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    安全第一

    There’s so much information lacking about the port-rental-connected-to-UAE-holding-company thing that I figure I’ll let everyone else rupture a few arteries and decide what I think when we actually know what we’re talking about.

    While the subject is raw, however, Peggy Noonan has some great points to make about security concerns:

    It is almost five years since 9/11, and since the new security regime began. Why hasn’t it gotten better? Why has it gotten worse? It’s a disgrace, this airport security system, and it’s an embarrassment. I’m sure my Englishman didn’t come away with a greater respect or regard for America.

    So we’re all talking about port security this week, and the debate over the Bush administration decision to allow United Arab Emirates company to manage six ports in the United States. That debate is turning bitter, and I wonder if the backlash against President Bush isn’t partly due to the fact that everyone in America has witnessed or has been a victim of the incompetence of the airport security system. Why would people assume the government knows what it’s doing when it makes decisions about the ports? It doesn’t know what it’s doing at the airports.

    This is a flying nation. We fly. And everyone knows airport security is an increasingly sad joke, that TSA itself often appears to have forgotten its mission, if it ever knew it, and taken on a new one–the ritual abuse of passengers.

    Now there’s a security problem. Solve that one.

    Yeah, or how about learning to be competent at both? I’m one of those people who usually find the great machines that keep our civilization going inspiring and exhilarating. Turning me off to something like flying is a major undertaking. But nowadays there are few experiences more dispiriting than taking off for the airport.

    Of course, JFK has always been a horrible place–especially so if you’ve got a lot of airports in other countries to compare it to, but plenty crappy on its own terms. Still, it’s only gotten worse since 9/11. Like Noonan, I seem to win (?) the wand-down lottery frequently, though whether it’s because of my Irish-sounding name and non-menacing slightness of build I don’t pretend to know.

    I don’t pretend to enjoy it, either, but frequently the fact that the people doing the extra-special sweeps go out of their way to be nice and seem to care about being methodical at least restores your faith that someone gives a damn. (Yes, I’m cynically aware that they’re probably under orders not to get you riled up, but you take what you can get.) I don’t know of other facility that can match JFK for sheer blasé surliness, but all the other hubs I’ve been through in the last several years have managed to leave a similar impression of high-handedness combined with slackness.

    8 Responses to “安全第一”

    1. John Mahoney says:

      Sean,

      I’ve been flying between Boston and San Fran every week for the past 18 months and have never had a problem with security. I mean, I don’t think they do any good and it’s all for show, but they are always nice to me.

      I have however found they like biz travelers like me who know what to do (shoes off, watch off, laptop out of the bag, jacket off, put your cell phone in your carry on bag, etc.) Violate any of these rules and they become enraged.

      John

    2. tanoki says:

      No one pretends to enjoy the uncomfortable rituals we’re forced to go through at airports now. But we still do it. And it’s still important.

      Noonan writes a fluent account of how uncomfortable and oppressive the post-9/11 airport system is (replete, even, with hyperbolic references to 1960’s East Germany and a “dictatorship of the clerks” dropped in for effect), but she does a palpably bad job of supporting her claim that the system is a failure. Why is it incompetent? Because she had a flight to get to in 45 minutes and security should have been sensitive to the fact that she would miss her plane unless they whisk her to the gate? She was the one late to the airport. And the guy who lost his lighter? That really is too bad, but remember that little problem with box cutters a number of years back? We probably didn’t think those could achieve much either, until…

      I’m sorry that Noonan had such a bad day at the airport. That’s really too bad. But if it’s a choice between lots of Noonans having bad days and a couple more jets smashing into office buildings full of innocent people, I’ll choose the former–in a heartbeat.

    3. tanoki:

      “Why is it incompetent?”

      It’s incompetent because it’s clear to anyone with half a brain that the screeners are only being mindful of things they know they’ll either get chewed out for or lose their jobs over. It’s perfectly obvious when you go through security that no one you encounter is being counted on to use individual initiative to identify possible threats. There’s clearly a list of shibboleths that everyone is brainwashed to look out for, so if you learn what they are, you just make sure you don’t violate them and affect the same expression as every innocent traveler who’s thinking, Damn–did I remember to take my Swiss Army knife out of my carry-on?

    4. John:

      “I have however found they like biz travelers like me who know what to do (shoes off, watch off, laptop out of the bag, jacket off, put your cell phone in your carry on bag, etc.) Violate any of these rules and they become enraged.”

      Right. It’s all, entirely, 100% predictable. In my experience of late, they just say, “I suggest you remove your shoes in order to speed your transit” or something else fake-highfalutin to indicate that it’s your choice whether you put your shoes through on the conveyor belt but it really isn’t, but the idea’s the same. Since the shoe bomber, you know your shoes will be checked.

      Whenever I go home, I have my laptop and cell phone and things on me, so I have the rest of the routine down, too. I put my phone and iPod and keys and coin purse into my camera bag, I take my laptop out of its case, and if I’m wearing a belt with a sizable buckle, I put that in the bin that goes through the bag scanner, too. Nothing ever gets a look-see of any kind. As I say, it’s clear that if you put on the barest veneer of cooperating on the things that are very obviously going to cause problems, you’re not going to be bothered further. How much energy does it take terrorists with a learning curve to figure that out? The problem isn’t that the system is inherently polite or rude, it’s that anyone can figure out exactly what he needs to do to slide through without any hassle. That’s not the way to defeat terrorists.

    5. tanoki says:

      Sean:

      It’s incompetent because it’s clear to anyone with half a brain that the screeners are only being mindful of things they know they’ll either get chewed out for or lose their jobs over.

      I suppose I must have been shorted half a brain, then, because it’s not “clear” to me (rhetorical devices such as “it’s clear” and “it’s perfectly obvious” [see below], by the way, are generally bright red flags that the person making the argument doesn’t have factual support to back his claim.) Do you really purport to know what these screeners are “mindful” of? I certainly wish I had that ability. Or perhaps you’ve spoken to TSA agents and so have information about what is running through their minds as their go about their work.

      It’s perfectly obvious when you go through security that no one you encounter is being counted on to use individual initiative to identify possible threats.

      Again, pure conjecture. It’s not “obvious” to me.

      There’s clearly a list of shibboleths that everyone is brainwashed to look out for, so if you learn what they are, you just make sure you don’t violate them and affect the same expression as every innocent traveler who’s thinking, Damn–did I remember to take my Swiss Army knife out of my carry-on?

      More rhetoric. I’m sure there is a “list” of some specific things TSA wants its employees to look out for. Why wouldn’t there be? But to move from that logical assumption to the broader claim that the TSA agents “only” look out for those and that if you “only” avoid violating that narrow list, you are as good as on the plane is simply not supported by fact. It’s also not the type of argumentation I would expect from you, Sean.

    6. 安全第一 (And I’m sure I agree!)

      Huh? What’s the above title mean? I really don’t know, because I don’t understand Japanese. But hey, I guess I’ll just write a post about it anyway. Sean Kinsell (who wrote the above title) reminded me of something I know…

    7. Dude, you can’t prove anything conclusive with an anecdote or three–fine. I agree, of course. But, after all, when I’m writing about the Japanese Self-Defense Force, I don’t rehash, from principle 1, all my reasons for believing that the Japan-US military alliance is good for both countries.

      The reason I use words such as clear and obvious in this case might be more…erm…apparent if you got the regular updates from the TSA that I get through the US Embassy here. Take a look at this back-and-fill fest of a holiday travelers’ advisory (which I was moved to post about at the time). Take a look at the TSA website as a whole. One of the most prominent links is to a page called Am I wearing the right shoes? (Answer: No, honey–if you keep clomping around in those Birks, you’ll never find a good man to take care of you).

      Now think about what’s missing: anything about how we ordinary travelers can protect ourselves if an emergency arises. If I’ve looked at the TSA website once in the last few years, I’ve looked at it a hundred times, and if there’s anything there beyond…

      Be Vigilant… and report any suspicious person or package to local authorities or TSA personnel.

      …I’ve yet to find it. There’s an airy leave-it-to-the-professionals tone and a strong sense that the TSA is hung up on the idea that every terrorist will operate like the Shoe Bomber. But experience says that passengers are most likely going to have to defend themselves if there’s an incident mid-air. Why not acknolwedge that and them a sense of where to secure children and the infirm, what cabin fittings can be used for improvised weapons or projectiles, and so on? Again, if any such information is buried on the TSA website, it’s eluded me beautifully.

      See what I mean? The TSA seems to regard pre-boarding security screening as the be-all and end-all of passenger safety, but everyone at this late date knows it isn’t. And all the officious huffing and puffing about perfect adherence to procedure is undermined by the bad scores airport screeners get when inspected.

    8. This regulation would basically call for a house whole lot dimension of 11.5
      acres and also would set you back over $10,000 even more each home create to fulfill the demands…..

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