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Security Theater

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

[Photo by Patrick Smith]

I’ve written before about airport security theater, and I’ve linked before to Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot blog at Salon. (Smith’s latest post, from two days ago, brings news that the TSA, in a rare loosening of security rules, is allowing airlines to hand out plastic kiddie wings again.) I would like here to bring to your attention a longer piece Smith has written.

The over-riding theme of Smith’s essay is that the heightened airport security rules of the past decade have more to do with us and our fears than with heightened dangers in the sky, a point he makes by reviewing a series of pre-9/11 air crimes starting in 1970. One of the longer stories in the essay is a recounting of Smith’s experience with TSA officials when they find in his bag the standard knife that his airline distributes to first- and business-class customers on the plane itself.

Much of what Smith says will be familiar. And exasperating. Yet, it is worth reading as an excellent overview of the madness of contemporary security theater. Here’s a passage about the limits on carrying liquids through security that got my attention.

The three-once container rule is silly enough — after all, what’s to stop somebody from carrying several small bottles each full of the same substance — but consider for a moment the hypocrisy of TSA’s confiscation policy. At every concourse checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away. The agency seems to be saying that it knows these items are harmless, but it’s going to steal them anyway and either you accept it or you don’t fly.

Yes, of course! The TSA isn’t serious. They don’t actually think your liquids are dangerous. But they’re going to mechanically apply the rule that you can’t carry too large a container on, then throw your confiscated, non-dangerous container in the trash. What better example is there that this is pure theater?

Categories: Security, Travel

Hall of Fame Vote, II

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven

I wrote Monday night about this year’s baseball Hall of Fame candidates, in anticipation of yesterday’s announcement of the results. You can see the complete voting here.

No surprises. As was widely expected, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were inducted. That Alomar wasn’t elected last year, in his initial year of eligibility, never made sense, except in the context of the famous and uncharacteristic 1996 spitting incident. But how does Alomar go from 8 votes short of induction last year to getting about 90 votes more than needed this year? How do dozens of voters come to the conclusion in parallel that as one of the three or five greatest second basemen in history, he should be inducted as soon as possible, but not too soon, so let’s make him wait a year?

Anyway, he’s in, as is Blyleven as the culmination of fourteen years of gradually building support. Alas, the two players I argued for the other night — Edgar Martinez in his second year on the ballot and Larry Walker in his first — didn’t come close. Edgar fell back a bit, named on just under a third of the ballots, a drop of a little more than 3%. Walker was named on only 20% of the ballots, not a promising start. Steroids aren’t an issue with either of them, but each has a fatal flaw: Edgar was a DH for most of his career; Walker played in Coors Field (a hitter’s paradise) during his greatest years.

At the other extreme, former Mariner Bret Boone received one vote in his first (and last) year on the ballot. I think the overly strict standards being applied by many voters are inane. But this might just be even more inane. By what possible definition of Hall of Famer can Boone make the cut?

As for applying overly strict standards, Joe Posnanski comments on the logical outcome in his latest piece, The Willie Mays Hall of Fame. I don’t want to spoil the punchline, so I won’t say more about it. I just wish we could focus on the baseball and not on so-called moral issues that voters somehow are presumed to have the ability to judge.

Categories: Baseball