Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shadowland: Flying Blind

There's an interesing first batch of letters responding to this week's column, "Flying Blind," about the way travelers are being turned into inmates by airline security. Several of the writers favor profiling of one sort or another, which is a practice with all kinds of sinister overtones of its own, and probably isn't that reliable for the kind of mass transit we're talking about in American airports.

When I went through Ben Gurion a couple of weeks ago, a charming interviewer -- a graduate student in psychology -- did a very thorough job trying to find discrepancies in my explanation of why, among other things, I had Lebanese visas in my passport. ("I went there last year when there was so much hope for democracy? Remember that?" I said. I got the impression she didn't.) No doubt facial expressions played a role in the fact she let me get on the plane. I just kept smiling. But it's proving very diffictult to codify expressions into some sort of system than computers, or minimally trained security staff, can figure out. If you're interested, just take a look at this very detailed paper presented at Delft University in Holland. (Also see the photographs below.)

A fair amount of ironic humor crept into the e-mails about the column. My personal favorites are these two:


Agree completely. We are jumping at shadows, behaving like a nation of cowards, and making ourselves ridiculous. The real terrorists must be laughing themselves silly. All they have to do is whistle the tune, and we dance to it. The cheapest form of psychological warfare imaginable. Everyone agrees that aviation security is a necessity, but I would really like to see some strategic thinking rather than the knee-jerk, reactionary idiocy we see today. Perhaps the nation which sent a robot to patrol the Martian surface and decoded the human genome could come up with a technological way of screening passengers and cargo for explosives in an effective yet non-intrusive way? The fact that this has not been accomplished, almost two decades after Pan Am 103, is an utter disgrace. Right now, we have to surrender our Evian and hand cream to board an airliner, and TSA screeners fondle us in ways that would get you arrested for sexual assault anywhere else. We have to take off our shoes because Richard Reid tried to hide a bomb in his shoes--thank God he didn't try to hide it in his underwear!


Nudity. Nudity is the answer to airline security. All passengers should be totally nude, with no jewelry, no carry-on luggage, no nothing. Then all we would have to worry about is a terrorist eating or drinking something that might blow up during flight (like prune juice, pinto beans, etc.) This would drastically limit the options of any would-be terrorist.

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