Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In which I complain about the TSA on my blog

I don't post here much these days, but I did want to mention John Pistole's recent testimony before Congress. Let me highlight this bit from yesterday's transcript:

"That being the case, I think everybody who gets on a flight wants to ensure and be assured that everybody else around them has been properly screened and, oh, by the way, everybody else on that flight wants to make sure that I have been properly screened or you have been properly screened."

I don't actually think so highly of my safety that I feel the need to be sure that my fellow passengers are either molested or digitally strip-searched. We're talking about hurtling through the sky in an aluminum tube here. There's a lot that can go wrong, resulting in my fiery death, and terrorists are actually pretty low on the list.

You want me to feel safe in the tube? Show me the pilot's credentials and record. Show me the plane's maintenance records, and your procedures for screening and monitoring mechanics. I'm far more interested in whether the engines are going to fail than whether some fuckwit has a bomb in his panties. Passengers know enough now to watch for and try to stop the latter; we've got a fighting chance at all stages (though, more of a chance if we're not lulled into a false sense of security). The former, we can only watch the pretty sparks. But I guess terrorists make a bigger splash on the news than pilot error or mechanical failure, so that's what the TSA is worried about.

I'm not against taking reasonable precautions, but just remember there is no such thing as "safe". Just more or less likely to die. We can get the best pilot in the world in a brand new plane with no passengers at all, and it can still go down from a bird strike. All we can do is raise the bar and ask ourselves whether a given procedure makes us safer in proportion to the cost to our comfort, dignity, sanity, time, wallet, and honor.

That last bit, to me, is what this is really all about. Bickering about whether digital strip searches and grabbing peoples' crotches makes us "safer" or not is beside the point: This is a dishonorable way to try to make ourselves safer, full stop.

(Finally: Remember, folks, complaining about the TSA on Twitter and your blog does nothing. Worse than nothing if it satisfies your anger and prevents you taking further steps to make things right. I've written to my Congresscritters on this subject. Have you?)


  1. And folks wonder why I don't like to fly.... Having been a competitive swimmer in the past, modesty is the least of my concerns with the milli-wave scanning machines (I'd like to have kids someday, and I prefer to develop skin cancer the old-fashioned way: the Sun). But when we spend millions to check for flecks of metal (like bobby pins) on passengers but not in the engines or pertinent parts of the plane... something is wrong.

    [And what's with everyone using 'Full Stop' all of a sudden? This is at least the 4th time I've seen that today. Is this some Internet meme I've missed?]

  2. This stuff is definitely getting out of hand. I don't need to get cancer for the sake of knowing some asshole doesn't have a knife on him.

  3. (What the hell? I can't reply to individual comments anymore?)

    I go to the gym periodically and strip down in front of the old dudes there. Doesn't bother me much. But it does bother a lot of people, and that ought to be taken into account.

    The radiation... meh. A few millirads is good for you. Haven't you ever played Fallout?

    We pretty much all decided to start using 'full stop' wherever possible until you noticed. Only four times! ;) (All right, chances are some web comic I read used the phrase and my cliche-addled brain glommed onto it. I think I stole 'aluminum tube' from someone else too)

  4. Hi michelle! The kicker is, the metal detector already does a fine job of picking up knives. I've been in some very secure facilities that were perfectly happy to rely on a metal detector and non-invasive patdown.

    Just how much explosive material can someone pack in their groin, anyway?? (Uh, don't answer that)