Further thoughts on the TSA debates

The biggest flying/airport outrages are a lack of markets in allocating scarce resources, and the resulting unacceptable airport and flight delay problems in places such as JFK and LaGuardia.  Next come airlines which ruthlessly screw you over, repeatedly, and lie to you and mistreat you.  I do understand the trade-off and prefer the lower prices and fewer quality assurances; still, you can object to their behavior at the margin — it's often unethical.  Let's get worked up over these problems first.    

I view good scans as, in the long run, a substitute for patdowns.  One option is to have very very good scans, nude "photos," fewer patdowns, and to have Americans shift to a more European attitude on nude bodies.  There's even an available status attitude where you don't mind or notice the scans, much as the King allowed himself to be dressed and handled by commoners.  That's the intelligent argument for the current shift in policy.  Maybe the enhanced scans simply aren't useful or maybe Americans can't or won't shift their norms.  Those would be reasons not to do it (and I am not pronouncing a definitive opinion here) but it's simply not, in principle, that objectionable of a policy.  There's a locked-in structure which prevents a competitive test of safety levels and so all alternatives are coercive in some manner, including the difficulty any airline would face in attempting an even more restrictive set of security procedures.

It's worth asking how intrusive a search markets would provide, but keep in mind there are significant negative externalities from exploding airplanes and also there are government bailouts which limit the downside.  Furthermore companies do not always care enough about "extreme negative skewness," as we have learned in financial markets and thus there is a case for regulating a tougher security standard.

Hovering in the background is the reality that a few successful downings will kill many people and furthermore probably wipe out the insurance market and thus lead to nationalization of the airlines.  It's not clear what the freedom-enhancing path looks like and there is no default setting of market accountability.  It's "elephant interventions" all the way down. 

It's worth comparing the current American response to earlier British crises (IRA troubles, and eventual CCTV) or for that matter Israeli responses to Palestinian suicide bombings.  In these kinds of situations something has to give — usually by public demand for better outcomes more than a state usurpation of power.    

I would not say that "we are now at war with the terrorists" but our situation has some war-like elements.  Any persistent war has required major social changes, if only temporary ones, in how the body is viewed and handled.  If we are so unwilling to even consider these changes in body viewing norms, I wonder how we will respond when scarier events happen, as they likely will.  

The funny thing is this: when Americans insist on total liberty against external molestation, it motivates both good responses and bad ones.  It supports a libertarian desire for freedom against government abuse, but the same sentiments generate a lot of anti-liberal policies when it comes to immigration, foreign policy, torture, rendition, attitudes toward Muslims, executive power, and most generally treatment of "others."  An insistence on zero molestation, zero risk, isn't as pro-liberty as it appears in the isolated context of pat-downs.  It leads us to impose a lot of costs on others, usually without thinking much about their rights.

The issue reminds me of the taxation and spending debates; many Americans want low taxes and high government spending, forever.  For airline security, at times we want to treat it as a matter of mere law enforcement, to be handled by others, and one which should not inconvenience our daily lives or infringe on our rights.  At the same time, so many Americans view airline security as a vital matter of foreign policy and indeed as part of a war.  We own and promote this view and yet we are outraged when asked to behave as one might be expected to in a theater of war.  

The main danger to liberty here is not the TSA but rather a set of American attitudes which, at the same time, take our current "war" both far too seriously and also not nearly seriously enough.

Overall, I'd like to see less posturing in these debates and more Thucydides.


You really don't need that much thought on it.

Here, a doctor estimates that the scanners all by themselves will kill as many through cancer as are likely to be killed by terrorists. That is without the added hassle, the added driving, the irritated pilots and passengers, just the radiation.

There is a $#!+load of sky, and almost no physical limit to the flying market. Only the government could funk this up.

Apparently you've bought into the "war on terror" propaganda; and you're not familiar with Bruce Schneier's concept of "security theater".

I have to say, I agree with the previous commenters. Have you completely ignored the fact that even with the new scanners, the GAO says the TSA probably would not have caught the underwear bomber? So the agency you trust to run the scanners properly (at the right radiation levels), would not have caught/stop the underwear bomber, knowing his name, knowing the approximate time, with several warnings from the father, and the new scanners. Truly a leap of faith.

"many Americans want low taxes and high government spending, forever": that was basically the cause of the American Revolution, wasn't it?

I view good scans as a substitute for _nothing_. Your argument works if you believe these security measures actually do improve safety and all this controversy is simply about the trade off between security and liberty. But what if these scans and pat downs don't do anything? What if they're just a way to make the public believe the government is doing something about a threat they are powerless to stop once it reaches the airport?

Real security requires good judgment and prudence, but that's just too damn expensive. The TSA wants a policy that can be implemented by minimum wage workers who can't be held liable for anything as long as they follow the rule book.

We also know that there are virtually no serious, competent terrorists *in* the U.S. We know that because, year-after-year there are no successful terrorist attacks on the limitless number of soft targets in the U.S. using simple, proven attack methods that terrorists have used successfully elsewhere--roadside bombs, suicide vests, backpack bombs, Mumbai-style suicide squads. (Yes, there was the failed Times Square bomb -- it demonstrates just how pathetic the domestic threat really is).

The easiest way to attack the airline industry in the U.S. would be not to blow up an airplane, but for a suicide bomber to detonate in the midst of a crowded airport security line. They wouldn't need to be limited to the explosives and shrapnel they could pack in a vest--nobody would bat an eye if they hauled along 100# of explosives in their luggage. Our idiotic, ineffective airline security procedures are, themselves, creating ideal, undefended (and indefensible?) soft targets that, if attacked, would take down the airline industry as surely as a bomb on a plane.

Not being American, I don't really have a dog in this fight, but couldn't drugs administered to TSA personnel to make them temporarily asexual do the job? Your scan is viewed by/You are patted down by someone who is definitely not enjoying it. Ofcourse that shifts the onus onto the government personnel and not the public and hence would not be ever adopted.

Slocum makes another outstanding point.

It is the un-serious people who are overly worried about the planes. Planes are a marketing tool for terrorists and the un-serious people are really worried that the terrorists will score a marketing coup. They are un-serious about the actual threats we face.

hmmm, I would much rather be patdown rather than scanned.

In the past 5 years, for some reason, I have been patdown very aggressively at Heathrow airport. They don't give you an option for a scan or warn you what's about to happen. They just do it.

I haven't really seen many complaints in Britain about it.

I don't understand why a lower cost alternative isn't mild security screening (less than we do today) coupled with aggressive profiling -- if necessary to further restrict travel and immigration from the Middle East until the elites in those areas clean up their backyards? Perhaps throw in random searches of non-profiled passengers. I doubt it would be any worse than the current system and would shift costs to those most likely to be perpetrators.

To end hijackings, get rid of the door between the cockpit and cabin. That done, the remaining threat from suicide bombings on domestic flights is hypothetical, considering all the other places a suicide bomber could detonate themselves.

Tyler's post is a perfect example of why act utilitarian is self-defeating and rule utilitarianism is superior. The rules of "protect privacy" and "no intrusive searches w/o probably cause" have served us well for 200 years. The question is not whether the current threat is great enough to justify a few, temporary uncomfortable searches. The question is whether it is worth a permanent change in our expectations of privacy and of limited government power.

"If the TSA mandated we all had to drive 5 mph, we would rightly rebel."


not if they started on 50 and then lower the limit by 2-3 mph every year. That is how tyranny is built, slowly and with long-term planning, and not just overnight.

Or the other way round ... they would propose 5 mph and finally they would "concede" 15 mph ... and people would celebrate their "victory".

Tyler has gone down the route of assuming we haven't thought this through. Okay.

Here's something he hasn't thought through. When 'we' say the scans are inneffective, we aren't saying that they have pasted a naked picture on their monitor and are pretending. They are technically effective. They are not functionally effective. The terrorists have always predicted the defense better than the screeners have predicted the terrorists. That is partly because the screeners act as bureaucrates. As long as they are checking the checkboxes they are doing good CYA.

The scans and pat-downs are the security equivalent of 'The Club.' Just effective enough to push the terrorists to do something even easier that will kill even more people and may not even require suicide. In addition to causing more deaths by cancer and inconvenience, it is not going to prevent a single death. It may not even prevent airplane deaths. That is the externality. The people who don't care about liberty or the rights of others get to make us pay to push terrorists and inconvenience onto those of us who do.

Borealis, yeah, the Euro argument is profoundly stupid. Sorry, Tyler.

Euros (like me) generally tolerate well voluntary nakedness on beaches etc. Muslim immigrants are another matter, their tolerance is famously low, but that would be hijacking of the thread...

Nevertheless, being forced naked by a government agent is as unwelcome in Europe as it is in the USA.

Dirty German porn with uniformed guards is NOT an European's representative attitude!

The amount of radiation from a scan is insignificant compared to the dose you receive from the air flight.

If any plane in the US blew up due to a terrorist, it would be humiliating and that humiliation would strengthen terrorism throughout the world. On the other hand, every time we catch one and expose them as the failed rejects most of them are, it weakens terrorists.

Its not an issue of individual security, but of national pride and negative political consequences.

We own and promote this view and yet we are outraged when asked to behave as one might be expected to in a theater of war.

Huh? In a war, the American government routinely trusts soldiers but also civilians with weapons and assumes that the vast majority will not use them to shoot people in the back. No war zone has anywhere near the level of "security" and inspections of people boarding a plane as the civilian world does. Even entering various high security DoD installations, there's fewer intrusive searches than what the TSA does.

The way that "one might be expected to behave in a theater of war" is to be willing to take action oneself instead of being passive-- and that's exactly what passengers aboard planes have done in all the incidents since. That's done more to make people safe than any screening.

We certainly should be taking this as an opportunity to think about things like the role of government in regulating and restricting movement and other issues in the airline industry. And the TSA's policies aren't the worst thing the government does by a long shot. However, the TSA's policies are one of the most insulting things the government does. It's a blatant affront and a middle finger to the ideals of the American experiment.

Your argument that worse policy could come up if a bomb did get through requires that these TSA procedures actually stop bombs, etc. The issue of which targets are most attractive is an interesting one -- do they want to do a lot of damage at low cost or would they prefer to show that Americans are even vulnerable in airports. Frankly I'm a little surprised terrorists haven't gone after easier targets, such as the increasingly crowded lines at airport security. But I do think that is a threat the TSA should bear in mind.

The cultural issue is the most important one. The history of the TSA often looks like the government telling terrorists, "for every thing you do to Americans, we'll do to Americans three times!" A popular disillusionment with the TSA can, hopefully, lead to a popular disillusionment with the federal government in general. I think this episode will lead us to a freer society.

"Very few of you read the post carefully!"

Because I always make sure when I write something that nobody can accuse me of saying anything at all! When they do, I can point to some clause that shows how they are not sophisticated enough to understand my infinite subtlety!

Suppose you're flying and go through the scanner with no problem. Would you be averse to flying with two or three other passengers who had not gone through scanning or patdowns? If so, what would be adequate compensation for such aversion? If the non-scanned passengers paid a surcharge which bought life insurance for everyone on the plane? Suppose the non-scanned passengers had to wear yellow vests during the flight, identifying them as non-scanned?

Kevin K, in Iraq, Northern Ireland and Israel, terrorists were quite happy to go for easy targets, mostly unarmed civilians in a crowd.

I suspect that the main reason why American airliners aren't getting bombed more often is that other-than-TSA-agentures around the world do some work to detect such plots early.

I would expect that most larger mosques in most of the world currently have one or two paid informants who report dangerous radicals either to the local equivalent Mukhabarat, or to Americans directly. Certainly this is true about Arabian peninsula and most of Pakistan, where the radicalism previously went unchecked.

Tyler, I advise you to close the comment section.

I'm not sure where all these losers come from.

Indy, when you talk about proven vulnerabilities (which are real) you make it sound like we can
build some kind of modern day Maginot line that will protect us. The problem is, as the French found, it's a lot easier and less expensive to go around the line than to build it in the first place. Because of this, the strategy of building Maginot lines everywhere at enormous expense in time, dollars, and civil liberties can not succeed. It is a stupid idea to follow strategies that cannot succeed. What the government bureaucrat should be doing is explaining this to the public and promoting policies that might succeed like greater intelligence gathering.

Eh, little of this is worth the cost. It's difficult to put enough explosives (especially the home-made kind) on your person to blow much of a hole in a plane. Body cavity bombs would be more disgusting than catastrophic. Plus, we've seen numerous times that the public will not allow anyone to take control of the plane. The cockpit is locked and 9/11 has created a customer army. I don't personally feel strongly about nakedness either way (being of European extraction?), but the whole waiting in line thing is super annoying.

Second, the airline handling of the IRA threat was pretty different than the TSA issue. Luggage was searched (though much Irish bacon still made it through customs) and bags had to be personally identified on the tarmac before it was put on the plane. The IRA generally didn't suicide bomb, so it was assumed that a bag claimed by someone getting on the plane must not have a bomb in it.

My mother, however, does talk about coming to America in the 1970s and nearly having a panic attack at the lax security. Growing up in Northern Ireland makes one hyper-sensitive to unattended luggage.

I agree that a lot of people aren't reading the posting carefully.

Tyler says, "I view good scans as, in the long run, a substitute for patdowns." Tyler is an economist. I'm not one, but I do know that "substitute" is a technical term in economics, not a recommendation. So what Tyler is doing, as I see it, is simply reminding us that there's the potential for a market in alternative solutions here. Maybe some of us didn't need to be reminded of that, but that hardly makes his point a silly one.

I quit reading by the third paragraph, Tyrone.

"I'm in enough trouble already!" Carcinogens are (often) additive. Hate to tell you but there is no "enough trouble already." There is a threshold. You pass the threshold, you die. And it's not about you personally, it is about a rational risk assessment.

I'm at a loss of what I have to do to make people address the real, non-meta issues.

First, you didn't mention radiation danger from the scanners. Is it serious, or not? What about for frequent use, like traveling salesmen? Is it more of problem for youngsters or fertile women?

I wonder. If a private corporation demanded its employees go through comparable treatment at the start of every morning, would it be sued for sexual harassment, be fined for a hostile work environment by Big Sis? Would a former TSA employee be allowed to serve on Supreme Court (Clarence Thomas hearings), or as Secretary of Defense (Sen. Tower), or as a senator (Sen. Packwood)? But then working for the TSA would not stop one from being a President from Arkansas or a Senator from Massachusetts.

As for European attitudes about nudity, there is a BIG difference between going to a nude beach in summer and being stared at by a leering bureaucrat in public.

I sometimes think the proper Euro response is to have special nudist airlines. Everyone flies nude, and so no one has to go through security. (Has the additional advantage of no Muslim flyers.) For a sci-fi precedent for such a world, read Heinlein's The Puppet Masters.

> Also, I've got a question to try and figure out a little more about what the objection is.

There are various objections. But the one that should bring the whole "debate" to a close immediately
is that neither the backscattering x-rays nor the invasive pat-downs will stop terrorists from bring a bomb big enough to destroy the plane on an airplane. They simply need to put it inside one of their body cavities. They have successfully hidden and detonated bombs hidden in this way before. So the cost benefit analysis is real simple. No benefit. High costs. The "debate" shouldn't be about the latest bit of absurd TSA security theater, but about what we can and should do about terrorist threats. There are real trade-offs and costs and benefits to be analyzed, but we aren't ever going to have these discussions if the TSA and DHS are running the show.

These comments are interesting from the perspective of the value people place on personal privacy versus personal security.

I wonder what the topic that excites the public this week will get the commentators going on Fox News.

Mass turkey killings in the midwest and southwest.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Travel Safely.


I think you missed the boat. There are threshold events and this is one. Fox responds

As for Tyler, I don't think he really wants me to read his missive carefully. But, since that is his critique, I get to keep going.

Not only do you die of cancer, you die painfully and expensively. So not only are we not saving lives, we are killing people more expensively in order to kill them more subtly. I'd like to see more real economics of these things discussed rather than meta-politics because we won't even need to get all the way to the meta-issues. Of course the next worst, pat-downs isn't acceptable, and a non-harmful scan wouldn't be acceptable either because it's not my only objection. The health aspect is just one objection that is good enough all by itself to completely wash out the pros based on numbers. Math. In fact, there is only one pro. All the rest is cost (obviously shorter lines for Tyler is a cost for everyone other than Tyler). The only pro is lives saved, and POOF! Gone.

When the voters demand the next irrationality based on their lack of understanding, we can burn that bridge when we come to it. I don't have to try to predict future voter irrationality. Predicting specific irrationalities is a fools errand (unless you are seeking tenure). Also, I didn't make this happen. The current blow-up is evidence that the government is not simply giving the public what it wants.

The suicide part of suicide bombings is a cost not a feature. It is not really more effective. It's a signal. It says "we are really serious about this. They are the bad guys, we are martyrs." Noone here believes that last part by the way. It's part of the marketing, as others have said. People willing to die are rare. What is the top end of people they could kill in the US like this? Start the bidding at 300. Screening people at the border may be "illiberal" to Tyler, but it's simply a more effective alternative when you actually understand how this works.

The next downing is simply going to happen no matter how many customers we eliminate and terrorize...or not. More likely, the terrorists will just move on. That is, if we don't create more right-wing and left-wing terrorists by our lack of principles (a big big 'if'). But you see how that has not really saved anyone, don't you? You didn't capture or kill any terrorists. You didn't change any minds (except the people you've pissed off who haven't signed any non-aggression oath). You just made them give up something that cost them a lot to begin with. That's because the policy is not about saving people, it is about our idiots denying their idiots the marketing coup of a vivid fiery hole in the ground. Our idiots don't want that. That would make our idiots look like idiots and their idiots appear cleverer than our dolts. The public isn't getting what they want, because they have been hoodwinked. They've been lied to about what they should want and how to get it. It's not that I don't expect them not to get hoodwinked yet again and again and again, I just prefer to spend my bandwidth trying to un-hoodwink them and build up my un-hoodwinking muscles rather than my meta-muscles.

To read Tyler carefully means to never ever infer anything or think about subtext, unless, of course, you should. Tyler will let you know whether this is appropriate by posting a cryptic comment, from which you should try to infer his meaning, unless, of course you shouldn't. The main thing to realize is that whatever his meaning, it is quite sophisticated and subtle.

Just make the airlines get 9/11 insurance and let them decide how much security they want. I have a feeling they wouldn't be doing this.

It seems to me that the body scans are not a substitute for the pat downs but that the pat downs are a complement to the scans. As more scans happen, more suspicious looking items like breast prosthetics, sanitary napkins, or even stray pieces of paper in pockets are seen, causing an increase in the number of pat downs required. Even if I believe the scans are a low price to pay for safety, the pat down that could come next seems much too expensive.


My response to you was the first sentence, just like here. I'm in a typing mood today, which means I have more important things to do that I'm procrastinating. Don't read anything else into it. But even your "nothing" statement was incorrect. This is not about a balance between privacy and security. At best it is a trade of total loss of privacy in return of almost zero security. I just have a hard time letting even the smallest inanity pass. It's a sickness.

The alternative Tyler ignores here-- but that e.g. Jim Henley has been arguing for for 9 years-- is to persuade Americans to *stop being such vicious cowards*. Our vicious cowardice is the ultimate cause both of the TSA outrages and of the torture, wars of aggression, etc he rightly says are much worse.

Admittedly that vicious cowardice is in the interest of the ruling regime in both its Rep and Dem wings, so it's hard to fight. Nonetheless it is worth fighting. The reasonable responses to terrorism involve neither security theater nor foreign aggression: they are

1. adopt the foreign policy of Switzerland
2. keep calm and carry on.

I have called it depussification (ht nutnfancy), but yeah.

"Fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" How'd that work out?

So that was some kind of Bill-Turing test and I failed?

LOL @ Bill Turing test.


Andrew 1 - Bill 0

There is insufficient attention given concerning whether this actually increases security, so I, along with many others that object, don't see this as a securityliberty tradeoff. If I'm going to blow myself up I think I could handle shoving something up my ass for long enough to get on a plane, and go through the patdown rather than the scanner.

Also, does the purely reactionary nature of this suggest to anyone else that the real motives here are Hansonian (security isn't about security) rather security related? We have a shoe bomber so we remove shoes; we have an underwear bomber so our underwear are scanned.

I could care less about being scanned patted down, but I am concerned about the ridiculous security precautions we currently take. The reason there have not been any terrorists attacks in the US is that there are no competent terrorists in the US. Otherwise, anyone could drive a truck full of fertilizer into any office building in the US, without having to worry about having his scrotum cupped.

"Let's say there's an airplane filled with 200 children and you persuaded the government not to do a scan and pat down of the adult passengers. What would your reaction be if 200 children died."

My reaction would be "shit, thank God that didn't really happen!"

Guys, let's get something straight. I'm the only one allowed to pick in Bill.

There is a cost-effective alternative that involves much less invasion of privacy of ordinary citizens and that is superior to either pat-downs and scanners. Just a few simple steps:

1) Roll airport security checks on passengers back to what they were on 9/11 with the following addition: no knives or other obvious weapons in carry-on luggage.
2) Redirect most of the money being spent on TSA-related checks to human intelligence (aka bribing susceptible agents who will tip off about serious terrorism in the offing)
3) Redirect a tiny portion to PR to tell Americans that reacting with increased security to terrorism is what Bin Laden actually wants us to do, and that security upgrades in response to any successful terrorist attacks will be spent in proportion to the amount the US spends each year in protecting us from bee-stings, scaled by the relative death tolls of these two causes of death. (Currently this ratio would be 3:1, averaged over the last decade).

"there are significant negative externalities from exploding airplanes"

Are there? What are they? This is the essential assumption behind the efficiency of government regulation of airline safety. If almost all of the loss from a terrorist bomb is to the passengers and airline, then the problem is solved by allowing airlines to compete on the stringency of their screening. People who think body searches are helpful or pleasurable will take the airlines that provide them; normal people will take the airlines that check the background of foreign young men with Moslem names.

The passengers and airlines will ignore the costs to third parties--but who are they? People whose houses are hit by falling debris from exploding airplanes?

In any case, the externality problem woudl be well solved by making the airline liable for them in tort. In fact, it is already, I think. It is possible for a Wyoming rancher whose cow gets squished by a falling jet engine engine to sue the airline for the price of the cow, alleging negligence on the part of the airline. If the jury decides that absence of a body search was negligence, it will make the airline pay. The airline, expecting some losses of this kind, will pass the cost on to its passengers via higher ticket prices.

"Overall, I'd like to see less posturing in these debates and more Thucydides."

Sure, but the real reason for our outrage and posturing over this issue is that we know deep down, like with so many issues, that our outrage is futile, that the masses will succumb to paternalism every step of the way, that we are living in a country on a slow, inexorable slide into a police state and that the masses will cheer it on.

Intelligent debate is futile and we all know that. If all that's left is to give government and its apologists the finger, then at least have the dignity to give them the finger.

I loved the comment by one opponent of the TSA screening:

"If they don't eliminate this invasion of my privacy, I'm going to take Amtrak."

Maybe this is a secret plot to get public support for investing in high speed rail?

The debate over the START treaty reminds me of the missile gap debate in the 50s/60s that fueled the cold war big government spending on better massive hole diggers and window glass breakers, with roads to transport them and TV broadcasts by satellite and fiber optic Internet the civilian fallout from the wasteful government spending and pork barrel earmark projects.

Tyler, so basically, you think we're having the wrong conversation? Agreed. With the emotional topic at hand, trying to pivot to make it a worthwhile one is highly unlikely... I'm surprised you would consider it a worthwhile return on investment.

Man Up, Will You.

That's What Sarah Palin Says.

Instead of the TSA using the new dectetors, Sarah wants


Here it is:

Sarah Palin jumped into the debate over new airport security measures this evening with two Twitter messages calling on the TSA to implement what she called "profiling" at airports. Her first tweet: "TSA: why politically incorrect 2 profile anyone re: natl security issues? We profile individuals/suspects in other situations! Profile away."

Wonder what Dick Cheney thinks.

I'll try to reach him at the bunker.


"At some point Congress will pass a law that permits "private airlines" to avoid all the TSA requirements. "

That law is already in effect, any airline can opt out of TSA screening.

Sarah Palin believes that the government should be able to "profile anyone re: natl security issues" before they get on a plane as an alternative to the detector or pat down.

I prefer the scanning detector.

Which is more intrusive to your privacy and freedom: Sarah Palin's proposal to "profile anyone re: natl security issues" or standing in the scanner dectector for 45 seconds.

Does Sarah give me the right to choose. No. Not even if I would accept a pat down.

Folks, this is what you should be concerned about: profiling you about your views "re national security".

Man Up to your loss of your civil liberties, not someone looking at your underpants in another room.

>>I would not say that "we are now at war with the terrorists" but our situation has some war-like elements.

The very pinnacle of ignorance.

You may not be at war with them, Tyler, but they are at war with you.

(oh, and they already profile, based on pilots, kids<12 etc. The rest of us are assumed to be armed terrorists until proven unarmed)

Andrew, Let's pose the question based on Sarah's proposal to have the government profile you "re: national security" instead of having the option of the detector or pat down:

a. Would you agree to be profiled by the FBI/NSA/Thought Police or whomever "re: National Security"


b. Would you rather have, as you claim, an ineffective scan or pat down.

Your choice.

I wonder how many people would really go along with the idea that they had to be profiled for the views "re: national security" in order to fly.

Would be very interesting to see how people would balance this. I'm guessing that people always think it is the other guy's civil liberties, and not their own, that will be affected.

And, it raises another point as well: how effective is profiling, what kind of data do you need, and how do you get it, and is consent voluntary if you are otherwise unable to fly, etc. etc.

Some Libertarians seem very keen on giving up their civil liberties to avoid a scan detector. Others care more about their own and others civil liberties.

I'm currently engaged in a debate with my wife on this issue. She wants to drive (or take a train) this Christmas rather than fly so that our two young daughters neither have to undergo the scans nor have to be subjected to any unwanted touching. The problem is that the trip will be about 300 miles, and 5-6 hour drive assuming no unreasonable traffic and/or weather delays us.

The odds of dying on that trip will be (relative to the odds of dying on a 300 mile flight) quite high. I therefore feel that it's an odd substitution she''d like to make, to preserve our daughters' dignity and emotional well-being at the cost of a greatly increased threat to their lives.

(My wife, in the other hand, thinks my true concern is just the fees we'd pay to cancel our already purchased airline tickets.) (Deep down, who knows? She may be right.)

The risk of invasive scans/fondling is not therefore "merely" that they may cause cancer. They may also lead people like my wife into substituting riskier modes of transportation for relatively safe air travel.

I have a suspicion that the AIT/enhanced patdown regime will kill more Americans than it saves, but it may do so in a quiet, hard to measure way.

"Overall, I'd like to see less posturing in these debates and more Thucydides."

I'll venture to guess that this remark means he'd prefer some analysis of how we got here and not merely a reaction to the latest event.

So here's how we got here: Republicans and their stupid war on an emotion.

That's "air genius Gary Leff", Tyler. Take some notes.

Tyler said, "I view good scans as, in the long run, a substitute for patdowns."

Sure, but both "good scans" and patdowns are an unnecessary evil. The problem with airport security is that *even if it works well*, much of what it succeeds in doing is disarming the law-abiding and peaceful passengers who might otherwise be in a better position to defend the plane. We don't need *more* security, we need *better* security, and in this case you get better security by doing *less*. Focus on secure cockpit doors and intelligent crew policies to such a degree that we can *completely ignore* what the passengers choose to carry on or do. Go back to the well pre-9/11 norm that it's okay for people to walk their friends out to the gate, that when you get off the plane your family can be waiting right there for you and we simply don't need *any* security line anywhere in an airport.

Yes, the old metal detector-based policies were transparently stupid in that anybody with half a brain could trivially evade them. But the fact that these policies were so pathetically inadequate was what made them *tolerable*. Because we don't actually *want* to prevent every possible scary thing from getting on the plane. The closer we get to that goal the more obvious it becomes that the problem here isn't a minor implementation detail we can solve with better technology, the problem is that *it's the wrong goal*. The closer we come to making it possible to achieve the goal, the more clear that is.

Consider speed limits. With the right technology in place one could easily ticket *every single person* who goes over the speed limit by even 1mph for even one minute. Officially, our stated goal is to prevent people from speeding, full stop. So if we started ticketing like that we'd come closer to meeting the official stated goal. But would people be happy about it? No. A token effort that has a chance of nailing the *worst* offenders is tolerable; a comprehensive effort that inconveniences even the most trivial offenders is not. Same thing here - there's a gap between what people say they want and what they actually want.

Me, what I want is a flight with no security at all. I'd pay extra for that.

The response to these policies is so extreme because they are symbolic for all the civil liberties the government has chipped away since 9/11. Of course, everything else gets muddled in stupid discussions about terrorist threats. Precisely because this policy is so ineffective, it's something both sides of the spectrum can get worked up about rather than resigning themselves to intractable debate.

Nevertheless, I'm going to join the chorus in finding this post pretty poor. If we're all missing the point, perhaps you should reconsider your rhetorical strategy next time.

Bill, do you mean to tell me Sarah Palin is a conservative?

Your false choices are off topic if not irrelevant. Also, they are NMFP. The way this works is the government screws up and we send them back to try again. I'm not getting paid like these ---clowns. I'm not saying I won't think about and possibly post an answer just for giggles, but this was the real answer.

"This is a problem of human nature. It can only be solved by FORCING people to be rational."

You can lead a force to slaughter but you cannot make them think.

Bill, Here is another one.

There are two ways of 'profiling.' There is profiling in and profiling out. I would be perfectly happy to accept the risk of profiling out pilots and <13 year old children, which the government is already doing. I'd be happy to add to this profiling out, and of course I want everyone profiled out. However, I'm not interested in getting together at the ACLU headquarters or the SPLC so we can all sing Kumbaya naked.

Bill, btw, I saw what you did there. From the quote you reference from Palin it isn't clear that she is proposing employing mind-readers to determine that people like me are pissed at the government. You did that.

It sounds like she is talking more about profiling at least closer to what I would call probability and capability. Again, we already do it with pilots and children. This doesn't make it right but it does make 'them' wrong, 'them' being the people that say we can't profile.

I don't get the complaints about misreading. Tyler may not be giving a "definitive opinion", but he did say "it's simply not, in principle, that objectionable of a policy". A lot of people disagree with that, and they've got some good reasons behind their objections! And the whole post doesn't make sense unless you're assuming the scanners actually make us safer. That's not a justified assumption!

I object to the claim that it's OUR sentiments that are the ones "generating a lot of anti-liberal policies when it comes to immigration, foreign policy, torture, rendition, attitudes toward Muslims, executive power, and most generally treatment of 'others.'" Has he noticed how often the TSA defends their "enhanced" pat-downs by pointing to how infrequently they're used? What is that supposed to be if not imposing costs on 'others'? If something is "demeaning", it doesn't make it less demeaning if it's only used 1% of the time--in fact, it kind of makes it more demeaning!

And to my knowledge, I don't think Muslims--the typical "others" all too often these days--are really all that fond of either these scanners or the pat-downs. And the flipside of that European attitude to nudity seems to be head-scarf bans. If Americans and Muslims are on the side in supporting a right to modesty, I think those who oppose war should encourage that.

Enemies of our society have proven time and again that the use of aircraft related terrorism is a preferred tactic. It's high profile, causes massive casualties of innocent citizens, and has a long lasting psychological effect. Will the procedures introduced by TSA ensure 100% safety of the flying public? Of course not. The prevention of any terrorism without specific actionable intelligence will never be 100%, regardless of any level of vigilance. TSA is there to make aviation terrorism an unattractive target. No terrorist wants to get on a plane and blow up 3 or 4 people. They want to take the whole flight down. With securely locked cockpits, air marshals, and the passenger army preventing the takeover of an aircraft, the only viable threat is suicide bombing. Limiting the possibility of an explosive charge large enough to take down a plane is what these procedures do. Terrorism is a war of politics and psychology, and TSA is an equivalent response.

The bottom line? Flying is a privilege, not a right. If you don't like it, Go Greyhound!

PS I had to quote Andrew: "In addition to causing more deaths by cancer and inconvenience, it is not going to prevent a single death. It may not even prevent airplane deaths." Airport security is killing people with cancer and inconvenience.... As my son would say: Really? Wow.

I've been thinking about why these pseudo-naked images don't bother me much. I just remembered this is basically what happened in Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (people had to go around naked to show they weren't evil aliens). It's kind of funny that the same author who gave me (and many others) libertarian leanings (via The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and other works) may also be part of the reason that all this doesn't bother me. Of course, Heinlein always seemed to approve of nudity...

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