Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Seeing the Light

Seeing the Light
© 2010 Ross Williams

There’s an old, old joke I bring out from time to time about a little kid sitting under a streetlamp in the dark, crying over a lost nickel.

This was from the time when a nickel was real money. Hey, I told you it was an old joke.

Another clue that it’s ancient is that a man comes up to the kid and asks him what’s wrong, and no one, not even the kid himself, runs screaming for the police because any man that would approach a child on the street is obviously a pedophile.

At any rate, the man engages the kid in conversation – I won’t bore anyone with a comedian’s recitation of the joke, just the plot will do. The kid lost a nickel, would the man help him look for it? The man agrees, and spends the next half hour crouching around the streetlamp looking for a nickel. In cracks in the sidewalk, in the gutter, up against the building … nothing. No nickel. The man straightens up with an ache in his back and asks the kid, “Are you sure this is where you lost your nickel?”

The kid replies, “No, I lost it over there,” pointing to a dark alley.

“Then why are we looking here for it,” asks the exasperated man.

The kid answers, “Because the light’s better.”

I pull this joke out whenever I run across a situation where someone is performing an inarguably futile task in which there are going to be zero results [apart from wasted time, effort and resources], and which the people directing the futile task are in full possession of the knowledge that it IS a futile task. …yet they do it anyway.

As if it needs to be said, the single largest cause of this joke being retread is when the discussion turns to government policies.

You’d need to have been living under a rock for the last decade to not see how our government has been looking for nickels under street lamps when they’re really in the alleys. Nineteen foreign-born, luggage-less passengers with exceptionally suspicious travel documents hijacked 4 planes and turned them into makeshift guided missiles in 2001.

Pan-islamist yahoos did it; we know which group of people pan-islamist yahoos come from, and how they are going to travel when they’re up to no good. In many cases we know their names, and in a lot of those cases we know several of the various names they use. It’s not a real secret.

And yet … when anyone goes to the airport, it doesn’t matter if they are a 5 year old boy with a Disneyworld t-shirt and two worn-out looking parents dragging a beach bag stuffed with Disney souvenirs, or a bearded man with darting eyes in his early 20s wearing a shumagg and having no luggage but a passport showing recent trips to Yemen and Somalia, you’re going to get the exact same screening from the trained apes at TSA. Which is to say: superficial and annoying. And pointless. …and, when it comes to Americans, warrantless and therefore unconstitutional.

Take off your shoes [because some yahoo tried lighting his laces in 2002], put all your liquids and gels in 3oz sizes or smaller into a clear plastic bag [because some other yahoo was caught in his apartment in France with an airplane ticket and trying to turn household products into a Jr Chemistry Set bomb], put everything else you’re carrying on a conveyor belt so it can be x-rayed and overlooked, and walk through the magnetometer which is only good at detecting car keys and Texan’s belt buckles.

The 5 year old boy gets the same inspection as the 80 year old granny, as the suit-clad yuppie dictating notes into an eGadget, as the group of college-age ski bums who have to be told [repeatedly] that they cannot take their skis as carry-ons, as the dishdashah-clad foreigner with the suspicious travel history.

Everyone gets the once-over. Even though the trained apes know they’re wasting time and effort, and even though the apes’ handlers in DHS understand the air sabotage issue is 99.9999% confined to foreign passengers with hinky affiliations and a habit of travelling to certain countries. They insist on giving everyone the once-over.

And this means there is virtually no resources left to give the twice-over to those who deserve it.

Airport security audits – where federal agents playing airline passenger attempt to sneak bombs and guns through TSA security checkpoints – have an astronomical success rate. Well over half the bombs and guns get through. Yet the trained apes have bins full of “dangerous” contraband, such as toothpaste defined as “too much”, baby food and formula, unfinished coffee and soda, emery boards, deodorant, half-inch long pen knives with 40 years of engine grease and toe-jams embedded in the hinge, and nail files. You won’t see any test bombs or test guns in their bin. You also won’t find weird little hunks of goo with wires coming out of it that were stuck in some Somali’s ogal, either.

Why? Because their instructions are to look for things, not look at people. Those things the trained apes look for are only those which have been specifically identified to the trained apes … because even though apes are human-like, they still fail to possess the capacity which makes them human: the ability to reason. The apes have to be told what is dangerous, because they don’t know.

This means that baby food is dangerous always, even if being toted around by a harried young couple with twins in a limousine stroller and an F A O Schwartz-worth of toys in tow. Whereas a luggageless foreigner with nary a carry-on, no luggage claim ticket stapled to his ticket folder, and only a passport in his pocket which shows recent travel to Yemen and Pakistan rings no bells of suspicion at all. Not even if the guy is wearing an Al Qaida U, Class of 2001 sweatshirt.

There’s been over 15 billion passengers flying in US airspace since 9-11, and two have attempted air sabotage. Do the math on that. Don’t let the many, many zeros to the right of the decimal point throw you; you’ll eventually get to a real digit.

Of these attempts at air sabotage, TSA has stopped zero. And of the billions of passengers searched and trillions of items seized, zero of those items could reasonably be suspected of being intended for air sabotage. I’d ask you to do the math on this as well, but dividing by zero is a problem. You get nonsensical answers, like those used to justify trillion-dollar budget deficits or explain how TSA is actually doing any good.

On the other hand, of these two attempts at air sabotage, passengers have stopped both.

And this means that passengers are better at maintaining air security than the government agency built to do that job. And why is that? Because TSA is spending all their resources looking for nickels under street lamps and not where they were dropped.

Most recently, of course, we’ve had the now infamous jockey bomber. The guy with the boom boom in his BVDs. He was wearing Fruit of the Booms.

In truth, though no government official would admit this – because they would prefer you to be scared to death as a frightened citizenry willingly cedes power to the government – he was capable of doing no more damage to an airliner with the plastic turd in his shorts than Richard Reid could have done by lighting his shoelaces. Reid would have made smoke and caused everything to smell like a teenager’s old gym shoes. Abdullmutallab would have made smoke and caused everything to smell like a dorm room after drunken frat boys held a fart-lighting contest. He may also have blown off those bits if his that would have left his 72 virgins in paradise searching for the C-batteries.

Neither event would have been pleasant for anyone else on the plane, but neither would have been deadly to anyone not already suffering from severe emphysema or asthma. If anyone thinks they would have, you’ve been watching too much 24 on Fox.

But because Abdullmutallab – a Nigerian pan-islamist trained in Yemen and travelling to the US through Europe by way of Somalia, and without luggage or even a coat in the middle of a cold winter that defies all “Global Warming” histrionics – attempted to set fire to his skivvies in the skies over Detroit, the rest of us are going to be subjected to full body scans that wouldn’t have found the butt-bomb in the first place. Again, the nickel is in the pockets of pan-islamists, but the light is better when looking at Americans.

Recently, US anti-terrorism officials – Tweedle-Dum, Tweedle-Dummer, and Tweedle-Duhhh – have testified before Congress that the Al Qaida training base in Yemen is certain to churn out another ham-fisted attempt at US terrorism within the next three to six months. If the US responds to the Yemeni boot camp the way the US has responded to the infinitesimal risk of air sabotage from foreigners playing Super Spy, Boy Scout summer camps in Nebraska need to be on the lookout for raids from Navy Seals.

The light will be better in Omaha.