Monday, February 28, 2011

Idiocy of Titanic Proportions

It is absolutely incredible to me that almost a decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States still doesn't have a clue about security.

This morning, my wife and I returned from a short visit to Las Vegas. We had a very nice few days, saw some shows, wandered the strip, wined and dined, enjoyed a brief sojourn free of kids and did a little shopping.

Because most airlines, including Allegiant - the one we used to and from Las Vegas - now charge outrageous fees for checking bags and because we were only going to be gone for a few days, we packed light enough that we could carry our belongings with us. On the way to Las Vegas, they confiscated my wife's mostly-empty bottle of hairspray. At one time, this particular bottle contained more than the allowable 100 ml, so out it went. Silly, of course, but the rules are stated so we didn't have anything to complain about.

It was on the way home that things got really stupid. While in Las Vegas we stayed at the Luxor. The Luxor currently has an exhibit of the Titanic going on and we happen to have a nephew who is at that age where the Titanic is of particular interest (I don't know why but boys seem to go through a phase of consuming information about disasters; I remember having a similar fascination with the ill-fated ocean liner at about the same age). Anyway, since it's my nephew's birthday in a couple of weeks, we thought, "hey, this is perfect. We'll go to the gift shop and grab him something Titanic-oriented for his birthday." After wandering the shop, we settled on a snow globe (he also collects snow globes) and a piece of coal (apparently, coal from the actual Titanic is the only thing that can be sold to the consumer). The snow globe was approximately three inches high and maybe half that around. The coal, a mere fragment encased in plastic but because it was actual Titanic coal, had a real connection to the ship.

So, what happens? Going through security this morning, there is all of a sudden a great hullabaloo. Three Transportation Security Administration officials gather around the X-ray machine and one of them quickly gestures me over. "Sir," he says (you know you're in trouble whenever they start using "sir"), "I hate to tell you this but we have to confiscate your snowglobe." When I point out that the amount of liquid contained within is obviously far less than the allowed amount, he nods in sympathy and says, "yes, but we don't know what the liquid is and the only way we can tell is by breaking it." He then informs me I have three options: check the snowglobe as luggage, return to the main body of the airport and mail the snowglobe to myself or surrender it to the ever vigilant TSA. Seething internally but knowing full well if I get too huffy, I'm going to spend many hours as a guest of the TSA, I surrender the offensive object with a sigh, a shake of my head and a sarcastic, "well, I'm sure my nephew will understand."

Ironically, earlier that morning, I had wondered aloud to my incredulous wife whether we might be in trouble for trying to transport bath bombs (they create a fizzy bath water) that we'd purchased. After all, I remarked, with the word bombs, you just never know. How sad that I was so close to the mark.

The simple fact that the TSA and all those absolute fucking morons running security in the US can't get through their addled brains is that white, middle-aged Jewish Canadians toting snowglobes and bath bombs (the bombs were, it should be noted for accuracy, not confiscated) are not a threat to security. Neither are petite French-Canadian women toting hairspray. In fact, you could let just about anybody on an airplane carrying just about any substance whatsoever and they will never, ever, ever be a threat to national security nor will they use these products, whatever they are, to bring down airlines or smash them into buildings.

The absolute, only threat to national security are the people who are set on destroying our way of life. That is: it's not the product, stupid, it's the people. Banning matches, lighters, snowglobes, scissors, nail clippers, hairspray, etc. etc. ad nauseum will never cure the problem. Only profiling for the individual will lead to better security and that's what the TSA (not to mention Canadian security and security officials around the free world) need to learn. It's most astonishing they haven't clued into this yet, particularly in light of having it beat into them repeatedly that the one nation that does this correctly - Israel - does so by profiling who might be out to cause trouble, not what might cause trouble. And, guess what: there hasn't been an attack on an Israeli airliner in many years, precisely because the people who might be prone to take such actions are weeded out.

It's not even that hard. The only people in the world who try to use airplanes as flying bombs are islamic jihadis. They are largely identifiable - by looks, by name, by their body language, etc. All the things the Israelis wisely look for and that we miss in our zest to make sure the liquid in a snowglobe never makes it off the ground.