Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Up In the Air and Down on the Ground

Posted by hyperpat on December 12, 2006

My youngest son graduates from his boarding school this weekend, and I’m busily getting ready to fly up there (it’s in Oregon). So naturally I looked at the list of banned/limited items I can take on the plane. Now some of the items you can’t take make sense, like no chlorine gas cylinders. And some of the items you can take in carry-ons make sense, like infant formula.

But there’s a whole lot of other stuff that doesn’t make much sense. Like I can take a 7″ inch screwdriver in my carry-on stuff. Don’t know about you, but I could make a pretty good weapon out of nice, thin screwdriver of that length, and just what else are you going to do with it inside the aircraft cabin? And I can take safety matches in carry-on, but not in checked baggage – this one has me really scratching my head. The whole business of gels and liquids being limited to 3oz amounts and packed in see through zip-locks kind of makes sense, but here again it’s quite possible to create some really nasty things by combining a couple of (separately) harmless items of this nature. Rational sense calls for a complete ban on these types of items, if you really want to cut down on the opportunity for a nut-case to wreak havoc with your day – but this is one case where political expediency has ruled the day, as the initial outcry about the ban on such things was deafening.

In the end, it still comes down to where do you draw the line between cost and risk. Inspecting all these items is a huge cost, and a real look at the problem shows that all this effort does not radically reduce the risk. Between the holes in the list of banned and allowed items and the fact that just about every test of the adequacy of security screeners has been a dismal failure, with way too many banned items allowed through, anyone who is really determined to blow up a plane can find a way to do it.

And it’s still true that driving a car is far more risky than taking an airplane. Where’s the outcry to install devices that won’t allow you to drive your car when drunk, or to install regulators and computers that won’t allow you drive way over the speed limit, or on board radars and video cams that can show stuff in that ‘blind’ spot that far too few drivers check for? It would seem that we don’t have a proper set of priorities. But that’s no surprise. Anything that involves a risk of death, no matter how small, that is outside of an individual’s control gets a lot of attention and demands to ‘do something’, while anything that might limit that same individual’s right to do whatever he wants, regardless of how risky that behavior might be to others, is immediately attacked as too costly, inconvenient, or unnecessary government intrusion into private lives. Welcome to America, land of the not-quite-screwed-on-tightly.


3 Responses to “Up In the Air and Down on the Ground”

  1. The point is to get us all scared of terrorists every time we get on a plane.

  2. hyperpat said

    I’m more scared of the Homeland Security Agents. John Varley, in his book Red Lightning, paints a pretty scary picture of just what America could look like if agencies like this are continued to be allowed to run rampant over our supposedly guaranteed Constitutional rights.

  3. fencer said

    How many planes have been downed so far by little bottles of gel, or bottles of water, or nail clippers?

    Somebody came up with the term ‘security theatre’ and it is apt.


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