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Mar. 4th, 2008 @ 07:30 am drug-crazed addicts freaking out at 20,000 feet
I've been mostly successful at stomping out anything that could be characterized as "web surfing", but when ruby is asleep on me and my movements are limited, sometimes I'll treat myself.

Here is the TSA "blog" about shoes. "It’s not all about Richard Reid", it begins, before proceeding to prove that it is all about richard reid. I read most of the comments and my patience was rewarded when "TSO Tom" appeared to defend their policies:
Shoes, wow this is a hot topic and I certainly understand why. But lets talk about the threat that can be posed by someone trying to do harm to others on an airplane. Of course when we talk about shoes the first thing that comes to mind is Richard Reid and the "shoe bomb" and this is a real threat. One person tried and failed, but someone else may just succeed then the public would be screaming about "where was security?" So lets talk about how shoes may pose a threat to air travelers, we're not just talking about explosives, other things can be hidden inside shoes as well..razor blades for instance. A razor blade in someone's shoe could pose a risk...however small you think it might be....to you and or other passengers on an airplane. And items like this have actually been found at the checkpoint. Also, drugs have been strapped to people's ankles, a bank robber was caught in Philadelphia after a TSO found a crack pipe strapped to his ankle. A note that he used in a several robberies was found in his belongings. Cocaine has been discovered as well as marijuana, and other drugs. So the removal of shoes is important, lets not forget that most shoes will alarm the Walk through metal detector and be required to be removed anyway.
Someone responded to this thusly:
[...] IS COMPLETELY INSANE! Are you implying that the flying public is at risk because someone might have some coke or pot in their shoes? OR are you implying that the TSA is using this security theater to expand the government's drug war into airport security lines? Perhaps they should also examine the contents of any paperwork or laptop records to make sure there are no tax cheats as well?
TSO Tom again:
Dear anonymous;
you have the luxury of addressing me personally, but you choose to remain anonymous. That's okay, lets address your concerns:
First of all, razor blades MAY be detectable by magnatron without removing footwear, however x-ray screening is the best method to discover something inside someone's shoes. Secondly, would you want someone doing drugs on your flight, with the potential of becoming violent in the middle of the flight? I know I wouldn't. It has nothing to do with the war on drug, or the war on anything, it has to do with common sense, x-ray screening is REQUIRED of all footwaear because this is the BEST method of discovering prohibited items.
Would YOU want someone smoking crack and embarking on an orgy of violence on YOUR flight? NO? Then take your foot fungus and like it!

These little hitlers always, without fail, when defending the security theater of the absurd, say that if anything ever happens again people will be hollering "where was security?" I'd like to go on record as saying that if there is ever an outbreak of sanity and some of these restrictions are relaxed, and then there is an attack that might have been foiled if only we'd all submitted to the rectal probe of the hour, I will not be hollering "where was security." In fact, were most people really hollering that even after 9/11? If they were then it's just proof the public is totally irrational and should be completely ignored when formulating security policy. Hmm, given the apparent level of support for mandated athlete's foot exchange, I think the TSA has already taken that advice. All that's left is for them to apply it consistently.

Overall the comments increased my awareness of some issues I hadn't much considered. Among the points made:

a) lots of older people can't take their shoes off while standing up, yet there's typically nowhere to sit
b) lots of older (and some younger) people have painful foot conditions that take the security game well past mere annoyance
c) people with weakened immune systems can die from minor ailments

Also, I thought I'd already read about most major plane crashes, but I'd never heard of John Gilbert Graham until now. Nutty.

Can't wait to fly again!
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From:wtfwtf_ok
Date:March 4th, 2008 06:13 pm (UTC)

I can't wait...

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I can't wait for someone to blow up a plane solely with components smuggled in asses.

Boy, that quote might come back at me someday. I obviously don't want a plane blown up, but that occurrence would force people to confront the trade-offs they make for security.
From:howardtreesong
Date:March 4th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
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What's the optimum level of airport security?

I agree with the x-ray screening, which reasonably prevents bringing guns, grenades, and bombs on to planes. I'm old enough to remember the wave of hijackings in the late sixties and early seventies (which Google reveals to be a startlingly large 364 from 1968 to 1972); I think it's a fair inference that the 1973 x-ray rules pretty much stopped these events, and my gut sense says that this is a fair trade.

In contrast, the laptop, jacket, shoe, and fluids/pastes/gels screening is viciously dumb and annoying. I've now gotten crossways twice with the TSA in the last month. One of these geniuses said "I'm going to root out the cancer in your bag" and came up with a tootpaste tube. I couldn't resist "Wow! Looks carcinogenic to me!" when he found it, but this is a really dangerous joke as I think the average TSA employee might well confuse "carcinogenic" with "explosive" and jail me for it.

On the shoe front, I've had to travel with some back problems, and holey moley, it really can be painful to take shoes off. Even now, I won't wear lace-up shoes to an airport; loafers are by far easier to deal with in that setting.
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From:extempore
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:28 am (UTC)
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What's the optimum level of airport security?

I dunno, but I bet the market does. The only thing the government can optimize for is CYA. Let airlines compete based on their security standards, assuming we can agree on some minimum level of no-more-planes-into-buildings measures like locked cockpit doors.
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From:groovinmahoovin
Date:March 4th, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
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Shortly after Richard Reid was caught, a TSA employee at at Miami International who barely spoke English made me take off one shoe. Not both, just one.
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From:luckylefty
Date:March 4th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
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Well that makes perfect sense (using TSA logic); Richard Reid was caught with a bomb in is left shoe, so to avoid a recurrence, we need to check everyone's left shoe. But there's no evidence that right shoes present any danger, so why check them?
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From:extempore
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:24 am (UTC)
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There can be no more awesome summation of TSA-style security than this.
From:inet_stranger
Date:March 5th, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC)
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Retrospective perhaps, nevertheless, the well publicised near successful deployment of said device augnments the threat. If, in the light, the security status-quo were maintained, it would have been a device, in every sense, for the terrorists - or certainly more of one.

As for the market knowing the answer, I don't believe it. There is plenty of profit in pandering to irrational fears, or indeed, cashing in on a false sense of security. The market is reactionary, which isn't supposed to be the job of security, even though it appears to be this way, because I believe, of market forces, not just incompetence.

If NASA can't deal with risk management - why spend on mittigating risks which haven't occurred - there appears little hope for the rest.
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From:extempore
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
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I think your answer is interesting because it is so very wrong.

There is indeed plenty of profit in pandering to irrational fears, but that's really a separate issue. The question is: if people each had an individual choice as to whether to go through the current security theater or through pre-2001 security (not just less invasive, but faster and at lower cost!) which would they choose?

I am quite certain more people would choose the latter.

If NASA can't deal with risk management - why spend on mittigating risks which haven't occurred - there appears little hope for the rest.

NASA isn't any smarter than any other bureaucracy. The whole point of markets is that individuals acting in their own interest make far better decisions than anyone can who is trying to act in everyone's interest. One of the greatest distortions that takes place when individuals lose decision-making power is an overemphasis on safety, because nobody wants to be responsible for getting someone else killed.

People can and do act rationally when it comes to their OWN safety. That's why 50K people still die on the highways every year - because people have rationally concluded that driving is important enough to carry a significant risk of death. But as soon as you have to start making these decisions for others, you will "err on the side of caution", which turns out not to be cautious but merely to trade dramatic but low-probability risks for less visible but certain ones, e.g. the cost to the economy of the last six years of security theater.
From:howardtreesong
Date:March 5th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
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I absolutely agree that the market is the right answer. It is a sad testament to the state of our nation, however, that such a clearly correct solution is utterly impossible from a political perspective.

Politically, it's all about the children.
From:inet_stranger
Date:March 5th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
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The question is: if people each had an individual choice as to whether to go through the current security theater or through pre-2001 security (not just less invasive, but faster and at lower cost!) which would they choose?

I am quite certain more people would choose the latter.


Behavior, though would alter tomorrow, in light of a terrorist attack, even if the threat hasn’t changed from one day to the next. I fail to see how the above testifies to market resolution of the right security trade-off. Poor judgement, however it leans, simply can’t be ignored in such an assessment: we might all be turkey’s singing for Christmas. The public's response to diaster's is irrational, and I'd not wish to be prey to them.
I recall after a train disaster, a ridiculously high percentage of travellers, indicating they'd consider not stepping on board again, or favor the governemnt spending a ridiculous and unjustifiable amount on improving the system: 6 months later, they'll forget all about it and prefer the spend elsewhere other project, because the train-travel threat has dissipated.



But as soon as you have to start making these decisions for others, you will "err on the side of caution"

I agree to a point and certainly that measures in place are representative in part to ownership, and blame, which is why too much resource is allocated to prevent a threat recurring, and not enough, against, emerging or fresh threats. However, in respect of the car analogy, the risks are apparent - we have a huge sample size to make an informed judgement. Even so, I simply don’t concede for one moment, that I understand fully the trade-off I make when driving into town, whimsically – I may know the figures, but what I know of reality, my experience, is very different (not to mention an inflated ego – who admits to being a bad driver?). We harp back to the availability heuristic: those with no baggage will typically underweight risk, those with it will overweight it. That people are willing to make a trade-off, as you illustrate, is not in doubt but it is not evidence to people essentially executing good decisions, especially when we are dealing when evaluating a small, but not trivial, insurance premium against some catastrophic event.

People are and, of course, obviously should be able to make this judgement when stepping behind the wheel of the car. The required, or available, information is largely availed to the driver, but terrorist threats certainly aren’t – there is, or at least ought to be, asymmetry in this information, which is why I’d prefer the bias (in the way you mention) decision-maker over the uninformed one.

Doubtless for many the checks are over-cooked, but for some it will sufficient, or insufficient. The decision to fly, though, will be to a man, the right one, regardless of the (range of sensible) check-levels, the price they’d prefer to pay. Unlike driving, to a large degree, it will always be a group choice, which inevitably favours satisfying those with more risk-averse tendencies. With your convictions, I’d still wager, you, as a mountain-guide faced with a choice of two descent routes, one speedier but slightly riskier than the another, you’d give extra weight to those in the group preferring the safer, but (likely) more costly premium. A wager, I might well lose.
From:howardtreesong
Date:March 5th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)
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I’d still wager, you, as a mountain-guide faced with a choice of two descent routes, one speedier but slightly riskier than the another, you’d give extra weight to those in the group preferring the safer, but (likely) more costly premium.

I think that depends on whether my group consisted of grandmas in walkers or mid-thirties in-shape men, all of whose wives were in late-stage labor and who needed to get to a hospital. Absurd hypos, yes, but demonstrative of the point that individuals have a multitude of separate concerns, each of which weigh into the decision -- and which a government rulemaker can never, ever take into account.
From:inet_stranger
Date:March 5th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
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I agree, and I nearly added the clause of an experienced group. Still, I'd reason that we'd instinctively look to accommodate those risk-averse, more than those risk-taking, if for reasons of their state-of-mind, and not personal regret. Peace of mind is an issue with air-travel too; I'd pay a small price for other's peace of mind, despite reluctance to reinforce biasses, irrational fears.
From:samholden
Date:March 5th, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
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"""
I recall after a train disaster, a ridiculously high percentage of travellers, indicating they'd consider not stepping on board again, or favor the governemnt spending a ridiculous and unjustifiable amount on improving the system: 6 months later, they'll forget all about it and prefer the spend elsewhere other project, because the train-travel threat has dissipated.
"""

Isn't that the point. Those providers giving more security do well for 6 months, when everyone returns to rationality (or something closer to it) the less security minded providers are most competitive so things revert to "normal".

When the government steps in you're stuck with the "security" system everyone demanded when they were being irrational with fear for the rest of eternity.
From:inet_stranger
Date:March 5th, 2008 07:38 pm (UTC)
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Isn't that the point. Those providers giving more security do well for 6 months, when everyone returns to rationality (or something closer to it) the less security minded providers are most competitive so things revert to "normal".

*When the government steps in you're stuck with the "security" system everyone demanded when they were being irrational with fear for the rest of eternity.*


But this isn't typically the case, security protocols weaken with time. Responses to these incidents are painfully predictable from both people and governments. Bin Laden would always wait til security became lax again, after the previous attack, before striking. Of course, in general, governments respond to the public's whims, but they do so less to extremes, they are less complacent and less reactionary - generally (Iraq excepting). In respect of the train diaster, they continue to invest, perhaps increase it, but don't cut their throats to appease these fears, nor let current investments plans drain into some other public crisis down the line.



From:lowwall
Date:March 5th, 2008 08:11 pm (UTC)
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People can and do act rationally when it comes to their OWN safety.

No they don't. The best you can say is that they act rationally according to an incorrect understanding of the costs and risks. That is the basic error you keep making when referring to markets as the cure for all ills. Markets only provide a satisfactory solution where a sufficient number of the market participants have enough information about the question in hand (and the intelligence to understand the information) to set reasonable prices.

Automotive safety is a great illustration of this because none of the safety advances that people take for granted today came into widespread adoption as a result of individuals' willingess to pay for them, they all are due to government mandates - and most over heated opposition from the industry. It may be clear in retrospect that seatbelts and steering columns that won't impale you are obviously worth the price - but the market never made that determination, it was the government that required it. And how much are you willing to pay for the engineering and materials required to build crush zones that dissipate energy in a serious crash? The readers here are probably in the 5% of the population that can even understand the question, the percentage that can answer it is much, much smaller. Certainly small enough that their message would never be heard above the industry's advertising power.

The optimal answer to all questions isn't the Libertarian "Let the Market decide" any more than it is the Socialist "Let the State decide." The optimal answer to many questions can only come from a review of the problem by those qualified to answer it and a rational decision as to how much or little state regulation is required to protect the public from costs they cannot fully calculate. And it needs to be revisited from time to time to see if they got it right. This is complex and messy, but the simple answers of the absolutists have in the past always led to a small group gaining control of the system and oppression and direct or virtual slavery for the rest, so a little complexity is a price I'm willing to pay.
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From:extempore
Date:March 5th, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
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That is the basic error you keep making when referring to markets as the cure for all ills.

I'm pretty sure I don't do that. They are however pretty clearly the right answer to most things - certainly the burden of proof ought to be on the anti-market people.

I won't get into the seat belt thing, except to note that pro-intervention types never have any trouble at pointing at the wonderful effects of their intervention, and are always blind to what other effects that intervention might have had. The problem of silent evidence is always gargantuan, but it's at its worst when it's compounded by peoples' deafness.
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From:qwrrty
Date:March 5th, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
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That is the basic error you keep making when referring to markets as the cure for all ills.

I'm pretty sure I don't do that. They are however pretty clearly the right answer to most things - certainly the burden of proof ought to be on the anti-market people.

If that's how you feel it's news to me -- I'm sure I haven't seen you mention a problem you thought that the free market couldn't solve. What are they?

Or, to look at it a different way, can you name three laws that you agree with? Given what you have written here I would not have expected there to be any.

Edited at 2008-03-05 10:39 pm (UTC)
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From:extempore
Date:March 6th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
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If that's how you feel it's news to me -- I'm sure I haven't seen you mention a problem you thought that the free market couldn't solve. What are they?

"Solve" is not the word I'd prefer because many of life's little problems are insoluble. The market allocates scarce resources the most efficiently and distorts incentives the least. On that basis it should always be the approach of first resort.

The broadest category of market failures are those involving externalities. But maybe you're right that I think the market solves everything, since I think the right way to address externalities is to put a price on them and let the market take it from there.

To the extent that there is a free market in health care, it has failed. I have no settled opinions on health care, but I'll concede there are highly unsettling consequences where the profit motive overlaps health care, e.g. insurance companies searching for technicalities hoping to deny coverage to a dying man.

Or, to look at it a different way, can you name three laws that you agree with?

Hmm, three laws, three laws... that is tough. I support the 21st amendment, and I think people should have to chop down their redwoods if they're blocking someone else's solar panel. But that's it, I think those two laws provide a sufficient basis for society. Of course you knew by asking for three you were setting the bar out of my reach.
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From:qwrrty
Date:March 6th, 2008 05:59 pm (UTC)
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"Solve" is not the word I'd prefer because many of life's little problems are insoluble. The market allocates scarce resources the most efficiently and distorts incentives the least. On that basis it should always be the approach of first resort.

Well, you chose the word "answer," which seems at least as inappropriate to me (how many of life's questions really have definitive answers?) but you see my point. :-)

Hmm, three laws, three laws... that is tough. I support the 21st amendment, and I think people should have to chop down their redwoods if they're blocking someone else's solar panel. But that's it, I think those two laws provide a sufficient basis for society. Of course you knew by asking for three you were setting the bar out of my reach.

I was actually asking the question seriously. I have no clear sense of which laws, if any, you agree with. Your opinions about the police suggest to me that you don't believe in a law enforcement sector at all, which would seem to contraindicate having any laws to begin with. What's the point in having a law without an enforcement mechanism, after all?

So I'm curious if there are any laws on the books that you think are appropriate for the state to set forth and for the police to enforce. And the 21st amendment doesn't count; it's not a law. I'm pretty sure that you hold most of the constitution in high regard. :-)
From:lowwall
Date:March 5th, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
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certainly the burden of proof ought to be on the anti-market people.

I'm OK with that as long as the burden is set appropriately. Let's take the usual civil trial burden of "a preponderance of the evidence" when it's a question of regulating entities other than human beings.

Regulation of individuals should be limited to those actions that negatively affect other people (which would include affecting the environment). But even this gets messy. What about seatbelts? Not requiring them drives up healthcare and insurance costs for everyone, but that's an argument that could potentially be expanded to cover nearly everything. So once again you are faced with having to actually think things through rather than relying on some philosophical bright line. It is possible for governments to do this. For example take a look at the Dutch government's risk assessment of magic mushrooms.
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From:shandrew
Date:March 10th, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)
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This is slightly off topic, but NASA, at least since the Challenger crash, has had one of the most sophisticated engineering risk manangement programs in the world.

I doubt that the TSA has any concept of probability, statistics, or economics. But that failure does not mean that the entire government is the same.
From:inet_stranger
Date:March 12th, 2008 02:22 am (UTC)
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I was actually thinking of the purported management failings of Columbia's fatal flight.
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From:joepro
Date:March 10th, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
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Philadelphia radio host Michael Smerconish wrote a book about this. I have not read it, but he's pretty witty and insightful, and it got 4 of 5 on amazon, if that means anything. Here's a preview:

From Publishers Weekly
Flying with his family, Smerconish, a radio talk-show host and newspaper columnist based in Philadelphia, twice had his eight-year-old son chosen for "secondary screening"—and was twice able to substitute himself without incident, despite his carrying odd-looking electronic broadcast gear. Mulling the ease with which he made it though the process, he then learned of a federal policy to fine airlines "if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning." (The actual testimony from an airline industry rep was that the Justice Department said a screening system would be discriminatory if it flagged more than three people of the same ethnic origin.) Contacting the Department of Transportation, Smerconish was told secondary screening is random or behavior-based.


http://www.amazon.com/Flying-Blind-Michael-Smerconish/dp/0762423765