and Charlie:

Good points, all. One thing that's conspicuously absent in the security coverage at US airports is a comprehensive analysis of all the entry points and weaknesses, and ways to cover them. I say this because it's still the case, AFAIK, that the easiest penetration of flight-line security is still the employee's entrance, not the passenger gate. I believe that even the TSA officers themselves are still not properly screened or background-checked, and from what I hear, access badge and ID checks are cursory at best. The only reason we haven't seen an attack via that route is that it does require a fair amount of advance planning, and probably at least 2 conspirators. The Shoe Bomber and the Crotch Bomber were both lone bombers, not the brighest bulbs in the chandelier, and had no training or backing, and that seems to be more common than not among the grunts, as Charlie calls them.

Another major omission in airport security is proper training and operational management. The most common causes of lax security are boredom, inattention, or lack of proper training on the part of the guards. I'd give a concourse-full of metal detectors for a properly-managed and prepared contingent of TSA officers (although that may be an oxymoron), and forego the patdowns into the bargain.

Does anyone remember a Dean Inge story (title was "Soft Targets", IIRC) from the '70s about terrorists? In the end the terrorists were marginalized by the media consistently spinning their operations as comical failures. Looks like the terrorists have given us exactly the facts we need for those comical stories, but the media are too busy screaming about pieces of the sky falling to report them as the jokes they are.

#71 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 07:50 PM:

How did I miss that headline the first time around? How how how? Because now I will save it forever and whenever I need a laugh after a long hard day I will think about the man who kicked the terrorist in the balls so hard he tore a tendon in his foot.

#72 ::: ginmar ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 07:51 PM:

I'll admit I'm biased against the TSA. I think they're frickin' morons and what they know about security is the stuff I learned in my first five minutes of class about fifteen years ago at Ft. Bragg. This may or may not be based on the fact that after my uniformed company deplaned---with empty holsters----at the first American airport we came to, which was Baltimore International, which closes at 10:30 at night----the TSA made us remove our belts, our boots, and our overblouses but not, in many cases, our side arm holsters---before reboarding the plane. Then some buttwipe demanded to speak to our sole black company member, an interrogator with about twenty years' experience. It was like watching the Taco Bell dog harass the Queen Mary. Ahem. But they're jumped up security guards, and I wouldn't trust them to bust shoplifters, much less terrorists, so it's lucky that Al Qaeda apparently has almost no interest in airline terrorism these days. The TSA is useless, but the passengers aren't. As several people have said, the paradigm has changed. Al Qaeda, however, does not want us to know that it has for them, too.

We're not living under a cloud of terrorism, and aren't in any particular day-to-day danger: if we were, where are the bus bombs, the mailbox bombs, the suicide bombers, the IEDs? Terrorists are an oddly practical and literal bunch. They want the numbers, and the figure they have to beat is the number of people they killed on 9/11. They might fund the occasional yahoo to try and light himself on fire on some jet, but my money's on a totally different vector for the next attack, and a different magnitude of casualties. They should take the TSA off the airports, that era of terrorism is over. What they're getting out of this stupid security over-reaction is the sight of the mighty US pissing its pants over the losers that want to join the club but that AQ can't even use for bottle-washers. It's a nice distraction from what might very well be going on in the background.

#73 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 08:29 PM:

#32 ::: Avram

Why, yes, I am.

But the current group would call it something else so it would be ok. You know like making a speech about the necessity for war while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, and closing Guantánamo while keeping it open and getting us out of Iraq while miring us in Afghanistan, etc.

I mean, this guy, Rahm Emanuel, etc. -- they are not afraid of doing the right thing.

Love, c.

#74 ::: jsgbs ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 08:40 PM:

Two Detroit lawyers who were on the flight have claimed that NWA allowed the underwear bomber to fly without presenting a passport. The most charitable explanation is that the lawyers are mistaken. No sane airline would accept an undocumented passenger on an international flight between two normal countries, much less on a flight into the US.

Meanwhile, anonymous officials asked ABC to report that two former Gitmo inmates, released in 2007, were behind the underwear bombing plot. It's (cough) completely inconceivable (cough) that torturing people for years might drive them to violent behavior.

#75 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 08:50 PM:

@74--

no, no: this shows that we didn't torture them *enough*. if we had tortured them a lot more, then they would have stopped being our enemies.

also, it shows that obama should not have used his time machine to go backwards to 2007 and force dick cheney to authorize their release. which cheney never would have done otherwise, because he's tough on terrorists. also.

#76 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 08:51 PM:

So far as courage is concerned, I watch panic in the US, while at the same time people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are expected to put up with a lot of US-caused civilian deaths.

Anyone have the details of how cockpit doors got reinforced? The last I heard, the airlines didn't want to pay for it. Was there a regulation? A subsidy?

#77 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 09:06 PM:

Let me get this straight: the non-union TSA didn't stop a terrorist from getting on a plane with the stuff he thought would let him blow it up, therefore it is necessary to keep the TSA non-union? Do these people listen to themselves?

(I know, the TSA may be completely irrelevant here--but if they are, then we can't draw any conclusions about whether unionization would hurt or harm the TSA from this. But that's much too sophisticated an argument for this set of dishonest thugs.)

#78 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 09:14 PM:

Vicki @77, remember how the Republicans failed to stop 9/11, so only the Republicans could prevent another 9/11? Same logic.

#79 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 09:16 PM:

I nominate the Undie-Bomber for a Darwin Award.

Being serious -- Ginmar (# 72) makes a lot of sense, especially her second paragraph.

#80 ::: philsuth ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 09:28 PM:

Ginger @ 69: I'm beginning to think my country is a teenager with undiagnosed ADHD as well as anger issues

That's a perceptive diagnosis - and sadly not just of your country. When every nasty thing that occurs in the 'civilised' world is shouted at us within minutes of it happening, together with a torrent of largely uninformed commentary and guesswork, then why should we be surprised that we panic, demand action, and play into the hands of politicians who like nothing more than to improve their re-election chances by taking 'decisive' (and often ill-considered) action. They do this secure in the knowledge that rational commentary on the matter will be largely drowned out by the next media storm that comes along.

Consider what the press reaction at the turn of the previous century would have been to an incident like the Groin Bomber. How many column inches would the incident have gotten in the world's major dailies (other than those in the city or country it occurred in)?

Effectively, the feedback signal which we use to control our governance is over-amplified and noisy, so it's unsurprising that we're seeing wild societal responses and sub-optimal behaviour.

The only way I can see to fix this problem (without compromising on absolutely vital freedoms of speech and of the press) involves educating the populace at large to have a reasonable sense of perspective and a better perception of actual risk - effectively conditioning the feedback signal. Easy to say, but alas very hard to achieve.

#81 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 09:39 PM:

@80--

"Consider what the press reaction at the turn of the previous century would have been to an incident like the Groin Bomber."

umm...have you forgotten the maine? may i encourage you to remember the maine?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remember_the_maine

of course i agree with your overall recommendation about the need for perspective.

#82 ::: ginmar ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 09:45 PM:

Purplegirl, I interrogated some of these guys, but not in the Bushian sense of the word. You'd be amazed at what happens when you treat somebody with respect. Also, there's this: in the Middle East, it's not getting people to talk that's the difficult thing; it's shutting them up, so that brings us to why the Bushies felt it so necessary to torture people they could have had talking for hours for a pack of cigarettes. It's a shame that these days one cannot declaim at length on the moral evils of torture because the discourse really doesn't allow it; there's been a venal and vicious shift that leaves one citing the practical and personal benefits to not being an absolute sadist to one's enemies. Therefore one has to act like not torturing is a budgetary decision.

This might seem to be unconnected to this post, but I think it's relevant: I have an arch conservative frothing brother and I thought he was getting better. I made the mistake of mentioning Iraq to him and rather than seeing 'non partisan human rights situation' he saw an opportunity to bash Obama. Talking about morals with someone like that, alas, is absolutely futile. Morals are the frosting on the big huge turd they call their 'values'.

The fact is, the sophisticated bombers who boarded the planes on 9/11 didn't much resemble the sweaty, umkempt, bewildered shoe- or underwear- bombers. There will always be casualties here and anyone who doesn't accept that is naive. We have to make sure that we limit those deaths as much as possible, and that means we have to take extra care to guard the rights and welfare of people who are at a terrible, soul-killing risk of being more harassed than they already are. People bitch about restrictions on American passengers, but I cannot imagine what Arab travelers go through. You know the drill....security, liberty, etc., etc., The only answer to terrorism, really, is more decency and hope and compassion to those that might match the profiles.

#83 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 10:14 PM:

ginmar @ 82, you and Terry Karney, both interrogators, both have said a lot of interesting and sense-making things about the reality of risk assessment and security as it relates to terrorism.

My favorite thing to laugh at today was over at Sadly, No! -- a link to a blog post that sneered disdainfully "The people now in charge of our government believe Clinton-era counterterrorism was a successful model. They start from the premise that terrorism is a crime problem to be managed, not a war to be won."

To which my response was an extremely intelligent "…Yes?"

It's interesting that both you and Terry Karney, with some direct experience in gathering information about these sorts of things, seem to take the "problem to be managed" side.

I think that getting good information and acting on it is the best way to prevent terrorism. Basically, good policing. Ridiculous security theater rules do more harm than good, in all sorts of ways.

And again, no one seems to remember that the 9/11 hijackers didn't use underwear bombs or exploding shampoo. They hijacked the planes with low-tech blades, and used the planes as their bombs. Magic Security Baggies for toothpaste, taking off shoes, and not peeing during the last hour of flight -- none of these things would have done anything to stop those guys. Not ignoring actual information available to government and law enforcement at the time -- now that might have done something.

#84 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 10:23 PM:

Yeah, in the great future ahead of us, they'll be screening for bio-engineered urine payloads. "Doc, it burns when I pee!" "Eureka!"

(sigh)

#85 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 10:37 PM:

Leading, no doubt, to the "do not pee" list.

#86 ::: ginmar ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 10:56 PM:

Caroline, anyone who could see the effects of war on a civilian population, or look into someone's eyes and not see the human being there is not someone who should be given access to weapons, intel, or indeed anything more lethal than a....pretzel. Witness Bush Jr.'s graceful performance with snacks, then.

One serves with human beings. One works with them, and ultimately, one's enemies, no matter what they do, are still human. To reject that humanity in them is to destroy it in one's self as well. We wind up being linked to our enemies in ways that you cannot imagine beforehand.

Damned liberal tendencies, obviously.

There are times when it is necessary to kick ass. There is never not a time to be human, humane, compassionate, and decent.

It's not the terrorists that I'm afraid of. I'm afraid of living some Republican's hateful, terror-filled fantasy, while they chop down the Constitution.

#87 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 11:00 PM:

Maybe it was growing up in England during the tail end of the IRA's bombings, I don't know. The attitude that I got from it was that there will be a few bad incidents from time to time, but you don't give in, try to make the best of it, and you let the police do their job. And perhaps that attitude was a holdover from the Blitz. You don't go nuts trying to react to a particular method that may never be repeated, you manage what you know from experience are existing risks. After September 11th I had hoped that the US would take lessons on what to do about terrorism from the UK, but was unsurprised when they didn't.

In my more cynical moments, I suspect that the liquids restriction is a way of attempting to artificially stimulate the economy by forcing travelers to buy toiletries at their destination and/or the overpriced, travel-sized versions.

nerdycellist @ 33/35:

Looks like they've turned the TVs back on. Don't know about the maps, though. If they're not going to show the maps any more, that's a great disappointment to me, as the maps are the only thing worth watching when I'm awake and not reading.

Fragano Ledgister @ 37:

When I was leaving Trinidad last year, I recall they only put my carry-on through the X-ray machine. No idea about my checked luggage. Perhaps I got lucky?

#89 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 11:55 PM:

In #58, Kip is speaking of "Yankee Dood It" (do you italicize the title of a cartoon short, like a book, or put it in quotes, like a short story?), one of three Warner Brothers shorts underwritten by money from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in the 1950s.* The goal was to educate American filmgoers about the benefits of industrial capitalism.

As cartoons go, it's pretty lame. But the image of elves explaining economics with animated charts is surreal enough to have haunted the minds of the South Park animators for decades. I'm rather surprised a reference to it has not been incorporated into the Wikipedia entry on Underpants Gnomes.

Writing for IMDB, Kevin McCorry summarizes:

Elmer Fudd is the progressive King of industrial Elves. He visits an outmoded shoemaker's shop to extol the virtues of mass production capitalism to the shoemaker, whose pet cat, Sylvester, uses the magic word, "Jehosophat" to turn Fudd's elf helper into a mouse and chases him around the shoemaker's shop.

"Constant wepwacement with the watest machinewy makes the industwy more efficient!"

Wikipedia entry (which appears to plagiarize the IMDB text).

Online versions of the cartoon are available from dailymotion.com; from youtube.com; and from vodpod.com.

* The other two being "By Word of Mouse" and "Heir-Conditioned." Also lame.

#90 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 12:26 AM:

Avram, #5: I figure we were lucky the TSA didn't decide to just ban all underwear from airplanes.

They'll make us wear it on the outside, of course.

Also, if They ever panic and go back to the no-pee rules, we can expect a surge in Depends sales. What happens when someone being pat-searched is wearing Depends, I wonder. Or, yanno, col- and other-ostomies.

Show me a small child who reliably won't have to pee in the next hour... Huh. Maybe we were saved by Think of the Childrunnnnn.

Some years ago, Joe's mother died. We'd promised to take her back to Arkansas to be buried, and so we did. She went on a different flight so I can't swear to whether she was searched.

Joe called the airline to inquire about bereavement fares for us. He gave the (insert epithet here) our names, the funeral services' names, all the info. This tootsie told him, "Oh no. We can't give you the bereavement fare because the names don't match."

After some bewilderment we found out that she didn't mean Joe's and his mother's surnames; she meant his and mine.

Poor Joe nearly lost it ("What YEAR is this???"), but managed to not call her rude names while I was saying something in the background about Arkansans not really marrying their sisters. He asked to speak to her supervisor. When he'd finally got it straightened out, we looked at each other and said "We're gonna get searched." Oh yes: insisted on a land-line phone number for the (insisted-on) callback an hour later too. Annoying because friends had invited us over for dinner that night, kind of an in-person version of the traditional neighbors' casseroles.

So we added an extra half-hour to our schedule and just got all cheerful with the TSA person who, sure enough, called us both out of line and wanded us, shoes off (before that was the norm), searched our hand-luggage twice, yadda yadda. Oh yeah, ditto on the return flight.

In 2004 when we went back to visit relatives and tie up some loose ends, I drove there from northern California and back because it was just easier on the blood pressure than flying. My chief grief these days is that I can't drive to Hawai'i.

#91 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 02:02 AM:

I'm curious about what influenced and inspired Mr Blowup Shorts to become a martyrdom jihadist. He hadn't gone that way with his father's approval. What sort of ideals and values and perceptions got him all pulled in and signed up and volunteering himself for a short life and spectacular demise?

As long as there is a continuing supply chain of eager new recruits incoming volunteering or willing to otherwise carry out suicide bomber attacks, and people only too happy to train the and send them out of mission, the "supply side" for terrorists isn't going to shut down operations. Only when either or both there are no more recruits, and/or the agents/agencies which maintain the meme of using suicide bombings as tactics/strategy and which do the planning disappear or evolve away from promulgating atrocites, are the attack attempts going to stop.

If there aren't any attack attempts, there won't be successful (or unsuccessful..) attacks.

"Wars on terror" which effect more new recruits joining up than than the war kills off, do not create security and promote peaceful co-prosperity, especially not in countries with increasing populations from birth rates much higher than death rates.

#92 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 02:14 AM:

#90 ::: Ron Sullivan

ANd of copurse, the airline mgmt and PR flacks wil swear left, right and sideways that *they* don't have anything to do with the lists of people who are-too-dangerous-to-fly-but-not-too dangerous-to-arrest and those who are too-dangerous-to-allow-peaceful-flight-but-not-dangerous-enough-to-deny-flying

#93 ::: rmtodd ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 02:25 AM:

re: #70, IIRC "Soft Targets" may have been the title of the Dean Ing collection that story was in; the story itself was titled "Very Proper Charlies", and yes, it was a good one.

#94 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 03:39 AM:

Ron Sullivan #90: I can't drive to Hawai'i.

In case you reconsider

#95 ::: Pete ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 04:23 AM:

Avram @65: I carry a Leatherman Wave around on my belt, including when I'm buses and trains.

I carried a battered Swiss army knife around for years (even on planes back in the '90s) - it was incredibly useful on occasion, and you never knew when it would come in handy.

That all changed a few months ago. In response to a number of knife-related assaults in NSW, Australia, one of our right-wing religious senators pushed through a change in the local law.

You can now go to jail for up to 2 years here for having custody of a "knife" (basically anything with a blade) "in public" (anywhere open to the public, or used by the public) without proof that it was "reasonably necessary" to do so. The onus of proof is on you, and the acceptable reasons are quite limited (in my opinion).

(Prior to the law change, the most that could happen on a first offence was a fine. Given that, the risk of not being able to provide acceptable proof if challenged was small enough to take for most people. They may not even have realised the law existed.)

Like the TSA rule changes, the law changes effectively prohibited what used to be acceptable behaviour for a wide class of persons in an attempt to restrict adverse behaviours by a much narrower set of persons.

I despair for the quality of our legislative process these days. It's gotten to the point where representative democracy as currently practised is basically a form of elected aristocracy. You get to pick from among the candidates offered to you, but have no real say in the laws they end up implementing.

#96 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 04:37 AM:

Ron Sullivan @90:
Show me a small child who reliably won't have to pee in the next hour...

My last flight with my daughter included vomiting in the last hour (she gets motion sick), and there were no barf bags.

We made it to the toilet on time, but there were no spare seconds for negotiating with cabin crew.

#97 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 05:52 AM:

Paula Lieberman, #91: "I'm curious about what influenced and inspired Mr Blowup Shorts to become a martyrdom jihadist. He hadn't gone that way with his father's approval. What sort of ideals and values and perceptions got him all pulled in and signed up and volunteering himself for a short life and spectacular demise?"

His choice of where to hide the explosive is awfully symbolic. At a guess, he has a religious obsession that grew out of internal conflicts over his sexuality, and some Islamic version of a wingnut cleric talked him into martyrdom as a way to redeem his sinfulness.

Not, mind you, that we are ever likely to find out if this is so.

Of course, he may also just be crazy. There's plenty of crazy to take advantage of.

#98 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:48 AM:

KeithS@87: and for some reason British railway stations still have no litter bins. The litter bins were done away with during a period when the IRA was in the habit of putting bombs in them—I think the bins disappeared in the mid-90s, after the 1994 ceasefire had broken down, though perhaps I'm misremembering and they went earlier than this, in the early 90s when the IRA were attacking the London rail termini with some regularity.

In any case, there are now no bombers around whose MO is to put the bomb in a bin and run away. Bombers now want to blow themselves up. Nevertheless, there are still no litter bins in railway stations: it's one of those zombified nods to 'anti-terrorism' that makes no sense but that's presumably a comforting ritual to whoever enforces it.

#99 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:50 AM:

Re: #90: My girlfriend had to go to France when her mother died, to pick up the ashes (making all the funerary arrangements via phone, fax, and email beforehand); bringing the urn back was apparently fairly surreal (and if you want to bring a powdery explosive through airport security, put it in a funeral urn and claim it's the ashes of <beloved parent> with appropriate sad face...).

#100 ::: odaiwai ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 09:00 AM:
KeithS@87: and for some reason British railway stations still have no litter bins. The litter bins were done away with during a period when the IRA was in the habit of putting bombs in them—I think the bins disappeared in the mid-90s, after the 1994 ceasefire had broken down, though perhaps I'm misremembering and they went earlier than this, in the early 90s when the IRA were attacking the London rail termini with some regularity.

The litter bins were removed after the 1991 Victoria Station bomb, when a device exploded in a litter bin on the platform of that station. (A very good friend of mine would have been on that platform at that time, if he hadn't taken a sick day.)

I was living in London at the time, and through several other IRA bomb attempts, and my advice to any time travellers who may wish to visit London in the early 1990's is to not have an Irish accent.

#101 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 09:33 AM:

Steve with a book: Bins disappeared from railway stations in Britain in the late eighties or early nineties. These days I see the ability to throw away litter in railway stations as one of the glories of peace.

I think it's having lived through the IRA bombings that make me so contemptuous of these guys. You want to terrify me, blow up litter bins outside flower shops in provincial city centres on the Saturday before Mother's Day.

#102 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 09:57 AM:

It's apparently rather easier than I would have expected to talk people into becoming martyrs. Still, there are very few of them on a percentage-of-population basis. I suspect that the level of crazy inherent in human society is going to continue to provide the occasional bang.

I suspect what's really needed is learning to recognize the tentative, early, probing leading towards grooming and recruitment, and reporting that; because the recruiters can't only approach people ready to become martyrs, can they? If they approach people opposed to terrorism, they could get stopped. I wonder if it looks just like something good, though?

#103 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 10:13 AM:

Tnh@60: That's just it; on his own terms, he failed, no significant damage was done to the airplane or the passengers.

But it's not grounds for complacency from our side; this is not a demonstration that an alert passenger can detect an attempted detonation and react in time to stop it. The passenger didn't react until the attempt was OVER. (Not trying to play down the bravery; the passenger didn't know at the time that the attempt was over and had failed, so he certainly did the right thing.)

#104 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 10:43 AM:

Decluttering not completely futile attempts....

Found, Boston Globe Thursday Jan 10 2008, page A14
AP article, Widespread US secrecy prompts warning: Board tellls Bush to speed effort to declassify records Peter Yost
The article includes the information that the daily brief for August 6, 2001 [the Schmuck was off on vacation all that summer dude ranching away in the once-independent-country state of Texas...] was "Bin Laden Determined to Stike in the US." The AP article also indicated that the Schmuck's misadministration coughed up the brief dragging its feet doing so "during the 2004 presidential campaign." Seems to me that the mainstream press ignore or buried that information at the time....

(My feelings towards Cheney, his former putative boss, DeLay, etc., are that if anyone's heads belong up on pikestaffs for gross negligence and arrogance and infliction of misery including "humn trafficking" on corporate conspiracy scales, and mass murder by intent or by willful causal actions in the past half century, theirs belong up there next to the likes of Ceaucescu and ex-Yugoslavian homicidal maniacs, Idi Amin, the architects of the mass murders in Rwanda, Saddam Hussein and his sons, etc.)

#105 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 10:59 AM:

@103--

"But it's not grounds for complacency from our side"

my complacency is not based on this guy's incompetence, and will not be much shaken when the next loser gets luckier.

my complacency comes from the fact that these are all utterly trivial pin-pricks and pose no danger to the continued existence of america. the most successful terrorist attack yet, did about what a month worth of traffic accidents does. and yet we somehow survive a month worth of traffic accidents, month after month.

the only danger that we face is from our own system's over-reaction. and about that danger i am not complacent.

#106 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 11:52 AM:

kid bitzer#105.

I fly a lot and I live under one of the main approach paths for the airport. Flying is very safe. Being flown over is very safe, too.

I do worry that the US immigration officials will find something wrong with my green card, or that I will have gotten confused about time zones and booked the flight for the wrong date, or various other more or less plausible phobias. I don't worry that someone will blow up his underwear successfully this time and bring down the plane.

The only thing that has made me feel less safe about flying at any time in recent years was the new H1N1 flu, for which we now have a vaccine.

#107 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 12:23 PM:

Teresa Neilsen Hayden:

I mean, people noticed the guy because he'd set fire to his crotch.

I have spent the last couple of minutes trying to picture a plane flight where this would be unnoticed. Either you've got the airborne version of the 5:15 Vashon Island ferry or a flaming crotch would be the least of your problems.

Charlie Stross:

we aren't facing anything remotely as organized as the Provisional IRA

That's an ugly little notion that keeps dancing through my head late at night: if they get that organized--or, based on what I remember of the news reports that made it to Seattle, as inventive as the Provisional IRA was--life is going to get much too interesting. As it is, occasionally I get the feeling that somebody in the terrorist movement has been reading the Bizarro World edition of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals and using it as the playbook: some of the ideas are the same, but the execution would have had Alinsky bellowing like a bull.

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey: In #58, Kip is speaking of "Yankee Dood It"...

Otherwise known as the "What the hell...?" cartoon.

The goal was to educate American filmgoers about the benefits of industrial capitalism.

So that's what was going on! I kept trying to figure out if it was some sort of left over commissioned project like the Disney animated "Story of Menstruation" film for Kotex or the Disney animated anti-VD film for teens which features Gonorrhea as troops in psuedo-Nazi uniforms: I assumed WB did a Cage/Menagerie recycle job when the commission fell through.

Anyone else thinking that the group advocating nudist charter flights is starting to sound much more pleasant?

#108 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 12:24 PM:

David, #102: We aren't the only ones who know how to profile, y'know. I suspect that the recruiters for these groups have a list of behaviors and/or conversational topics and choice of phrases which make it pretty damn clear that someone is ripe for this sort of grooming. I could come up with one for Christianist loonies that would probably be 80% accurate, and I'm by no means a professional.

#109 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 12:44 PM:

the only danger that we face is from our own system's over-reaction. and about that danger i am not complacent.

Hmm. As I understand it, the H1N1 virus -- unpleasant as it is -- is fatal to otherwise-healthy people mostly when their immune systems overreact.

I'd like to see a change of terminology in media reports about terrorist activity and other similar crimes, from "[X organization] claims responsibility" to "[X organization] admits responsibility".

#110 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 12:47 PM:

Lee@108: Well, I may be guilty of assuming they don't profile any more accurately than our own alleged experts do.

But, as you say, 80% or somewhat more seems reasonable. Thing is, if that 20% or a bit less that they approach who aren't ready would report the attempts, we could stop them earlier. I suppose it depends whether the approach looks like anything clear, and whether the 20% are in sympathy with the terrorists even if not ready to act.

#111 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 12:51 PM:

@105 -- yes, the overall statistics, and the fact that passengers clearly HAVE decided to be active players in future hijacking scenarios, provide some decent reasons for modest complacency.

#112 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 01:48 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 25: "As Jim Henley wrote years ago, in the immediate wake of 9/11, government should encourage citizens to be "a pack, not a herd.""

There's an obvious reason why that would strike people in charge as a bad idea: after all, they've spent such a long time training people to be passive!

Beyond that, however, there's a reason why I am a little uncomfortable with the idea of Americans-as-pack. I'd hate to be the swarthy, bearded gentleman with a terrible case of jock itch on a plane full of people thinking like wolves.

#113 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 02:16 PM:

heresiarch #112:

That's the problem the authorities have, too, right? Should they trust the judgment of the unwashed masses and clueless goobers? Or of the TSA and DHS guys, who are at least their unwashed masses and clueless goobers?

There are no answers in which nobody ever gets hurt who doesn't have it coming. The better training and administrative control over the TSA and DHS guys and flight attendants and such probably makes them more likely to do the right thing. Their likely immunity from consequences for overreacting, mistreating people, beating people up, etc., probably makes them more likely to do the wrong thing. I have no idea which one comes out on top.

At any rate, passengers who think there's a hijacking going on aren't likely to sit back and let the authorities handle it, ever again. That ended on 9/11, for better or worse. I think that's probably a good thing, but I can't prove it.

#114 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 02:36 PM:

Quoting ginmar:

One serves with human beings. One works with them, and ultimately, one's enemies, no matter what they do, are still human. To reject that humanity in them is to destroy it in one's self as well. We wind up being linked to our enemies in ways that you cannot imagine beforehand.

[...]

There are times when it is necessary to kick ass. There is never not a time to be human, humane, compassionate, and decent.

Repeated for emphasis. I wish I could spam some people with this all day.

(FYI, ginmar, in case it's not clear, I'm the Caroline who comments on your blog under a different screenname and whom you met this past fall.)

Other discussion: As Bruce Schneier has discussed before, you can come up with endless bizarre movie plots about airline terrorism. If you try to ban everything from these movie plots, you really will end up with people flying naked and sedated. And actually, I could come up with a really interesting movie plot where a terrorist cell circumvents the naked and sedated rule, and the action hero has to stop them despite being naked and sedated himself. (This would require an action hero who looks really good naked. I suggest Naveen Andrews. Now that I think of it, it would be nice to have the hero not be white and blond, too. But I freely admit that was not my initial motivation for suggesting him.)

It reminds me of how I think when I'm having really bad anxiety symptoms. I imagine scary situations and try to come up with every contingency plan, particularly after there's been some scary crime story in the news. It's a coping strategy, because worrying gives me an illusion of control over the scary thoughts. But it's fundamentally disordered thinking. It actually worsens my anxiety, because dwelling on scary situations scares me. And it actually makes me worse at assessing real-life risks, because I'm focused on these low-probability, movie-plot scenarios (see The Gift of Fear, which is a good book even though it starts out with a low-probability movie-plot scenario).

Maybe TSA needs a good course of L*x*pr* and some cognitive-behavioral therapy. Helped me.

And joking aside, cognitive-behavioral therapy works because it helps you take a reality-based, evidence-based approach towards your thinking and behavior. Evidence-based security? What a thought.

#115 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 02:48 PM:

Paula Lieberman @ 91:

Your description of "supply-side" terrorism made me think about parallels between the "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs", and I think they're rather striking. In both cases a law-enforcement/public safety problem has been attacked (sic) with military or paramilitary solutions. In both cases little or no serious attempt has been made to address the "consumer-side" of the equation by addressing the forces that create and maintain the militant extremists or the drug users.

In both cases the "solutions" are driven by political rhetoric ("tough on terrorism/crime") and by the financial benefit of corporations and government agencies. And, in both cases, in the US the "solutions" were implemented by creating brand new agencies (DHS and DEA) whose very existence is dependent on maintaining the fiction that these paramilitary solutions can actually change the economic and political forces that caused their creation.

I suspect that one cause of these parallels is that if all you have is a cannon, everything looks like a target.

#116 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 03:05 PM:

Question for the assembled: has the increased connectivity and communication of the Internet age actually made our understanding of these events better? Or are we just eating a helluva lot more and calling it good?

#117 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 03:06 PM:

KeithS #87: You were luckier than me. All my bags were gone through. There's nothing like a hard-faced inspector pawing through your dirty underwear in public.

#118 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 03:32 PM:

Fragano, I would be tempted to pack extra dirty underwear.

#119 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 03:42 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 115:

To address the forces that create militant extremists is to admit that we probably shouldn't have been messing around in their country in the first place. Not a popular admission in some circles.

Nancy C. Mittens @ 118:

You mean like this?

#120 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 04:36 PM:

heresiarch @112 said "I'd hate to be the swarthy, bearded gentleman with a terrible case of jock itch on a plane full of people thinking like wolves."

That kind of resonated for me with what ginmar said about treating other people like human beings. I wonder how these failed would-be bombers interacted with the folks in the seats next to them. Did they say hello, engage in conversation, anything like that? I would suspect not -- I doubt it's normal nervous amateur terrorist behavior.

I know that our default is usually not to talk to our neighbors on public transportation, but perhaps it's something we should be doing as a means of both "profiling" our neighbors and creating some sort of common humanity with them. Is the person I'm talking to oddly nervous, withdrawn, obnoxious? Why might that be the case? Does the person need sympathy or an eye kept on them? Now here's a possible non-TSA security measure that might actually help -- at the end of the saftey-belt demo, the flight attendant could say "Please turn and say hello to the people seated next to you."

(I'd sure like to see Caroline's movie with the naked Naveen Andrews, though ...)

#121 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 04:50 PM:

#114: I assume emergency procedures with a plane of naked sedated people would include the dropping onto each seat, from the same little compartment that houses the oxygen masks, of a set of emergency clothes.

#122 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 05:21 PM:

Clothes might be a little tight for that little bin. Maybe a hat? After all, you're always well-dressed if you're wearing a hat.

I'd suggest towels, but that could lead to outbreaks of terrorist supported towel-snapping.

#123 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 05:29 PM:

Janet Croft @ 120: The person next to you could be nervous about flying, withdrawn because of trying to control fear of flying, obnoxious after hours and hours of dealing with stupid security theatre.

#124 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 05:34 PM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @122 -- terrorist supported towel-snapping

They have training camps for that, I hear.

#125 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 05:45 PM:

I'm waiting for the day a male terrorist decides that the perfect disguise is to dress up as Pamela Anderson.

#126 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:13 PM:

Janet Croft @ #120, "Please turn and say hello to the people seated next to you."

I felt self-conscious about that gesture when the Catholic Church instituted it as part of its post-Communion ritual; I'm not sure I'd feel any better about it on an airplane.

#127 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:16 PM:

Serge:

Something like this?

#128 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:34 PM:

A) Bullshit filter alert: the machine going into Logan would NOT have stopped Exploding Shorts Shitehead. Logan was NOT any of the airports ESS traversed. He got on a plane where, in Lagos, Nigeria?, and transferred, probably never exiting the security perimeter, to another plane, in Amsterdam. He was never anywhere near Logan.

For that matter, I think that the 9/11 mass murderers who boarded planes at Logan, weren't carrying the boxcutters on themselve, I seem to remember hearing that the box cutters had been put under seats in airliners, as opposed to necessarily carried on board by the mass murders.

http://www.911independentcommission.org/faanoradstatement61404.html


FSC Statement Regarding the Hearings on June 16th and 17th

June 14, 2004

The success of the 9/11 terrorist plot was possible due to the failures of many government agencies; one critical area was our intelligence agencies. In recognition of this, an investigation was conducted, known as "The Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001" (JICI). However, the committee ended its investigation without completing its work. In addition, since the JICI was only charged with investigating intelligence, that meant that the scope of its mandate was too narrow. Among other goals, the 9/11 Commission was to take up where the JICI left off.

....
12. Who initially stated that the hijackers carried box-cutters as weapons? Who determined which weapons were used? Who conducted the passenger search prior to boarding?

13. Box cutters were found on two planes grounded on September 11th. The box cutters were found under adjoining seat cushions on a flight out of Boston. Others were found in a trash bin on a plane bound from Atlanta to Brussels. Why weren’t FAA guidelines followed regarding banned items, such as box cutters, mace or pepper spray?

http://www.ratical.com/ratville/CAH/M.A.Sweeney.html

Stewardess ID'd Hijackers Early, Transcripts Show
by Gail Sheehy
gsheehy[at]observer[dot]com
16 February 2004
The New York Observer

{Damning article.... when oh WHEN is the Schmucky going to be charged and tried for gross negligent mass homicide?}

When 9/11 commission chairman Tom Kean gave his sobering assessment last December that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented, the Bush White House saw the bipartisan panel spinning out of its control. In the President's damage-control interview with NBCs Tim Russert last weekend, Mr. Bush was clearly still unwilling to submit to questioning by the 9/11 commission. "Perhaps, perhaps," was his negotiating stance.


#114 Caroline

I could probably think up a dozen airliner-related devastation-causing scenarios that all the airport screening techniques ever thought up, or implemented, or to be implemented. The only saving throws about the scenarios I can think up include:
a) I am not a terrorist and no interested in impelemented any of them
b) I am in nowise motivated to carry any such schemes out, from combinations of such things moral values, laziness, etc.
c) I am not about to provide ideas about things I regard as heinous to people I regard as heinous, loathsome, despicabe, vile, etc.
d) I have a certain level of professional experience in thinking up worst case analyses and scenarios to cause them, and in trying to design countermeasures/mitigation measures....
e) Most people out there are lower in the creativity and design areas than I, particularly most nihilists and violent religious fanatics. There are exceptions, such as the person who was the main force in Shining Path in Peru....

f) I am not going to mention the scenarios occurring to me, in here. Face to face talking with TNH, Yog, TNH.... but NOT here in the open!

#129 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:38 PM:

#128 {myself}

Ooops, left out some words...
I could probably think up a dozen airliner-related devastation-causing scenarios that all the airport screening techniques ever thought up, or implemented, or to be implemented

is missing "would do nothing whatsoever to avert."

#130 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:46 PM:

#120 Janet
Some of the 9/11 bombers were noticed by a Boston-New York commuter air passenger, who if he had known there were any alerts out regarding possible terrorist acts, would have told the security people at Logan that there were some very suspicious characters acting very aggresively and obnoxiously in the parking garage. When the plane he was in landed, he DID call the authorities, and the information he gave led to identifying the car that someone of the hijackers, the ones who came by car to the airport, had driven to the airport in. They were EXTREMELY memorable to him, so much so that he took down information about the car identifying it....

Meanwhile, someone on a mailing list I'm on, found an article stating tht there's no one in charge at the TSA because [one the more shitheaded shithead Republican senators, one of the the assholes from the ought-to-be-ashamed-of-itself-state-of-South-Carolina-I-think] has been blocking the appointment of the candidate nomimated by Pres. Obama.

#131 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:53 PM:

Bruce E Durocher II @ 127... I think the boots would give 'her' away.

#132 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 06:53 PM:

Paula @128: one of the interesting things about Amsterdam is that it's just about the most secure airport in Europe -- and far tighter than anything I've ever seen in the USA.

Anyone getting off a plane enters the transit area. Before you can get back onto a plane -- any plane -- you need to go through security screening to get back into the boarding gate, because there's a screening checkpoint (X-ray and metal detector) at each and every gate, and the boarding area is secured.

I'm wondering how the hell Mr Explodeypants managed this. I gather it was a refueling stop. Did he leave his exploding underwear in the seatback pocket when he got off? Or did he stay on the plane? Or (the worst possibility) did he get off the plane and pass back through the security checkpoint?

#133 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 07:01 PM:

#105: the most successful terrorist attack yet, did about what a month worth of traffic accidents does.

A month of traffic accidents destroys nine million square feet of real estate, reroutes mass transit for months, shuts down the stock market for days, literally decimates the largest fire department in the country, and takes out a zip code?

#134 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 07:25 PM:

Joel Polowin @123 -- and that's why you should talk to the person. Maybe it's something a little sympathy from a stranger would help, or maybe it's something a bit more sinister. Either way, the idea is to make the personal connection, brief though it may be.

Linkmeister @ 126, yeah, I thought about that too. It is a bit uncomfortable, especially if you are introverted. I know I would find it a bit hard to do most days. But just channel Miss Marple...or Nanny Ogg, if you'd rather: "She could get a statue to cry on her shoulder and tell her what it really thought about pigeons."

#135 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 08:31 PM:

i'm not assuming in advance that there must be *something* we can do to make things better--sometimes there isn't.

Is the TSA full of young Dragonlords? It could explain a lot.

Zeal is not, repeat NOT a substitute for wisdom, let alone basic competence. Attempting to use it as one is a recipe for disaster very, very often.

Fortunately, that principle works on the terrorists too, as the Underpants Terrorist proved. (Although I guess in that case it was a recipe for non-disaster.)

#136 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 09:40 PM:

cris @ 135... the Underpants Terrorist proved

...that one can unzip Pantemonium?

#137 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 10:03 PM:

chris #135: So far, since 9/11, the desire to be martyred in a spectacular way has attracted young idiots. Young idiots are, by definition, stupid. It's the smart willing-to-die-for-a-cause person I'd worry about, s/he won't be going for something dumb and flashy. But for something likely to be effective, and that will be truly dangerous.

#138 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 10:06 PM:

After I posted that last, I thought about 7/7 and 11/3. Both of those were ghastly.

#139 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 11:04 PM:

New meanings to "a load in his pants"

#140 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:55 AM:

What I still don't understand is why no terrorist has simply tried strapping a bit of C4 to their legs instead of going with these failure prone odd substances. I think even Bruce Schneier once said something to the effect that this should be easily possible right now. Would the detonator trip the metal detector? Couldn't it just be hidden inside a cellphone? Or is it really that hard to get your hands on some C4? Or maybe it is really all down to these guys being murderous clowns, removed from the Evil Masterminds by at least five degrees.

I flew the day after Mr. Pants on Fire failed to do anything but burn his family jewels. I prepared for the worst, arriving two hours early, but I am glad to report that everything was as usual, which is to say pleasant enough. Spent less than 10 minutes checking in / going through security. Good thing I had Wireless with me.

#141 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:55 AM:

All: My bad, it's been mentioned above.

#142 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:02 AM:

All: My bad, it's been mentioned above.

#143 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:04 AM:

(oops -- In re Dean Ing's Very Proper Charlies, which I won't mention again since it's been done)

#144 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 04:58 AM:

Fragano, apropos #138: 11/3 was the result of a large, well-organized cell with upwards of a dozen members. 7/7 took four suicide bombers and about the same number of active supporters. 9/11 we know about -- 20-odd people in the Hamburg cell, wasn't it?

These are anomalies.

Cell-structured insurgencies are vulnerable to informers. The bigger they get, the greater the probability that one of their candidate recruits will turn informer. So the bigger, better-organized ones are pretty rare, and we have this periodic drumbeat of police raids and arrests and trials of groups like this.

We can suppress the bloody spectaculars -- if we can keep the support of the majority of the population from whom the terrorists draw their recruits.

What we can't easily suppress is the small attack mounted by one to four individuals with minimal support, doing it for themselves using only their own resources, without any backup from outside the group. Because these things self-generate almost spontaneously, as long as the conditions giving rize to radicalization apply.

NB: this is why I'm optimistic that we won't see any acts of nuclear/radiological terrorism (other than state-sponsored ones like the Litvinenko assassination): they require so many resources and co-actors to carry out that a non-state group attempting to steal/build a nuke would almost certainly recruit an informer at some stage in their growth. Nukes are complex, and cell-structured organizations require simplicity in order to maintain security.

#145 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:43 AM:

Daniel Klein @140--the sale of reliably-manufactured high explosives tends to be fairly well monitored around the world*, for one thing (PETN has the advantage of needing fairly small amounts to cause a lot of damage, and being used in small-weapons ammunition, so it could be harvested from bullets if need be). For another, there's a reason people get special training in handling explosives, and it's not just to keep them from blowing themselves up. An explosive charge, whether it's used for demolition or for removing large amounts of rock in, say, road construction, has to be placed in certain, specific ways in order to get the best effect from the blast*. (Shaped charges are an example of this--the explosive material is formed in such a way that the blast force is directed in a single specific direction, for maximum effect.) Otherwise, all you get is a great big ball of fire, with more or less noise and air displacement, but far less damage than you had hoped for, and you are left exclaiming, rather like Marvin Martian, "Where is the kaboom! There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!"

Perhaps if this feckless youth had been trained as a civil engineer rather than a mechanical, he'd have guessed there might be a problem with getting much damage from a fairly small charge taped to his leg--at least, to anyone and anything but himself.

*Fans of Mythbusters may recall the numerous occasions on which they've set fire to a bit of black powder on a workbench, with nothing more than a flash of flame and some crackling sounds. A similar (or slightly larger) amount of powder would propel a bullet--when properly packed into a gun barrel.


#146 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:58 AM:

fidelio @ 145... Fans of Mythbusters may recall

You raaannnnnnnggggg?

One of Monday night's MythBusters reruns asked whether or not Jim Kirk could have knocked out the Gorn with that bamboo cannon. The results were quite messy. For Kirk.

#147 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 11:11 AM:

fidelio: But things like PETN, C4, etc., have enough blast-wave to do fatal damage. It might not blow out the window/fuselage, but it would certainly kill a number of people.

#148 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 11:18 AM:

fidelio:

I think the attacks are limited by time, conspiracy size, and knowledge. The more time it takes to work out the attack, the more likely the terrorists will be caught one way or another. The more people they recruit, the more likely they are to be caught. And yet, the way you learn more about stuff like how to properly set off your underpants bomb is either to recruit someone with the required expertise, or to spend time acquiring it yourself. You can acquire some of that expertise by reading, but probably also need some trial runs, experiments, etc.

One thing that puzzles me about these guys is that they're often smart, educated people with technical backgrounds, many of whom have also been to some kind of terrorist training camp, or so we're told. If you've got a recruit with an engineering background, why not encourage him to spend a few months perfecting his bomb making and detonation techniques at your training camp in some more-or-less ungoverned territory, before sending him on his suicide mission?

Choosing to be a suicide bomber is so far outside my experience that I wonder if, when you're in the right mental place to make that decision, you're not thinking straight in other ways. Maybe the mental processes that lead you to decide to blow yourself up on a plane don't align well with the mental processes that lead you to plan out a series of designs and experiments to develop a really effective and easy-to-use underpants bomb, test it in various conditions, lay out a budget and schedule for the project, get interns assigned ("Okay, Achmed, your first job will be to put on these exploding underwear, and then light this fuse."), etc.

By contrast, it seems like the guys we're fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the guys in Hezbolah, are pretty good at innovating, building bombs that really go *BOOM* when set off, etc. Perhaps some of that is that you get a better class of terrorist recruited to the movement when you're trying to chase away an occupying army?

#149 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 11:25 AM:

why I'm optimistic that we won't see any acts of nuclear/radiological terrorism . . . they require so many resources and co-actors to carry out that a non-state group attempting to steal/build a nuke would almost certainly recruit an informer at some stage in their growth.

What, no crazed lone performance artists with nukes in their Swiss apartments? ;)

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:02 PM:

What, no crazed lone performance artists with nukes in their Swiss apartments? ;)

Heh. Just read that book, and another by the same author right after. Currently tearing through all his works, wondering why I didn't do so years ago.

But shhhh! he's here, you know. :-)

#151 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:11 PM:

#148 albatross
Hezbollah and terrorist bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq are veterans of years-long terrorists campaigns. They have worked out their designs and manufacturing/production and atrocity implementation tactics in collaboration and incremental experimentation and operations--they share information and some of their values and goals, and are operating in local areas in the sense that they can get to the sites they intend to turn people into bloody appalling headlines, within shorter distances than most people who live in the USA commute from home to work, or from home to a shopping area.

The shoe bomber and bikini bomber were trying to carry out remote operations, thousands of miles from home, from their fellow murderous colleagues, and in places they were not native culture members of. Local terrorists are in their civilian guises part of the local territory and background and culture. Getting on a plane and flyign thousands of mile to commit atrocities on someone else's sovereign territory or national airspace or in faraway international airspace, is different than carrying out local strikes.... Al Aqaeda attacks against the USA have not tended to use moles planted years in advance who appear to be assimilated or innocuous immigrants, waiting to be activated after a decade plus playing underground mushroom network to suddenly sprout the above ground part and explode shortly thereafter....

#152 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:43 PM:

Fragano @ 117,
"There's nothing like a hard-faced inspector pawing through your dirty underwear in public."

Once (long story) I wound up flying with 3 suitcases, one of them my wife's. Of course they all got inspected, so I stood there while the inspector pawed through women's dirty underwear from my suitcase ;-)
"no really, it doesn't even fit me, see !" (poses)

Charlie @68,
"Waterboarding and torturing prisoners? Check. Rounding up folks almost at random or on the basis of denunciations and sticking them in don't-call-them-that concentration camps? Check. Legislative over-reactions in the wake of bombings with mass fatalities? Check. Deploying soldiers trained in war-fighting to act as auxilliary police officers, with hideous consequences? Check. Surges to quell unpolicable areas with a massive show of force? Check. Shoot-to-kill policy for dealing with insurgents? Check.

Been there. Did that. None of it worked (with limited very short-term exceptions and horrible blowback)."

Sounds just like life in apartheid South Africa during the 80's, as Umkhonto we Sizwe stepped up their efforts. Didn't work there either. I was one of the auxiliary police seconded from the military as a conscript. I know I wasn't effective, to say the least of it. It was kinda fun blowing up the abandoned luggage, though..


#153 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:11 PM:

Charlie Stross #144: You're right. However, the willingness to die for a cause has to be taken into account.

Certainly, it is important to remove the conditions that lead to motivated, intelligent people being willing to die and take large numbers of others with them. (It's also next door to impossible to prevent motivated attacks of the Litvinenko/Bulgarian umbrella type, but that's another story I'd say.) You're right to say that such attacks are going to be rare, given that they can only take place under certain conditions.

The idiot would-be martyr types, however, are abundant. Also very easy to use. And they don't even have to succeed in order to score a point against the great Satan.

#154 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:12 PM:

Terry Karney--#147 True enough--I've heard plenty of accounts from friends concerning people who had misadventures with the tiny bit of C4 they used to heat their chow, and then forgot basic handling procedures when they decided it would be a good idea to stamp out the fire.
They only used about 340-450 grams of Semtex(?) on PanAM 103 (Lockerbie), according to Wikipedia, but because the detonation and construction of the bomb were well-done (by all accounts) and it was in a good place to do a lot of damage that attack was horribly effective. So this schlub had both poor packaging and (apparently) detonation issues to thwart him.

But I think the larger point I was groping for--that making a maximally effective explosive device requires some knowledge of what you're doing, beyond a couple of days exposure to the raw materials, is valid.

albatross @148--I think Paula's point that people like Hamas and Hezbullah, and the various groups making IEDs in Iraq both having the time and the advantage of familiar turf, as well as expertise is important. Also, I suspect that a lot of the Iraqi IEDs were/are made by people who had been trained in ordnance use and handling in the old Iraqi Army--or were made by people they were able to train.

#155 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:37 PM:

fidelio @154: oh yes, exactly.

Let us not forget that the stupidest single move the US occupation made in Iraq in 2003 was to sack the entire Iraqi army.

Throw a third of a million soldiers (ranging from poor quality conscripts to experienced veteran officers with specialist training) out of work and send them home -- to homes under enemy occupation, but where every family seems to have an AK-47 under the bed thanks to the looted arms dumps. Add grievances, light blue touch paper, retreat ...

They even tried to fire the police force at the same time ("interior ministry? Who are they and why are we paying them?") but sanity prevailed.

#156 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:44 PM:

Charlie:

Yep. That's one of those head-scratching moments in history, right? I mean, how do you get to be dumb enough to think that's a good idea? I always had the sense that during the first several years of the War On Terror, the folks at the top were following some kind of internal script based on a very weird picture of the world. What sort of world was Bremmer living in, that made disbanding the army sensible? Was he trying to de-Nazify Germany after WW2? What was behind the apparently genuine belief that we could build a functioning democracy out of Iraq, and that this would lead the Arab/Muslim dominoes to fall into liberal democracies all over the Middle East?

#157 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:50 PM:

We flew yesterday, from Philly to SFO, on Airtran. There was no extra security-theater silliness beyond what's become "normal" here in America. I doubt they'd have made any silly rules about blankets, but they're too cheap to bother providing blankets and pillows so there's no way to tell; they didn't care about us having coats in our laps.

The shiny happy "TSA Security is Good for You!" video while we were waiting in the (short, fast) security line said that taking our shoes off was good for us because they've found it's the most likely way for terrorists to smuggle things on planes. It's of course dishonest; they'd started making people take their shoes off because too many of them have metal shanks and it was slowing down their metal-detector lines. But at least they haven't replaced it with a video about how underwear is Bad for America.

#158 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:58 PM:

Serge@146, this sort of thing always reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where Shatner shoots the big shag-rug gremlin that's out on the plane wing. Used to be that passengers carrying guns wasn't viewed as abnormal. On the other hand, while I remember the much-better-looking green gremlin that John Lithgow shot in the movie version, I don't remember how he got the gun.

#159 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 04:13 PM:

Bill @ 158 - Didn't Shatner grab that gun from a police offer sitting across from him?

#160 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 05:31 PM:

#85: "Leading, no doubt, to the "do not pee" list."

At least for males, there is an obvious correlation between the lists for "no fly" and "do not pee."

#161 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 05:47 PM:

Bill Stewarts @ 158... Speaking of which, starting tomorrow morning and going on thru Friday, the Skiffy Channel airs its traditional TZ marathon. As for the Gremlin episode, I like the part where bug-eyed Bill Shatner asks:

"Do I look insane?"

#162 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 06:50 PM:

Albatross @156

Some years back I read a Harpers article called Bagdad Year Zero which I think makes a very good case for what they were thinking.

#163 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 08:00 PM:

Charlie @ 155:
Let us not forget that the stupidest single move the US occupation made in Iraq in 2003 was to sack the entire Iraqi army.

Followed very closely by not guarding an armory holding hundreds of tons of munitions, which promptly evaporated. Of course the insurgency returned them, a few kilos at a time where they would cause maximum casualties.

#164 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 03:06 PM:

What sort of world was Bremmer living in, that made disbanding the army sensible?

Why the hell would he care if it was sensible? It wasn't his ass that was going to get shot off if it backfired.

Disbanding the army created a very profitable opportunity to contract out all its former responsibilities to allies of the administration at handsome markups. Effectiveness didn't even enter into the calculation.

Trying to do a good job in government is for people who think that governments can do good jobs at things.

#165 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 03:49 PM:

chris, #164: Trying to do a good job in government is for people who think that governments can do good jobs at things.

That certainly seems to have been the motto of Republican administrations from Reagan forward. Sadly, it may be the epitaph of America as well.

#166 ::: Paul the ex-poet ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2010, 07:40 PM:

The reason some people think harebrained schemes will work is because they really do believe having "Step 2: a miracle" will work. Both the radical Muslims and radical Christians believe God is on their side, so "God willing" their plans will work.

I had a Sunday school teacher who said if every Christian, by which he meant Protestant, took a year off to be a missionary, everyone in the world would be a Christian in five years. When I said, "Assuming they want to be" he looked at me as if he was astounded by the thought anyone wouldn't want to be.

So when Bush invaded Iraq, I was not terribly surprised to hear him talking about spreading democracy throughout the Middle East nor leaks that they were considering the invasions of Syria and Iran as sequels even before they went into Iraq. Bush assumed he would win because every man thinks he is the hero of his own story (I'm not sure women are raised to think of themselves in the same way, even when they are the heroine).

I also have the pet unproveable theory that Bush II and Reagan both believed in the End Times, so assumed the Rapture would come and take them to Heaven before the national debt came due, etc, but as I said, it's unproveable. Looked at that way, assuming the war with Satan is coming and God will rap everything up in their lifetime, almost makes a massive military build up sensible. If Christ hadn't been such a liberal feminist pacifist homeless street rabbi, that is. But I'm not a mind reader, so take that with a grain of salt.

#167 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2010, 08:07 PM:

Paul ex-Poet (# 166)

If Christ hadn't been such a liberal feminist pacifist homeless street rabbi, that is.

You forgot D*MNED SOCIALIST!! who obviously also wanted to disrupt the local financial industry

#168 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2010, 08:08 PM:

Paul ex-Poet (# 166)

If Christ hadn't been such a liberal feminist pacifist homeless street rabbi, that is.

You forgot D*MNED SOCIALIST!! who obviously also wanted to disrupt the local financial industry

#169 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2010, 09:16 PM:

Paul the ex-poet @166: In James Blish's Black Easter, the characters are told that thanks to their work, the Apocalypse is at hand and God has been ousted from Heaven:

"But there was no Antichrist..."

"There was no need of an Antichrist to lead humans to hell, they came willingly."

"But it is written that you will be defeated."

"Silly humans, both sides in a war predict their victory. You believed your own propaganda."

#170 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 02:50 AM:

chris @164: Trying to do a good job in government is for people who think that governments can do good jobs at things.

Even a lot of (OK, some) republibertarians are reluctantly forced to concede that the US government did a pretty good job during WWII, which America came out of in a fairly enviable position. There must have been some sort of juju in the water that mysteriously went away on VJ day.

#171 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:09 AM:

@164: That's a pretty broad brush you're using. Paul Bremer was a political appointee, not a career civil servant; politicals have different agendas, and many of Shrub's appointees were religiously based or else rewards for loyalty (and that happens a lot). Once you get past the political positions, the vast majority of Federal employees really are trying to make things better for everyone. Just look at DHHS, which includes the CDC, NIH, and the IHS, just to name a few.

I actually know some very nice people who work for the IRS, although getting them to admit it is difficult.

#172 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:26 AM:

chris @ 164... Trying to do a good job in government is for people who think that governments can do good jobs at things.

I think NASA repeatedly sent people to another world, where they landed, and from which they then came back safely. I think.

#173 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:34 AM:

Ginger @ 171... I actually know some very nice people who work for the IRS

Let me guess. You're one of those crazy Democrats who think that taxes are a necessity? :-)

As for You-know-who's appointees... Issue 586 of Locus has an interesting tidbit about how JK Rowling would have received the presidential medal of freedom, but some of YKW's people opposed the idea because they felt that that the books encouraged witchcraft.

Latimer's Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor decries the "narrow thinking" that politicized the medal during the George W Bush administration

Something was politicized by YKW?
I am shocked.
Shocked!

#174 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 11:42 AM:

@171: I agree with most of that post, except the first sentence. Maybe you thought my last sentence @164 was a claim that no such person exists? It wasn't. Merely that it is difficult for even a competent and well-intentioned person to do a good job under a boss who is convinced that the department they have been appointed to head should not exist.

ISTM that career civil servants generally believe that the civil service accomplishes something useful, otherwise they'd have chosen a different career, wouldn't they?

#175 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 01:42 PM:

The invaluable contribution that the Rowling "Harry Potter" books and Bruce Coville's "My Teacher Is An Alien" books make is to get youngsters to read, on their own, and not to consider reading as an onerous chore.

Are books like "Harry Potter and " or "My Teacher Fried My Brains" great "literature"? likely not.

Are they books that present a comprehesive and coherent narratihve? Yes.

Are they books that will inspire a child, who might otherwise view reading as playing 4th fiddle to a Gameboy want to get the next book in the series? Yes.

These last two are what makes these writers so valuable to our society, hopefully doing for this generation what Andre Norton's books did for so many of my generation.

#176 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 09:46 AM:

164:Trying to do a good job in government is for people who think that governments can do good jobs at things.

174: Merely that it is difficult for even a competent and well-intentioned person to do a good job under a boss who is convinced that the department they have been appointed to head should not exist.

Your first comment may have been intended to reflect the sentiments expressed in the second, but that's not how it came across. Instead, your first comment reads as yet another slam against hardworking Federal employees, by someone who is not one. I've seen similar sneering comments from other people in other venues, so I respond protectively.

One of the few good things about large bureaucracies is that they tend to resist sudden changes attempted by "leaders" with agendas that vary strongly from the mission statement. Even as Bush-appointed personnel tried, career employees resisted such things as covering up climate change data, prevention of studies on homosexuality, delisting of toxic substances, and so on.

Life in a Democratic government is subtly different compared to a Republican government.

#177 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 11:27 AM:

Ginger, #176: FWIW, I read #164 as specifically an indictment of government leadership, not of government employees in general. Note the comment to which it was a response, #156; note also the entire context, not just the line to which you responded negatively.

#178 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 04:26 AM:

And I understood that comment to be in the context that conservatives specifically espouse the "government can do nothing right" meme.

(Yeh, I'm late.)

#179 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 04:35 AM:

And more far-too-late stuff that probably won't be read, but I'm dumb enough to say it anyway...

abi @22:
It occurs to me that one reason they assume that people will make the wrong decisions under stress is that they demonstrably make the wrong decisions under stress.

Joel Polowin @109:
The problem with changing "claims responsibility" to "admits responsibility" is when multiple organizations claim responsibility, which is fairly common in cases where there isn't an obvious single aggressor (e.g. the IRA in London, or ETA in Spain).

Fragano Ledgister @117:
I can't help but think that the "pawing through dirty underwear" phase ends when it's really dirty. Or when a diehard cloth-diaper fanatic flies with kidlet.

Craig R. @175:
You forget that, by and large, these yutzen don't want to encourage reading. It leads to knowledge, which leads to non-conservative thinking, and therefore must be avoided.

#180 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 09:54 AM:

geekosaur @179
It's not that they don't want to encourage reading. They don't understand reading, and want to stop anything they don't understand. Reminds me of Gaston in Disney's Beauty and the Beast: "How can you read this? There aren't any pictures." ("quote" from memory)

#181 ::: Vanessast ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 01:09 PM:

In Nairobi's Jomo Kenyata airport, you have to put your bags trguohh an x-ray just to get into the building. All well and good, except the operator is usually too busy chatting to a friend to look at the screen.There are then about 3 or 4 more check points before you get onto the plane.London Heathrow has the usual officious little hitlers. Everything had to be put in one bag then five seconds later, laptops etc had to be out again. all shouty and nasty. "It's the law" (no, it's just BAA and their effing monopoly). Heathrow has had dick measuring devices since about 2004. perverts.Got home to Ireland one time and checking my shirt pockets before I put it in the washing machine, I found a collection of flint blades.Not that they'd be as effective an improvised weapon as lots of the stuff in the duty free shops - for any little shit who's that way inclined.

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