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He had a little jar of honey

First you need this:

ab

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins

Bin Laden has won, in airports of the world every day. I had a little jar of honey, now thrown away by rule-bound dundridges. STUPID waste.

The tragedy!!!!!

Wait, some dismal pedant might object, what about starvation in Somalia and malnutrition in Bangladesh? Is it really worth an all-caps STUPID for a little jar of honey? When if it’s really that important you can always just check the bag?

IT’S A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE!!!!!!

abc

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins

Do you idiots seriously think I give a damn about my stupid honey? It’s the PRINCIPLE I care about. Get it? Principle, not honey, principle.

Vanilla Rose @MsVanillaRose

@RichardDawkins Oh. And @rebeccawatson not wanting creeps hitting on her in lifts is *not* a matter of PRINCIPLE? #DoubleStandards

 Now you need Doubting Tom’s Dear Muslimo. You have to go there to read the whole thing because it’s only right, but here’s how it ends:

But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor British brothers have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, he calls himself “Richard Dawkins,” and do you know what happened to him? A TSA security agent took away his jar of honey. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He took his jar of honey. Of course he protested, and of course he knew the preexisting security rules, but even so . . .

And you, Muslimo, think you have inconvenience, intrusion, and harassment to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Tom

Oh my stupid honeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey.

Update

Via @BoingBoing

EXCLUSIVE: Photograph of Richard Dawkins at TSA screening point.

Embedded image permalink

Comments

  1. says

    Does Dawkins really not understand yet that there’s a wide swath of the world who will not forget “Dear Muslima”? Does he really not understand that as long as he continues to decline to address it himself and apologize for the thoughtlessness of the comments and the enormity of what they spawned, a great many of those people will continue to address it at every appropriate opportunity and some that aren’t? How hard can this really be to figure out?

  2. HappyNat says

    Seriously he can’t get anymore tone deaf can he? The principle matters when he wants to take a sweat treat on a plane, not when it applies to other people. Cant wait to see what his defenders say . . .actually I think I’ll skip that.

  3. Al Dente says

    Remember that Dawkins thought that being propositioned in an elevator was similar to him having to share an elevator with someone chewing bubblegum. He’s not going to apologize for the Dear Muslima letter because he still doesn’t recognize his own sexism. Plus he now carries a grudge against Rebecca for her being so rude as to not recognize the greatness that is Richard Dawkins.

  4. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    Festivus came early this year! Instead of feats of strength we had a feat of privilege.

  5. zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait says

    I can’t help but hear that condescending, pitying, Curryish line from Rocky Horror:

    “Oh, honey…”

    Seriously though, he might be able to make the point that our security state is absurd and disgusting, but his baffling inability to consider how inconsistent he is amazes me. It’s sad that Dawkins is such a twit, after all his speeches on the importance of open mindedness and looking for evidence and reason, being good without god, etc.

    Ick.

  6. Nentuaby says

    … really? It’s offensive that TSA security theatre ticks Dawkins off? TSA security theater is offensive and demeaning. The jar of honey, acknowledgedly petty in and of itself, stands in synecdoche for the whole foul affair.

    Like, Dawk’s an asshole, I get that– but what’s the problem here? He’s angry about something other than the one worst thing? That’s the kind of complaint the Slimepit levels at us.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    He’s angry about something other than the one worst thing?

    If not “Hee” then “spoing”.

  8. Jayne Hunter says

    I’m an atheist and I really appreciate Dawkins. I’ve enjoyed and learnt so much from his books and lectures, he’s not perfect, obviously, but I get what he’s saying here. He travels a good deal more than most of us, and we’ve all heard how tiresome and irritating the increased security at airports is becoming. It’s ok if he gets down and annoyed by it occasionally, isn’t it? He’s only human, and spends his life a good deal more usefully than I and most other people ever will. Jayne

  9. Draconaes says

    @13, Jayne Hunter
    Agreed. All he has to do is not be a hypocrite about it and we’re golden. Let me know once that happens.

  10. zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait says

    Everyone commenting to say that the TSA is invasive, annoying, and awful:

    It is, it’s wrong, and foolish.

    The problem is that Dawkins, who has blacklisted a fellow atheist for saying “guys don’t do that” because being propositioned on an elevator is no big deal compared to FGM or not having the right to drive, is now complaining about losing his honey and saying that because of this Bin Laden has won.

    It’s patently absurd, and ignores the reality that as a white dude he gets the absolute best possible TSA treatment. He isn’t getting, for example, “randomly selected” for extra screening.

    And yet he doesn’t see his own hypocrisy. Women need to shut up about everything, but we need to listen to even his most minor complaint.

    Or to quote Lebowski: Dawkins isn’t wrong, he’s just an asshole.

    (Though the Bin Laden thing is hyperbole if anything is!)

  11. says

    The problem, in addition to the rank hypocrisy (which was hypocrisy when he first penned Dear Muslima, and is merely compounded now–and again, with regard to his dismissal of child molestation), is that he keeps stoking the fires of Islamophobia that fuel this kind of security theater. The problem is that he didn’t seem to consider it a problem until it affected him directly, and still doesn’t seem to have extrapolated the conclusion that security theater in general is bad, or that others face greater intrusions than the wasteful discarding of a jar of honey. The problem is that he’s defended Sam Harris’s “thought experiment” on racial profiling as though it were a pure hypothetical and not the reality faced by many actual human people who are as harmless as his jar of bee vomit.

  12. Stacy says

    @Nentuaby and @Jayne Hunter –

    We agree with Dawkins that “TSA security theater is offensive and demeaning.” Read the “Dear Muslimo” link, and Tom Foss’s comment at #16, to understand why we’re criticizing him here.

    (If that doesn’t ring a bell, well, Google “Dear Muslima.” It’s–a long story.)

  13. Jason Dick says

    Don’t forget ineffective, Stacy. Offensive, demeaning, and ineffective.

    But yes, the tone deafness of Dawkins to similar arguments presented by others is grating.

  14. Richard Smith says

    C’mon, everyone, give poor Dawkins a break! All he’s doing is saying, “Hey, TSA, don’t do that.” What kind of person objects to a simple suggestion like that..?

  15. A. Noyd says

    zhuge (#15)

    It’s patently absurd, and ignores the reality that as a white dude he gets the absolute best possible TSA treatment.

    Right? I’d like to see Dawkins make that complaint in front of this dude. Even if Bin Laden won, people like Dawkins (or me) aren’t the ones who lost.

  16. theoreticalgrrrl says

    @Nentuaby

    He absolutely has a right to be annoyed by what happened, but so did Rebecca Watson. She didn’t deserve the screed leveled at her by Dawkins, and the constant harassment and abuse she’s put up with since for saying she felt uncomfortable being hit on alone in an elevator by a complete stranger.

    It’s the double-standard that people are pointing out. Ophelia gets this same bullshit. For example this comment on her blog from one of the “slimepitters”:

    “By all means spend a lifetime rewriting conference codes, decrying sexist language or debating drunk sex. Just don’t expect anybody much to give a damn or take you as seriously as someone saving lives and risking all for a selfless cause.

    “The lack of proportional awareness displayed by certain SJ celebrities leads to Dear Muslima style push backs.”
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/10/thats-a-doesnt-follow-if-i-ever-saw-one/

    Because fighting sexism and discussing consent issues and harassment of women are totally trivial issues, there are people DYING out there. Dawkins loses his jar of honey? Bin Laden wins!

  17. brucegorton says

    I actually see his point – and agree with it. The paranoia that has infected a large chunk of the world following 9/11 was pretty much what Bin Laden wanted to achieve, so it is reasonable to say he ended up winning.

    One could say the same thing with much larger abuses such as the US becoming a country noted for torture, or the generally dismissive attitude Americans tend to take to the rights of non-Americans.

    Heck America is so dismissive over the rights of others now that I don’t think it even registered a blip in the US when it detained Tokyo Sexwale recently as a ‘terrorist’ for his role in the downfall of Apartheid.

    I think it is important to deal with the content of the complaints rather than the character of the complainer. The fact that Dawkins wrote Dear Muslima? Doesn’t mean that he is wrong to complain about airport security.

    I mean, I hold very much to the idea that the fact that somebody is a terrorist doesn’t automatically mean he or she doesn’t have basic human rights or the right to complain when they are violated.

    The fact that Dawkins has said some unfortunate things in past, doesn’t change the validity of what he is saying now.

    And the problem I have with this post is very similar to the problem I had with Dawkins’ Dear Muslima letter, the fact that it essentially ends up dismissing ‘micro-aggressions’. This is the same attitude, with a lot of similar defences.

  18. sonderval says

    Actually, I think one could as easily have written a “dear Muslima”-parody back then based on “You know what happened to him? Some people do not believe his scientific theory.”

  19. says

    I don’t think that anybody defends TSA and other countries’ security theatre. Please, somebody let me know if anybody actually does.
    The point is that something very small happened to Dawkins.
    Something very small that he was actually able to prevent by putting the honey in his luggage.
    Yes, it is a stupid rule, but hell, it’s in effect and that means if you want to play along you’ve got to play along the rules.
    But no, Richard Dawkins throws a temper tantrum.
    Which would still be kind of OK. People need to vent, I think we all get that.
    What makes it hilarious is that this is the same RD who dismissed the complaints of a woman about a small but not quite as small thing as a jar of honey for a rich westerner as “zero bad” and then went on to write a very condescending (and quite racist) comment infamously known as “Dear Muslima”.
    He can’t have it both ways.
    Oh, wait, he thinks he can. Those uppity women just need to shut up when rich white dudes have REAL manly man problems.

  20. Silentbob says

    I think a lot of worthwhile points have been made in this thread (particularly by Tom Foss @16), but I don’t like the OP much.

    A lot of the humour (in the OP, SC’s quote @10, the Winnie the Pooh cartoon) completely misses the mark. It’s predicated on the idea that Dawkins is in a snit because he lost his precious honey pot. But I don’t think that’s his point at all.

    He didn’t mention the honey because he thinks it’s important, but for precisely the opposite reason – because it’s so trivial. If you’re going to illustrate the absurdity, paranoia, wastefulness and pointlessness of a set of rules and regulations, what better example than an elderly, atheist, Oxford biology professor being relieved of his little jar of honey in the name of “security”.

    @ 24 Giliell

    Yes, it is a stupid rule, but hell, it’s in effect and that means if you want to play along you’ve got to play along the rules.

    I’m surprised you would make this argument. So if it’s a rule you should just play along and not complain?

    (NO, I am not comparing misogynistic attacks on bodily autonomy with the loss of a little honey. I’m saying that in principle (yes, principle!) the above quote is a poor argument.)

  21. says

    Silentbob
    It is a stupid little rule.
    It seriously doesn’t really infringe on your freedom apart from being a bit mindful when you pack your stuff.
    And yes you just DID compare women being robbed of their bodily autonomy to RD having to remember where to put his honey.
    Context matters. He knew the stupid rules, he either decided that they don’t apply to him or he just forgot about the honey.
    You either try and change the rules, or you pull a stunt to shed light on the absurdity of them, or you simply accept that you fucked up and accept the consequences, especially when it’s something that small.
    And unless you missed it, I’m even sympathetic to whining about it, but not when it’s coming from Richard “Dear Muslima” Dawkins.

  22. says

    silentbob

    what better example than an elderly, atheist, Oxford biology professor being relieved of his little jar of honey in the name of “security”.

    What better way to illustrate what “privilege” is when the absurdity only becomes apparent when it’s a richt white guy?

  23. brucegorton says

    And another thing – if you are going to do a blog post on this you should at least headline it “Here comes Dawkins’ honey boo-boo”.

  24. opposablethumbs says

    Hey, TSA, don’t do that.

    This. I agree. Dawkins makes a fair comment; microaggressions and micro-harassment matter.

    But Dawkins won’t get targeted and piled on and harassed and outright threatened for years for saying it. And it’s a micro-harassment that he and others like him can easily avoid.

    But oddly enough I’m not holding my breath waiting for him to apologise for lending his high status and very considerable weight to the ongoing harassment of someone who very mildly pointed out a type of microaggression – dismissal of personal autonomy – that impacts at least half the world’s population and which, because it is predicated not on anything they do but on who they are, they cannot avoid.

  25. latsot says

    Perhaps I’m being too charitable (not something I’m often accused of :) and I haven’t been one to defend Dawkins of late, but I thought he was joking (in his inimitably tin-eared way) about his honey in order to show the absurdity of security theatre. Of course having your honey confiscated is stupid and of course it’s not really much of an inconvenience. It’s stupid, it’s pointless and it’s not making anyone any safer. Pointing out trivialities can be a good way to show the foolishness of hasty, blanket rules and perhaps that’s what he was doing here. Perhaps that’s what he meant about principle: the idea that measures supposedly making people safer are just making things a little bit shitter.

    Isn’t that the point? And isn’t that sort of stupidity worth getting angry about? I don’t think he was whining about honey, I think he was angry about stupidity.

    Perhaps the point would have been better made if he’d started by being jokingly outraged about his honey and highlighting the absurdity, then moved on to people who have it harder, such as people travelling with babies and the horror stories we’ve all heard (and in some cases experienced) about that.

    Or perhaps he really was just having a conniption about his honey and is himself a whining baby, I don’t know.

    I think the Dear Muslimo post was valid in either case. Rebecca pointed out a relatively trivial incident (see endnote) – although it would certainly not be trivial to everyone – as an example of a pervasive attitude that is certainly not trivial.

    I think Dawkins was doing a superficially similar sort of thing in these tweets. Dear Muslimo seems spot on and well-timed.

    NOTE: I mean ‘relatively trivial’ in the sense that lots of examples of bad attitudes seem trivial in themselves, largely because of the fact that those attitudes exist in the first place. I’m not saying that being frightened in a lift is trivial at all and I’m not comparing terror to lack of honey. I’m also not saying that Rebecca’s point was really all that similar to Dawkins’. Dawkins was (perhaps) talking about absurdity in rules. Rebecca was talking about a pernicious and pervasive attitude that exists regardless of rules. I’m just saying that the strategy is kind of similar. And in my view, that’s why Dear Muslimo is so apt.

  26. says

    He didn’t mention the honey because he thinks it’s important, but for precisely the opposite reason – because it’s so trivial. If you’re going to illustrate the absurdity, paranoia, wastefulness and pointlessness of a set of rules and regulations, what better example than an elderly, atheist, Oxford biology professor being relieved of his little jar of honey in the name of “security”.

    The examples mentioned in “Dear Muslimo,” perhaps. But the point isn’t that he chose to illustrate a problem with a personal example that doesn’t happen to be the worst example, but that he did so after not only publicly attacking a woman for discussing a personal case of a larger issue but allowing that attack to encourage a spate of harassment, abuse, and threats. It’s also the case that Rebecca Watson doesn’t make a practice of dismissing the concerns of women facing greater violations or encouraging bigotry such that “Yes, you’re the real victim of misogyny” would make sense as a retort to the proportionate “Guys, don’t do that”; Dawkins, though, as someone noted above, does tend to push the very fears about and prejudices against Muslims that contribute to this system (particularly through RTing and promoting some of Sam Harris’ most unfortunate screeds) and ignore those more victimized, but then becomes morally outraged when it affects him personally.

  27. carlie says

    Has Dawkins ever made any statement regarding security theater until it directly affected him in a tiny way, rather than all of the other people it’s affected in major ways (for example, at A. Noyd’s link at 20)? I don’t recall him ever caring about it before. Yet now, that he’s lost one tiny thing, “Bin Laden has won”. If you don’t care about his hypocrisy regarding his previous statements, think about that for a minute – he knows he has a huge bully pulpit, but it wasn’t worth it to him to use it to complain about the vast privacy and liberty violations TSA regs cause until… he got a five dollar item taken away.

  28. Brian E says

    when it’s a richt white guy?

    Richt as in richtig? He’s right as far as the privileged and powerful are concerned. But maybe you meant rich? I found the idea of apposition of the German (I think) word or prefix for right with Dawkins funny, even though it was probably unintended.

  29. thetalkingstove says

    Of course having your honey confiscated is stupid and of course it’s not really much of an inconvenience. It’s stupid, it’s pointless and it’s not making anyone any safer

    Yeah, but the blanket rule is that you don’t take liquids on board an aeroplane.
    Airports are busy places, and security staff don’t have time to do investigations for individual cases.

    I wonder, what would Dawkins say if a Muslim man, for example, were able to board a plane with a large vial of unmarked liquid? Would he be fine with that?

    Basically he just wants special treatment.

  30. latsot says

    but that he did so after not only publicly attacking a woman for discussing a personal case of a larger issue but allowing that attack to encourage a spate of harassment, abuse, and threats.

    Yeah, there is that. That’s why I don’t defend Dawkins of late and presumably – I’ve just realised this – why I now seem to call him “Dawkins” instead of “Richard” these days.

    He has a lot to answer for and frustratingly doesn’t. I stand by my earlier point about what I personally thought he was saying in these particular tweets, but I’d also expect him to pick up on the Muslimo comment and engage with it. I’d hope that he could admit what is obviously hypocrisy or insensitivity or both on his part. Or at least acknowledge that there’s something substantial to answer to and present a counter-argument.

    But he never seems to do that.

    People expect that sort of thing of *me* and I’m just some random dickhead on the Internet. Am I wrong to expect more of people who have a platform?

  31. latsot says

    Basically he just wants special treatment.

    I’m not defending Dawkins at all, but I don’t get where he’s demanding special treatment.

  32. JennyB says

    hang on a second.. there’s only 1 being in the whole universe i know who would be so upset at losing a jar of honey, which leads me to the only possible conclusion and that is.. Dawkins must really be Winnie the Pooh in disguise, either that or i could be bluring the lines between reality and fiction again :D

  33. says

    At the very least, this shows how little common sense Dawkins has. All you have to do is make sure the lid is on tight, and pack it in your checked baggage, in a sealed ziploc with your clothes around it for good measure. My fiancee and I have taken medicines, shampoo, soap, mouthwash and even rum on planes, with…if you’ll pardon the expression…”zero bad.”

    The paranoia that has infected a large chunk of the world following 9/11 was pretty much what Bin Laden wanted to achieve, so it is reasonable to say he ended up winning.

    If some of the rules that arose from 9/11 served to prevent other terrorist incidents, then no, it’s not at all “reasonable” to say Bin Laden ended up winning. I really don’t think he did all that hard work and planning just to make flying a bit less convenient than it already was. Seriously, this “OMG I’m suffering all this inconvenience therefore the terrorists have won!” whinery is getting a bit tired. Not to mention laughably self-important.

    Heck America is so dismissive over the rights of others now that I don’t think it even registered a blip in the US when it detained Tokyo Sexwale recently as a ‘terrorist’ for his role in the downfall of Apartheid.

    And this is related to Dawkins’ minor loss…how?

    I think it is important to deal with the content of the complaints rather than the character of the complainer.

    And the content of this complaint is pure crap — plenty of people manage to take all kinds of legal stuff on planes with no serious trouble or subterfuge.

    The fact that Dawkins wrote Dear Muslima? Doesn’t mean that he is wrong to complain about airport security.

    No, but the fact that he’s acting like a selfish and shortsighted child means his complaints are less credible.

    I mean, I hold very much to the idea that the fact that somebody is a terrorist doesn’t automatically mean he or she doesn’t have basic human rights or the right to complain when they are violated.

    What “human right” did Dawkins lose here?

    The fact that Dawkins has said some unfortunate things in past, doesn’t change the validity of what he is saying now.

    No, but they do affect his credibility.

  34. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    I absolutely agree that the airport nonsense is a pain in the ass. If I ever want to fly on a budget airline where checking a bag costs half as much as the actual seat so wish to avoid, then sorting out a weekend wash kit becomes a major inconvenience! Not sure that it’s a special treatment thing as complaining about an annoyance.

    Then again, Richard Dawkins has said some spectacularly ill-judged things too. Maybe I’m too tolerant (plus being white, English, male – the usual suspects). I do kind of wince a bit when my mid-70s-year-old mother comes out with certain things, and I get the same uncomfortable reaction from RD’s less considered statements. I’d say that neither are quite “post-Colonial” yet, if that makes sense. There’s an old-style English/British mentality that is stamped all over these statements. And yes, a lot of those comedic stereotypes of “stiff upper lip” and “giving Johnny Foreigner a good hiding” have a large kernel of truth in them.

    Obviously the big problem with RD’s slips is that he’s in a position of influence and has a very wide international audience. Rather awkward, really.

  35. says

    The thing is, as it so frequently is with Dawkins these days, the little personal anecdote about confiscated honey would make a great beginning to an article or post or book chapter about the ridiculous excesses of security theater, the ways that harmless things (and people) are assumed to be harmful, and that effort and energy is wasted on pointless ritual that is about as effective at keeping us safe as prayer is. It could have led to a discussion of the arbitrariness of TSA regulations–why remove shoes and not underwear, why 3 oz of liquid and not 2 or 4?–and an examination of what evidence-based terror prevention would look like.

    Unfortunately for Dawkins, he chose to say it on Twitter, which makes such nuanced and long-form commentary difficult. It’s the same with his talk about child rape, which looks much more reasonable in context in The God Delusion, where he’s able to load the discussion with caveats and qualifications. If he’d done this in long-form, it wouldn’t have been the source of such ridicule. He would have been able to explain beyond “it’s the principle!” and “how much liquid do you need to blow up a plane?”

    Alas, he chose his medium poorly. It’s a wonder he hasn’t learned that lesson yet.

  36. brucegorton says

    @Raging bee

    And this is related to Dawkins’ minor loss…how?

    Tokyo Sexwale was detained because of fears of terrorism, the exact same reasoning behind detaining Dawkins’ honey. ‘Terrorism’. The two are very different in terms of degree, but end up with the same basic problem.

    All you need nine times out of ten to stop an American objecting to intrusive, not exactly productive, security measures is to say the word ‘terrorism.’

    Look at Sam Harris – why does he support racial profiling? Terrorism.

    Say that word and suddenly a fair chunk of Americans will accept it, particularly if the people it is targeted at aren’t Americans themselves. This includes small inconveniences and large civil rights intrusions.

    Those erode America’s relationship with the rest of the world. Spying on Europe does hurt America’s position with Europe, detaining Sexwale definitely has hurt America’s relationship with South Africa and consequently the continent, Gitmo hasn’t exactly endeared America to the Middle East…

    And these minor nuisances at the airport also have an affect. If Bin Laden intended to harm America he has succeeded. There is nothing too petty, nothing too major from officialdom to not have someone bring up the argument that if fights terrorism – and that is a problem.

    It is all part of that same thing. If one takes the thesis that Osama Bin Laden was out to harm America, these issues both petty and major demonstrate he succeeded.

  37. says

    For me, the thing is that he’s never apologized for “Dear Muslima” and “zero bad”; he’s never modified or withdrawn any of it; he’s explicitly refused to do so. It’s also that he’s done what he can to keep Rebecca away from events where he’ll be talking, as if she had done something bad to him instead of the other way around. It’s basically that he abused his status and influence to belittle a woman who had been an ally, and that his doing that triggered an avalanche of harassment against her and several of her friends, and that he has stood by for this entire 2.5 years and done nothing whatever to try to stop it. It’s that he’s shockingly, pathetically blind to the power differential between the two of them, or, if he’s not blind to it, he’s knowingly using it.

  38. says

    Tokyo Sexwale was detained because of fears of terrorism, the exact same reasoning behind detaining Dawkins’ honey.

    Um, no, a PERSON was detained because of suspected activities (rightly or not), a JAR OF LIQUID was confiscated (not “detained”) because it violated a certain rule (that may or may not make sense). They’re not the same at all, and your attempt to equate them is is just plain silly. Are you really trying to imply that the latter is remotely comparable to the former?

    Look at Sam Harris – why does he support racial profiling? Terrorism.

    What does that have to do with Dawkins’ honey boo-boo?

    This includes small inconveniences and large civil rights intrusions. Those erode America’s relationship with the rest of the world.

    The rule against liquids in carry-on luggage may or may not be appropriate, but how does it erode our relationship with the rest of the world? (And no, we’re not the only country doing it.) You relly need to stop conflating “small inconveniences and large civil rights intrusions” — it’s really making you sound silly and unserious. This post is about the former, not the latter.

  39. says

    And these minor nuisances at the airport also have an affect. If Bin Laden intended to harm America he has succeeded.

    If you really equate “minor nuisances at the airport” with “harming America,” then you really need to grow up.

  40. says

    …the little personal anecdote about confiscated honey would make a great beginning to an article or post or book chapter about the ridiculous excesses of security theater…

    Well, if you want to discuss the appropriateness of the particular rule that got up Daawkins’ nose, go right ahead and do it here. As I understand it, that rule (the limitation of liquids allowed in carry-on luggage) was intended to prevent people from bringing explosives or explosive ingredients (and, presumbaly, other poisons) onto planes and making crude bombs out of them. I’m not enough of a chemistry or explosives expert to have a firm opinion of whether that’s a sensible way to prevent certain terrorist attacks; but the rationale at least sounds plausible. And AFAIK, the inconvenience it causes passengers is pretty minor — all you have to do to avoid it is put those liquids in your checked baggage. If you want to complain about “security theatre,” there’s far worse instances of it to talk about. (What, for example, does Dawkins have to say to women’s complaints about the “porno-scans?” There’s been a recent spat about such images finding their way onto the ‘tubes.)

  41. Anthony K says

    The problem, in addition to the rank hypocrisy (which was hypocrisy when he first penned Dear Muslima, and is merely compounded now–and again, with regard to his dismissal of child molestation), is that he keeps stoking the fires of Islamophobia that fuel this kind of security theater. The problem is that he didn’t seem to consider it a problem until it affected him directly, and still doesn’t seem to have extrapolated the conclusion that security theater in general is bad, or that others face greater intrusions than the wasteful discarding of a jar of honey. The problem is that he’s defended Sam Harris’s “thought experiment” on racial profiling as though it were a pure hypothetical and not the reality faced by many actual human people who are as harmless as his jar of bee vomit.

    Really. He sure doesn’t like to sleep in the beds he makes, does he?

  42. says

    Yo Bruce could you not make snotty generalizations about “Americans”?

    And the liquids rule was triggered by a jihadist from the UK, and as Raging Bee says, it’s certainly not an exclusively US rule. The screeners at Dublin airport are a good deal stricter than US ones.

  43. says

    European countries were getting pissy about stuff like this long before 9/11. That’s because they’ve been dealing with persistent terrorist threats (homegrown as well as Islamist) long before we were. Ireland has the IRA, Spain had ETA, Germany had a smattering of loony-left wackjobs (a few of whom had help from the USSR), etc.

  44. brucegorton says

    #51 Ophelia Benson

    Fair and correct – of you. Sorry I was going a wee bit off the rails.

  45. says

    Raging Bee: the thing about security theater is that the rules all intuitively make sense. The question instead is whether or not they work, both in principle and in practice, to stop terrorist attacks. Bruce Schneier has written fairly extensively about both aspects, including (for instance) here, where he talks about the inconsistent and cavalier way that the fluid regulations are enforced. I’m reasonably certain it was Schneier who talked about boarding a plane with two large opaque bottles with “saline solution” written on them in Sharpie, on more than one occasion. If the rule is not applied consistently, it’s not going to be effective, and that’s even assuming that the 3oz fluid rule–with its existing exceptions for things like baby formula and saline solution–would be able to prevent any terrorist attacks, and I don’t know how warranted that assumption is. And as someone suggested in jest to Dawkins on Twitter yesterday, it’s not exactly difficult to swallow a couple of condoms or balloons full of fluid and pass them in the airplane bathroom.

    “Does the fluid rule prevent any terrorism” is a worthwhile question to ask, and one I don’t know the answer to. “Is the safety allowed by the fluid rule sufficient to justify the inconvenience, intrusion, and waste” is another worthwhile question. The balance between security, liberty, and privacy is a difficult one to strike, but isn’t helped by assuming that any seemingly small inconvenience or intrusion is warranted so long as it might conceivably prevent terrorism.

  46. deepak shetty says

    @Tom Foss @44
    In this case it’s not the fault of the medium – it’s easy to recognize the ridiculousness of some TSA policies and the use of trivial items like honey underscores it. I am forever grateful that the british wannabe terrorist hid explosives in his shoes instead of his ass (or arse).

    However this does present a great opportunity to write a Dear Richard – The racial profiling that muslims routinely face is nothing compared to the inconvenience you faced.

    In another world we would be agreeing with Dawkins on TSA policy but the lack of introspection on his part is, well disappointing, to put it mildly.

  47. brucegorton says

    Anyway a lot of my position on this comes from articles like the following:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=tsa-dumb-security-rules-not-science-based

    The article essentially argues that a lot of the rules set out to stop terrorism are arbitrary and only really serve to make things inconvenient – essentially acting as theatre.

    This I think is the case because when you add terrorism to the equation arguments tend to fall by the wayside. This I think does extend to much larger concerns, creating a climate where those concerns are easily set aside because ‘terrorism.’

  48. theoreticalgrrrl says

    Richard Dawkins has every right to complain, to be annoyed by his experience based on the principle of the matter. He does, absolutely, no doubt. I recently had to fly, the first time since these rules were put into place, and while packing I was told I couldn’t bring deodorant, sunscreen, a small shampoo bottle with my carry-on luggage. I was a little annoyed, yes. That’s life, were human, things like that can be annoying. There’s nothing wrong with him tweeting about it, writing about it, making a video about it, or publicly complaining in any way.

    But like @46 Ophelia pointed out, Rebecca made a small comment about an uncomfortable situation that she briefly described in a video, and she even laughed a little as she recounted it because she obviously didn’t think it was the worse thing that has ever happened to womankind. But she has had to deal an enormous backlash since, including being nastily scolded by Dawkins, acting as if Rebecca was saying what happened to her was worse than genital mutilation and wife-beating, and Dawkins has treated her as persona non grata ever since. That’s just not right.

  49. says

    If the rule is not applied consistently, it’s not going to be effective…

    Yes, it can be effective, if it catches a few would-be terrorists. It just won’t be effective enough. Our child-sex-abuse laws aren’t consistently enforced either, but we still manage to catch a good number of abusers.

    And as someone suggested in jest to Dawkins on Twitter yesterday, it’s not exactly difficult to swallow a couple of condoms or balloons full of fluid and pass them in the airplane bathroom.

    Try doing that yourself before you tell us how easy it is. (And do you really know how long it takes something to travel the full length of your digestive tract?) People have died trying to smuggle drugs that way. And just because a certain rule can be circumvented by drastic action like that, doesn’t mean the rule is wrong or ineffective.

    The balance between security, liberty, and privacy is a difficult one to strike, but isn’t helped by assuming that any seemingly small inconvenience or intrusion is warranted so long as it might conceivably prevent terrorism.

    Actually, if you want to uphold basic rights, it’s pretty important to distinguish between minor inconveniences and actual violations of rights. I’ll be happy to leave a jar of honey in checked baggage, if that means a) my flight is less likely to get hijacked or blown up, and b) we can all pay more attention to REAL violations of privacy.

  50. says

    I recently had to fly, the first time since these rules were put into place, and while packing I was told I couldn’t bring deodorant, sunscreen, a small shampoo bottle with my carry-on luggage.

    Since when would you need either of those on a plane? The deodorant you can apply before you board, and the rest is just dead weight — there’s no good reason NOT to minimize the amount of dead weight you carry onto a plane.

    There’s nothing wrong with him tweeting about it, writing about it, making a video about it, or publicly complaining in any way.

    There is something wrong with acting like a selfish shortsighted child. It’s not illegal, of course, but that doesn’t make it right. (And is there anything wrong with us calling Dawkins a fucking idiot in response to his complaints?)

  51. Anthony K says

    Since when would you need either of those on a plane? The deodorant you can apply before you board, and the rest is just dead weight — there’s no good reason NOT to minimize the amount of dead weight you carry onto a plane.

    Wait, what? This can’t be an argument for putting these things in checked luggage: dead weight is dead weight whether it’s sitting in the belly of the Boeing or in an overhead compartment.

  52. Anthony K says

    I often travel with one bag – saves money on checked luggage and I don’t often travel for a long enough period to require a large bag.

    Me too. And you don’t have to worry about your luggage travelling to somewhere nicer than you.

  53. theoreticalgrrrl says

    @Raging Bee
    I only had one check-in bag and it was packed to the point of almost bursting. Do I really need to explain this?? I wasn’t complaining. Just annoyed I had to shove them in an already stuffed suitcase. Sheesh!
    It’s a trivial matter, I know. I’m not sure if you’re just trying to be silly now, Raging Bee. (How do you do an eye- rolling emoticon?)

  54. says

    Thanks, Bruce; no problem.

    The liquid rule is a huge pain in the ass, no question. I particularly hate being obliged to empty my water bottle before going through screening and then having a hell of a hard time finding a place to refill it once I’m through. Once when I was late boarding the Manchester-to-Chicago flight after QED, I didn’t have time to refill it, and then the flight attendant wouldn’t do it for me because I have no idea why. THAT pisses me off – planes are very dry, you need to rehydrate, and it’s better to have a bottle than to have to ask the flight attendants for more water all the time.

    But, Dear Muslima.

  55. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    He then added, “I will return, yes I will return, I’ll come back (he’ll come back) for the honey (for the honey) and you. Doo-doo-dodoooooooo.”

  56. rnilsson says

    Yeah, but he’s right about the honey, isn’t he?

    Probably a positive probability he’d sometimes be correct about the day of week too. That does not mean he’s right about everything he ever says. Or that he’s always saying it in a well-rounded, well-founded way without intended or actual malice. Or that he possesses the common courtesy to apologize when this is pointed out to him. Repeatedly. And all this has already been argued better, in this very thread.

    Oh, did you have a point to make? No limit of 140 char here, Dear Minnow.

    Sorry for trolling the depths.

  57. says

    I often travel with one bag – saves money on checked luggage…

    The proper renmedy for that would be to require all airfares to include at least one free checked bag per passenger. In addition to making it easier to comply with TSA rules, this measure would free up a lot of cargo space in the cabin, and make boarding safer (and easier) for both passengers and crew by reducing the number of huge suitcases that need to be hoisted into overhead compartments.

  58. says

    I have no problem with a “little” survival kit — my fiancee and I routinely take such things through TSA lines whenever we fly — including deodorants and small toothpaste tubes. It’s a pain in the ass, but our stuff very rarely gets confiscated, so I’m kind of wondering why it happened to Dawkins. Offhand, I’m guessing either his honey jar was too big, or there was a rule about transporting certain foods (that’s a question I always see on those immigration forms they hand me as my flight lands — including flights to and from the UK).

  59. says

    You do know that’d never fly with the airlines, yes? (Heh, pun.) They want to charge fliers for unchecked luggage and stuff as many people as possible in a sardine-can like configuration to make as much money as they can.

    They weren’t charging such fees in the past. They only started recently because of more cutthroat price competition: they have to keep their base price as low as possible to look good on sites like Priceline, and then they have to compensate by adding extra fees after you’ve committed, and cutting services and amenities.

  60. thetalkingstove says

    I’m not defending Dawkins at all, but I don’t get where he’s demanding special treatment.

    Well, perhaps ‘demanding special treatment’ is too harsh. But if we have the no liquids rule then it needs to be applied consistently. If a terrorist knows that honey can get on board, then that’s what they’d use to smuggle something on.

    If Dawkins wants to complain about the rule, he needs to demonstrate that it’s not necessary for everyone, not whine about how it was applied to him specifically.

    As I said in previous post, would he be fine with a Muslim-looking person waltzing onto his flight with a bottle full of mysterious liquid? Or would it be fine to stop that person, but for a white English Professor it’s clearly ridiculous?

  61. Anthony K says

    As I said in previous post, would he be fine with a Muslim-looking person waltzing onto his flight with a bottle full of mysterious liquid.

    ALL bottles full of mysterious liquids should be examined to ensure they’re not dissolved Nobel Prizes from Trinity College in suspension to be reconstituted later in some Yemeni academic award chop shop.

  62. says

    Raging Bee:

    Yes, it can be effective, if it catches a few would-be terrorists. It just won’t be effective enough. Our child-sex-abuse laws aren’t consistently enforced either, but we still manage to catch a good number of abusers.

    Child sex abusers are vastly more common than terrorists who try to hijack or destroy airplanes with dangerous liquids. When the number of true positives is already vanishingly tiny compared to the number of false positives, an application that increases false positives and false negatives is likely to drown out any actual effectiveness.

    Try doing that yourself before you tell us how easy it is. (And do you really know how long it takes something to travel the full length of your digestive tract?)

    Given a laxative or emetic? Not very long. But that’s just one option. Are TSA agents going to search a colostomy bag?

    People have died trying to smuggle drugs that way. And just because a certain rule can be circumvented by drastic action like that, doesn’t mean the rule is wrong or ineffective.

    If the rule can be so easily circumvented, then what protection does it allow?

    Actually, if you want to uphold basic rights, it’s pretty important to distinguish between minor inconveniences and actual violations of rights. I’ll be happy to leave a jar of honey in checked baggage, if that means a) my flight is less likely to get hijacked or blown up, and b) we can all pay more attention to REAL violations of privacy.

    And that calculus can be applied to any invasion. I’ll be happy to submit to porno scanners if they make it less likely to get hijacked or blown up, and focus on real violations of privacy like racial profiling. I’ll be happy to submit to racial profiling if they make it less likely to get hijacked or blown up, and we can pay attention to real violations of privacy like strip searches. There’s always a worse violation that we can point to to make the small violations seem insignificant and trivial. For my part, I’m not happy to submit to any inconvenient violation, trivial or not, that doesn’t actually have some underlying evidence to show that it has any significant effect on safety. So far as I’ve seen, the fluid rule is inconvenience for no substantial benefit. It’s like being forced to wear a garlic necklace on the off chance that it’ll ward off a vampire terrorist. It’s a mild inconvenience, but if there’s no underlying evidence to suggest that it has an effect, why should anyone be forced to do it?

    Intrusion and erosion of liberty by a thousand cuts is no less intrusive and limiting than doing it all at once, and the “it’s not a real violation, so suck it up” is the kind of precedent that slippery slopes are made of.

  63. Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy says

    Yes, an elderly Oxford professor. Neither being elderly nor being a professor means someone won’t be a terrorist, nor that they won’t unknowingly be carrying something dangerous that a friend or family member gave them. That’s aside from the assumption that the person at security already knew he was a professor: if I was an airport screener, and someone said that I shouldn’t take away his contraband because he was an Oxford professor (or a lawyer or doctor or other respectable profession) I would either ignore that or send them for extra screening, because what I see is someone who wants me to bend the rules for him. Which is exactly what someone who was trying to bring on dangerous contraband would ask.

    One problem with the current security theater approach is that it tends to let certain classes of people through as “obviously harmless.” A middle-sized terrorist organization is going to try to find someone who fits that description, if they want a bomb carried onto a plane. I wouldn’t want to bet 100 lives on the proposition that Al-Qaeda cannot find a light-skinned old man who wants a free ticket to heaven, or who hates a western government and figures he’ll be dead in a year anyway.

  64. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom @ #76: “… the fluid rule is inconvenience for no subsantial benefit.”

    Are you saying that the fluid rule has no CONCEIVABLE benefit?

    It strikes me that at some time in the past, the airlines, pilots organisations or whatever might have got a bunch of chemists and other such experts together and asked them to come up with novel ways in which suicidal terrorists might destroy planes in flight.

    Just on the basis of my own limited knowledge of chemistry, I can suggest ways it might be done, using liquids and/or gels.

  65. says

    There’s always a worse violation that we can point to to make the small violations seem insignificant and trivial.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, see the obvious differences between major and minor “invasions.” Nor does it mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, weigh the potential of saving lives against the inconvenience or loss of freedom caused, WRT each security rule under consideration. The rule against liquids in carry-ons, for example, may only drop the chance of a suicide-bombing from 2% to 1% — but since it’s lives at stake, and large numbers of travellers, that 1% difference becomes quite significant; and the remedy — packing your liquids in checked baggage — is not nearly as invasive as, say, a strip-search or an exhaustive analysis of what you’re really carrying.

    The latter two policies, OTOH, can be ruled out, both because they’re far more invasive, and because we’re already taking other precautions that make them superfluous.

  66. says

    @Omar Puhleez:

    Are you saying that the fluid rule has no CONCEIVABLE benefit?

    No, if I were saying that, I would have written it. What I said was that they need to demonstrate substantial benefit, that is, benefit significant enough to outweigh the cost.

    As far as I’m concerned, any security regulation has the following hurdles to overcome:
    1. In principle, does this regulation demonstrably reduce instances of terrorism?
    2. In practice, does this regulation demonstrably reduce instances of terrorism?
    3. Is the reduction of terrorism significant enough to outweigh the costs of the regulation (e.g., inconvenience, privacy invasion, waste of supplies, energy, time, money, manpower)?

    If a regulation doesn’t have evidence to establish that the answer to all three questions is “yes,” then it has no business being enacted. I can conceive of benefits to the fluid rule–it may be the case that 3oz of fluid/gel is a threshold below which it is difficult to make any kind of explosive, nerve agent, biological weapon, or other dangerous chemical that would present a threat to the crew or hull of a plane. It is almost certainly the case that forcing people to dump their drinks and toiletries will cause people to replace those items at a vastly inflated prices in the stores on the other side of the security lines (and if airlines want to adopt that rule in a way similar to movie theaters, fine, but don’t pretend it’s about safety). But my conception isn’t the same as actuality. Is there any evidence that the rule came about as the result of an evidence-based consultation with chemists and biological weapons specialists? I admit that I haven’t read everything Bruce Schneier has written, but I think it would have come up if that were the case. I can conceive of benefits to wearing magnetic wristbands and garlic necklaces too; it doesn’t mean those benefits exist to any substantial degree.

    And based on my own limited knowledge of chemistry, I can imagine putting a larger amount of fluid in my checked bag along with a fairly simple remote trigger mechanism. Plane’s just as breached in the cargo hold as it is in the cabin.

  67. says

    …the “it’s not a real violation, so suck it up” is the kind of precedent that slippery slopes are made of.

    Getting a jar of honey confiscated is not a “violation,” it’s an inconvenience — one Dawkins could easily have avoided if he’d used as many brain cells as shmoes like me have to use every time we get into a TSA queue.

  68. says

    Tom, what would you accept as evidence to support a “yes” answer to your questions?

    I can conceive of benefits to wearing magnetic wristbands and garlic necklaces too; it doesn’t mean those benefits exist to any substantial degree.

    Analogy FAIL. You’re actually comparing the reality of terrorism to vampires and alt-med woo? Sorry, that’s bullshit — I’ve seen the results of terrorism, but I have yet to see any real vampires; so your argument instantly loses credibility.

    And based on my own limited knowledge of chemistry, I can imagine putting a larger amount of fluid in my checked bag along with a fairly simple remote trigger mechanism.

    They have policies dealing with that possibility too. The existence of threat A does not invalidate a rule dealing with threat B.

  69. says

    Besides, this isn’t just about passengers’ rights, it’s also about the airlines’ rights and obligations: airlines have both a right to protect their property, and an obligation to protect their employees and their paying clients who enter their property.

  70. says

    That doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, see the obvious differences between major and minor “invasions.” Nor does it mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, weigh the potential of saving lives against the inconvenience or loss of freedom caused, WRT each security rule under consideration.

    What constitutes a major or minor invasion? You had issue with the “porno scanners,” but others would find that similarly minor. Is it a major invasion to force a nursing mother to drink from her bottle of breast milk to prove its identity?

    The rule against liquids in carry-ons, for example, may only drop the chance of a suicide-bombing from 2% to 1% — but since it’s lives at stake, and large numbers of travellers, that 1% difference becomes quite significant; and the remedy — packing your liquids in checked baggage — is not nearly as invasive as, say, a strip-search or an exhaustive analysis of what you’re really carrying.

    A reduction from 2% to 1% is a 50% reduction. That could be quite significant. But given that your odds of being killed in an airline terrorist attack are more like 0.0000096%, an unlikely one. Still, if the fluid rule could reduce that to 0.0000048%, it might still be worth it, I suppose. Is there any evidence that 50% of terror attacks are stopped by limiting non-medically-necessary fluids to 3oz in carry-on luggage? If not 50%, then what’s the lowest reduction that would be acceptable for that inconvenience? 20%? 10%? 0.0000001%? Might there be better uses of our resources and time?

    Your odds of being struck by lightning are considerably greater than being on an airplane that’s subject to a terrorist attack (about 0.0002%, or about 20 times greater). If I told you that you could reduce your risk of being struck by lightning by enduring the mild inconvenience of wearing rubber galoshes everywhere, would you do it? What amount of reduction would be sufficient before you threw out all your shoes?

  71. says

    And based on my own limited knowledge of chemistry…

    And that brings us to the central problem with your reasoning here: there’s a real threat here, and certain people are responsible for making and carrying out policies to anticipate and reduce that threat — so why should I think that your endless questionining — and demands for answers that satisfy your limited understanding of the situation — would really get us a better policy than the one already inflicted on us?

    Airline and TSA bigwigs need to be grilled and held accountable, of course — but the grilling should be done by people more knowledgeable than your or me, otherwise it won’t really help.

  72. says

    Analogy FAIL. You’re actually comparing the reality of terrorism to vampires and alt-med woo? Sorry, that’s bullshit — I’ve seen the results of terrorism, but I have yet to see any real vampires; so your argument instantly loses credibility.

    Fine then, wearing a chainmail undershirt to protect against knife-wirlding serial killers, or megadosing on vitamin C to prevent colds. But don’t overextend the analogy; its point was to illustrate how conceivable benefit doesn’t equate to actual benefit. The existence of the threat isn’t even the big factor; the factor is whether or not the threat and the precaution are linked in such a way that taking the precaution actually reduces the threat.

    It’s similar to the situation we keep encountering with advice on preventing rape. They make a superficial amount of sense, but the evidence indicates that they do little to nothing to actually prevent rape. Thus, “don’t go out alone at night” isn’t just an inconvenience that women face to lessen their risk of being raped, it’s an inconvenience that doesn’t demonstrably reduce their risk, and only gives the illusion or impression of doing so.

    Security experts like Schneier say the same things about TSA security measures that rape experts say about “steps women can take to reduce their risk of rape.” Show some evidence establishing that a given regulation actually works to reduce terrorism in a substantial way, and then we can talk about what intrusions are worthwhile.

  73. says

    Raging Bee:

    And that brings us to the central problem with your reasoning here: there’s a real threat here, and certain people are responsible for making and carrying out policies to anticipate and reduce that threat — so why should I think that your endless questionining — and demands for answers that satisfy your limited understanding of the situation — would really get us a better policy than the one already inflicted on us?

    Because my questioning is based on reading what security experts have to say about TSA regulations and the kinds of security precautions that actually do work. If you want to trust that the people who think looking for passengers who “look Muslim” is a viable method for sorting out possible terrorists, then go right ahead. But the people who actually know what they’re talking about with respect to security seem to think the whole situation is largely a wasteful sham.

    Requiring evidence to support claims, realistically examining probabilities, dismissing post-hoc reasoning, listening to experts…it’s almost like skepticism has applications beyond Bigfoot and UFOs.

  74. splen says

    1. In principle, does this regulation demonstrably reduce instances of terrorism?

    2. In practice, does this regulation demonstrably reduce instances of terrorism?

    The liquid rules came into force after a plot was uncovered by British police to blow up transatlantic flights using liquids smuggled aboard in 500ml bottles of lucazade and then combined according to specific instuctions that had been distributed over the internet to terrorist cells.

    The answer to both 1 & 2 is yes. For one thing; the terrorists would now need twice the number of bombers per plane. So opening the plot up to an even greater chance of being caught by police and intelligence before they even parked at the airport.

    3. Is the reduction of terrorism significant enough to outweigh the costs of the regulation (e.g., inconvenience, privacy invasion, waste of supplies, energy, time, money, manpower)?

    The plotters were targeting 7 domestic american flights. If they’d succeeded, and the planes were flying at full capacity they’d have killed approx. 2,100 people. So, the answer to 3 is yes. By any moral standard 2100 people are worth more than the slight inconvenience of not being able to spread honey on your fucking morning bagel.

  75. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom @ #81:

    “As far as I’m concerned, any security regulation has the following hurdles to overcome:
    1. In principle, does this regulation demonstrably reduce instances of terrorism?
    2. In practice, does this regulation demonstrably reduce instances of terrorism?
    3. Is the reduction of terrorism significant enough to outweigh the costs of the regulation (e.g., inconvenience, privacy invasion, waste of supplies, energy, time, money, manpower)?

    “If a regulation doesn’t have evidence to establish that the answer to all three questions is “yes,” then it has no business being enacted…”

    As you would know, in logic it is impossible to prove a negative. And as I am of limited intelligence, I am not sure how one would prove that these bans on liquids etc could be shown to demonstrably reduce IN PRINCIPLE instances of terrorism. (Please also excuse the caps in place of italics.)

    However, since the anti-terrorist measures were put in place after 9/11, there have to my knowledge been no successful Islamist outrages against aircraft in flight, though there have been attacks on targets less easily guarded, like trains, train stations, buses and crowded malls.

    Immediately after 9/11, there was a lot of open jubilation around the Muslim world. It was not difficult to draw a conclusion from all that: in the view of Islamists and their sympathisers, a great victory had somehow been won for Islam, and the Muslims of the world in general. If US and other authorities had responded by doing nothing (and some commentators of the day were suggesting it as their only choice) then at a guess I woukd say that such outrages would have probably increased.

    Mohammad Atta and his band of (23?) accomplices armed only with cheap box-cutter knives achieved a huge Islamist bang for a small Islamist buck. For the price of their airline tickets, they put the Western world and its version of modernity into a massive crisis and a war shortly after in Afghanistan. On the way through, they all passed ‘Go’ and scored entry into Paradise and 72 virgins each, according to their own view of the way God has ordered the Universe. Not a bad return on that small investment, with plenty of copy cats itching to have a go of their own.

    So, though my answer to your (1) above is ‘too hard’, to (2) and (3) it is definitely ‘yes’.

    I don’t fly much, but I am happy to endure the dreary necessity of pre-flight checks.

  76. says

    Splen: The British liquid bombers never got to an airport and were caught through police surveillance and intelligence gathering. No one is disputing that police work is an effective way to prevent terrorism; from what the experts I’ve read say, it’s among the most effective. No liquid restriction was involved in the prevention of that terrorist attack, so while this is a nice data point on the effectiveness of police action in preventing terrorism, it tells us nothing about the effectiveness of liquid restrictions. Particularly since the restrictions that exist (at least in the US) would allow those terrorists to carry out their plot unhindered if they claimed the liquids were medically necessary, like saline solution. So, swing and a miss on that one, and thus, on the answers to those questions.

    Look, I’m not just pulling these concerns and objections out of nowhere. This article is a nice primer on some of the main issues and experts involved, written for a lay audience. It’s a couple of years old now, but it makes the point that the US had spent (as of 2011) $1.1 trillion on security measures that experts say, at best, do nothing. Imagine how much intelligence and police surveillance could be purchased for $1.1 trillion–or better yet, how much humanitarian aid that would help prevent people from wanting to take down America to begin with.

  77. says

    Omar Puhleez:

    I am not sure how one would prove that these bans on liquids etc could be shown to demonstrably reduce IN PRINCIPLE instances of terrorism. (Please also excuse the caps in place of italics.)

    What I mean is, “if this plan were enacted perfectly or near-perfectly, would it prevent terrorist attacks.” Kind of like how condoms are, in principle, 99% (or so) effective at preventing pregnancy. But, since they’re inconsistently or incorrectly used in practice, the effectiveness falls considerably.

    However, since the anti-terrorist measures were put in place after 9/11, there have to my knowledge been no successful Islamist outrages against aircraft in flight, though there have been attacks on targets less easily guarded, like trains, train stations, buses and crowded malls.

    I’m sure there’s a term for this kind of reasoning. Something Latin, possibly starting with “post hoc.”

    Immediately after 9/11, there was a lot of open jubilation around the Muslim world. It was not difficult to draw a conclusion from all that: in the view of Islamists and their sympathisers, a great victory had somehow been won for Islam, and the Muslims of the world in general. If US and other authorities had responded by doing nothing (and some commentators of the day were suggesting it as their only choice) then at a guess I woukd say that such outrages would have probably increased.

    Ignoring the mounds of Islamophobia and oversimplification in that paragraph, do you really think that indiscriminate drone strikes and bombing of civilians in countries that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on 9/11 has done anything to decrease outrages?

    I don’t fly much, but I am happy to endure the dreary necessity of pre-flight checks.

    Except, as the experts say, they aren’t a necessity and accomplish little to nothing. Do you also go through routine chelation to rid your body of toxins?

    I didn’t think I’d have to spend this much time explaining to skeptics that correlation doesn’t equate to causation.

  78. splen says

    No liquid restriction was involved in the prevention of that terrorist attack, so while this is a nice data point on the effectiveness of police action in preventing terrorism, it tells us nothing about the effectiveness of liquid restrictions.

    What exactly could tell you anything about the effectiveness of liquid restrictions? No, go on. You tell me. Because apparently, those terrorists would need to have succeeded in their aim, and killed a lot of people for you to get your first data-point.

  79. says

    What exactly could tell you anything about the effectiveness of liquid restrictions? No, go on. You tell me. Because apparently, those terrorists would need to have succeeded in their aim, and killed a lot of people for you to get your first data-point.

    So the lesson we should take from this is that we should spend trillions of dollars after every individual terror attempt finding ways to prevent that previous attempt from occurring, rather than directing that funding toward the methods that actually prevented those attempts. That sounds perfectly reasonable.

    I’m looking at a list of airliner bombing attacks, and seeing a few prior to 2006 that were successful in using liquid weapons. I’m curious why no one would think to create those restrictions prior to the foiled 2006 attempt. Perhaps it’s for the same reason that security experts say the restrictions are ineffective. That’s borne out by the attack on Phillipines Airline Flight 434, where the explosives were disguised as contact lens solution, which is an exception to the 3-oz limit under TSA guidelines.

    So on one hand, we have methods that are proven to work, and are validated by the experts. On the other hand, we have reactive methods with no proven track record, that are based on outdated attempts. Which should we spend our money and effort on?

  80. splen says

    So the lesson we should take from this is that we should spend trillions of dollars after every individual terror attempt finding ways to prevent that previous attempt from occurring, rather than directing that funding toward the methods that actually prevented those attempts. That sounds perfectly reasonable.

    The lesson I should probably take from this is that I should remember myself and never bother to engage with somebody who has so obviously tied a particular argument to their personal self esteem.

    Trillions.

  81. says

    Splen: Oh hey, there’s the ad hominem! So post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning, assuming efficacy in spite of relevant experts claiming the contrary, mistaking correlation for causation, ignoring statistics, and now ad hominems against critics.

    In what way is TSA-style airport security not like alternative medicine again?

    The lengths people will go to in order to avoid reading the goddamn research

  82. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom:

    I went to the second of your ‘research’ links, but looked in vain for the only experiment that would yield worthwhile results: something like taking (say) one domestic and one international air carrier from a. US; b. UK; c. Australian carriers, and dividing all passengers into two categories: 1. with pre-flight checks, and 2. no pre-flight checks. Important: both groups to be identified and publicised well in advance.

    One would expect exactly the same frequency of hijackings etc across all categories if existing pre-flight checks are useless. But so far such a controlled experiment does not appear to have been done.

    Also please note: ‘islamophobia’ is a very slippery and rubbery term. The definition I have seen conflates hostility to Islam (I plead guilty Your Honour to that) with hostility to Muslims (not guilty: I get along very well with those I deal with personally.) So ‘Islamophobia’ cannot apply to me, however defined.

  83. says

    One would expect exactly the same frequency of hijackings etc across all categories if existing pre-flight checks are useless. But so far such a controlled experiment does not appear to have been done.

    Yes, that kind of unblinded experiment would obviously be the gold standard of this kind of research. Applying the basic methods that we use to judge medical screenings (the notion of the BMJ article in the second link) certainly has no relevance, and the research in the other two links that actually discuss the relevant issues, including the Government Accountability Office noting that a system with no scientific backing has been deployed across the US, certainly wouldn’t give any indication as to reality. No, what’s best is the gut intuitions of people who have no qualifications and disdain the very notion of reading what the experts have to say.

    As to Islamophobia, who said it applied to you? It applies to your ignorant paragraph about 9/11 being some kind of victory for “Muslims of the world in general.” There were radicals who saw it as a victory for their radical version of Islam, but even Bin Laden would have told you that American (and other western) Muslims, like those who died in the World Trade Center attacks, were the people he hated most, for collaborating with the Great Satan. But you know, it’s a lot easier to believe that Muslims in general rejoiced 9/11, and that they were cowed right out of terrorism by the big show of force from the US that continues to today. Why, I’m sure another couple of bombed weddings, and terrorism will be over tout suite.

  84. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom:

    I think that in the absence of the experimental procedure I outlined, common sense has to rule. If you want to stop people getting on planes with weapons, you search them for any weapons before they get on board. It is a routine procedure in many other contexts, and not rocket science.

    Let me quote you the precise wording of my “ignorant paragraph”:

    “Immediately after 9/11, there was a lot of open jubilation around the Muslim world. It was not difficult to draw a conclusion from all that: in the view of Islamists and their sympathisers, a great victory had somehow been won for Islam, and the Muslims of the world in general. If US and other authorities had responded by doing nothing (and some commentators of the day were suggesting it as their only choice) then at a guess I woukd say that such outrages would have probably increased.”

    (Apparently in your view what I said can be ‘Islamophobic’, but without the term applying to me. I confess that your distinction is so fine as to elude me completely. What I say is what I think, and my thinking defines who I am.)

    Particularly in Palestine (understandably) there were ululating women and cheering men fronting up before TV crews in the streets. IN THE VIEW OF ISLAMISTS AND THEIR SYMPATHISERS a great victory had been won. But not all Muslims had cause to cheer, least of all those whose last day alive was 9/11. The more perceptive of them I am sure realised straight away that bin Laden had stirred up one helluva hornet’s nest, meaning suffering for Muslims in the longer term.

  85. Omar Puhleez says

    Bruce:

    On looking though that list, I got the impression that 9/11 was a major turning point in the history of hijackings: after which they have got less frequent and less bloody. I think that would be confimed by a non-chronological list that ranked them in decreasing order of loss of life. 9/11 would of couse be at the top there.

  86. Omar Puhleez says

    Also, that Wikipedia list confirms I think what I said at #91 in this thread:

    “However, since the anti-terrorist measures were put in place after 9/11, there have to my knowledge been no successful Islamist outrages against aircraft in flight, though there have been attacks on targets less easily guarded, like trains, train stations, buses and crowded malls.”

    It may for all I know be just as risky as ever to catch an Air Somalia flight from Mogadishu to Pershawar, but the rest of the world’s airlines seem to be facing far less risk from on-board confrontations with stroppy passengers.

    My conclusion from that: the post-9/11 measures have worked.

  87. Minnow says

    I tend to agree with Tom Foss on this one. The worst terrorist attacks in the UK of recent years have been on buses and Tube trains, but the increase of security on those services has been zero without apparent problems – commuters simply accept the risk and hope the police are doing enough to minimise it.. The airport security business is a scam, worth millions to the scammers. The IRA were fond of taregeting department stores, but no one ever considered fitting mandatory metal detectors at their entrances.

  88. says

    Omar Puhleez:

    I think that in the absence of the experimental procedure I outlined, common sense has to rule. If you want to stop people getting on planes with weapons, you search them for any weapons before they get on board. It is a routine procedure in many other contexts, and not rocket science.

    You realize this is the same reasoning that anti-science people use, right? “Since you can’t do the unethical, experiment of dividing two groups of kids and giving one vaccines and the other a placebo, then common sense has to rule, meaning we shouldn’t pump our kids full of harmful chemicals and diseases.” “Since you can’t do an experiment to re-create the big bang, then common sense has to rule, telling us something can’t come from nothing.”

    No, in the absence of the (unblinded, unscientific) experimental procedure you outlined, we look to other sources of evidence and other scientific methods (there’s more to science than the kind of experiment you outline, such as epidemiological studies like the one outlined in the second report), among them the testimony of relevant experts. Isn’t it strange that the advice of relevant experts runs completely counter to your “common sense”?

    As to Islamophobia, I don’t have any interest in determining whether or not any given person is “a bigot” in any circumstance. It’s a useless discussion. Instead, it’s more useful to call out what people say and do as bigoted. I’ll let Jay Smooth explain it for me.

    In terms of airline security, 9/11 was a bit of a turning point. According to the experts, it led to some real improvements in security that have actually reduced the risk of airplane hijackings. According to those experts, the improvements were: reinforcing cockpit doors, preventing people from checking luggage without boarding the plane, better police surveillance and intelligence gathering, and the emboldening of passengers to take down would-be bombers and hijackers (which is what stopped both the shoe bomber and underwear bomber). The flashy things like taking off your shoes and walking through backscatter X-ray machines, on the other hand, are not effective at anything more than giving the illusion of improved safety. They’re a placebo, and a ridiculously expensive placebo at that.

    But don’t take my word for it, actually read the articles I’ve linked to from experts. There are descriptions both of what’s wrong with the system in the US and how it could be improved. This isn’t some guesswork thing where we just have to throw our hands up and go with gut instinct.

  89. says

    And it’s not like there haven’t been actual tests done. From the first research article I posted:

    Today the TSA conducts undercover tests of its own screeners. Despite significant increases on
    security spending and the addition of numerous security employees since 2001, the performance
    of checkpoint screening continues to decline. In October 2006, the results of Newark
    International Airport’s undercover security screenings were leaked to the press, revealing that
    screeners had failed 20 of 22 tests, missing multiple guns and explosives (Marsico 2006).
    Similarly, in July 2007, TSA screeners at Albany International Airport were reported to have
    failed 5 of 7 security tests (Lyons 2007. What makes this example most notable is that screeners
    succeeded at identifying and confiscating innocuous recently prohibited items such as bottled
    water, but failed to identify bomb replicas concealed in the same carry-on bag.

    Go on, what does your vaunted common sense say about that?

  90. latsot says

    Since when would you need either of those on a plane? The deodorant you can apply before you board

    I regularly make 20+ hour trips with my luggage checked all the way through. Carry-on deodorant serves a purpose, don’t you think?

  91. says

    You realize this is the same reasoning that anti-science people use, right?

    Just because someone else uses a certain line of reasoning WRONGLY, does not make the reasoning invalid. (Also, the anti-vax rationalizations you cited aren’t really “common sense.”)

    And given the number of lives at stake, and given certain recent experiences, yes, it is common sense to subject passengers to some reasonable search for weapons and dangerous substances before they get on a plane.

  92. says

    Raging Bee: The problem is that “common sense” is highly variable based on prior knowledge and information, and is not a reliable path to truth. There’s a reason we rely on the scientific method rather than “common sense” to guide our investigations, not common sense. As near as I can tell, common sense is mostly a collection of unsourced information of varying reliability and the sorts of cognitive biases that we train ourselves to recognize as skeptics.

    But then, I would think that for any endeavor, the sensible thing to do (common or not) is read the research and listen to what the experts have to say. I have seen no reason whatsoever why your “common sense” should be given more weight in these decisions than the actual evidence and expert testimony on the subject.

  93. dianne says

    To quote (or maybe paraphrase) a certain book some consider magical, “As ye judge so shall ye be judged.” Dawkins has set the precedent that he thinks that complaining about anything less serious than FGM and legal rape is just “whining” and therefore it is entirely fair to make fun of him for whining about his honey being confiscated. It’s not nearly as serious a problem as, say, living in war torn Syria or being executed for being gay in Uganda. It’s not even as serious as getting propositioned by a creep in an elevator or being patted down because the TSA person is bored and thinks that you’re cute. The honey confiscation may be silly and excessive but there are worse problems in the world so by Dawkins’ own standards, he has no right to complain. And while there may be evidence that bin Laden has “won”, I’d have to say that the people being held at Gitmo have more of a right to complain about the backlash than a white guy without his honey.

  94. dianne says

    This phrase ” rule-bound dundridges” does suggest that Dawkins wants special treatment. That is, he might consider the rule reasonable for “normal people” but only a “dundridge” would think that it should apply to him. Rules are there for a reason. They might be dumb rules, as in the “no liquids” rule, but if they are there they should be applied equally to everyone.

  95. says

    It seems that Dawkins (and some of the other folks who frequently come up in these threads) has a serious aversion to rules in general, or at least, rules that are not laws. The idea that segments of society might develop and enforce rules without the weight of law behind them seems to be anathema to them. Remember his snarky dog-whistle about the “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated” campaign being “spontaneous” and “rule-free”? Remember all the balking at convention harassment policies? All the talk of witch hunts and lynch mobs and Nazistasinquisitions? All because some people may be asked to modify their behavior or language in certain contexts.

  96. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom @#110:

    “As near as I can tell, common sense is mostly a collection of unsourced information of varying reliability and the sorts of cognitive biases that we train ourselves to recognize as skeptics.

    “But then, I would think that for any endeavor, the sensible thing to do (common or not) is read the research and listen to what the experts have to say. I have seen no reason whatsoever why your “common sense” should be given more weight in these decisions than the actual evidence and expert testimony on the subject.”

    Mohammad Atta and his Islamist colleagues took over and destroyed four planes in flight using weapons no more sophisticated than cheap boxcutters. On 9/11, around 3,000 people died.

    The response was the standard array of pre-flight security checks every air traveller is familiar with. There was no waiting for properly designed studies, or double-blind experiments with rigorous statistical analysis of resulting numerical data. Nor in my view, should there have been.

    In your view, “…common sense is mostly a collection of unsourced information of varying reliability and the sorts of cognitive biases..”

    I think that you are wrong on that. In fact I think you have formulated right there a sentence replete with highfalutin bullshit. We (and I include both of us there) use the ‘common sense’ that you so blithely dismiss all the time. Every day. In fact I dare say we would be lost without it. We had a set of preconditions A, and what happened then was result B. Therefore, next time we get set A, perhaps we should be aware that B might follow. Don’t just charge into a door expecting it to open easily. There might be someone on the other side of it. Stuff like that.

    If you don’t like the term ‘common sense’, then perhaps you might prefer the more fancy one: inductive reasoning. Induction and deduction were around millions of years before the first philosophers and scientists started describing and using them. In fact, neither of them is the exclusive prerogative of humans.They can be seen being displayed by animals. Ever noticed that cats tread warily when confronted with novel and strange situations? Once bitten, twice shy. As the old saying goes.

    I have read a fair bit of the piece you linked to: ‘Security vs. Efficiency; Assessing Transportation Security Policies and Trade-Offs by Anna Arciszewska , Jessica Horning , Patrick Phenow and Ryan Wilson. They draw attention to the excellent security record of the Israeli airline El Al, and put it down to the high quality of their staff training. So far in my reading of that piece, I have found no call for security checks to be abandoned.

    You said at #107: “In October 2006, the results of Newark International Airport’s undercover security screenings were leaked to the press, revealing that screeners had failed 20 of 22 tests, missing multiple guns and explosives…”

    So what to do? Send everyone home? Hope that none of the world’s numerous Islamic fanatics notices the changes?

    The more appropriate response might be to invite one or more staff to seek alternative employment: or to at least invite their suggestions as to how the procedures might be improved to minimise such problems recurring..

    Before any plane commences operations for the day, the flight crew run down through a standard series of checks of the vital and not-so-vital systems on board. They do not do that in a cognitive vacuum. Systems have been known to fail in flight, and these rundowns are deemed to reduce their frequency. All that 9/11 did was extend that procedure from the electronics, hydraulics, propulsion and other systems to include the passengers as well.

  97. says

    The response was the standard array of pre-flight security checks every air traveller is familiar with. There was no waiting for properly designed studies, or double-blind experiments with rigorous statistical analysis of resulting numerical data. Nor in my view, should there have been.

    Right, in a crisis, the best thing to do is ignore the evidence and experts and just dump a ton of money on any measures that feel like they should work. Gotcha.

    I think that you are wrong on that. In fact I think you have formulated right there a sentence replete with highfalutin bullshit. We (and I include both of us there) use the ‘common sense’ that you so blithely dismiss all the time.

    That was use something “all the time” does not make it a reliable way of gathering information. Do I really need to spell this out? Our brains are hardwired to do things “all the time” that lead to inaccurate conclusions. We use the availability heuristic “all the time,” causing us to overestimate the prevalence of events that we know specific examples of, and underestimate the probability of more common events–presumably why you think we should spend tons of money on non-functional security theater for incredibly uncommon instances of airline terrorism, but haven’t invested twenty times that to protect from the vastly more common instances of being struck by lightning. We use faulty pattern recognition reasoning “all the time” that cause us to mistake correlation for causation, like thinking just because B followed A once means that A caused B. Even right now, you’re working from the set of cognitive biases that tends to favor intuition and narrative over data, the same thing that leads alt-med proponents to talk about how it doesn’t matter what the studies say because they know it works for them.

    We have a word for this “highfalutin’ bullshit.” It’s “science.” It is the single most reliable method we have for determining what is true. It is specifically formulated to eliminate the intuitively sensible cognitive biases and draw conclusions from the evidence. We use the fruits of science every day, too, with the added bonus that they work better than “common sense.”

    I have read a fair bit of the piece you linked to: ‘Security vs. Efficiency; Assessing Transportation Security Policies and Trade-Offs by Anna Arciszewska , Jessica Horning , Patrick Phenow and Ryan Wilson. They draw attention to the excellent security record of the Israeli airline El Al, and put it down to the high quality of their staff training. So far in my reading of that piece, I have found no call for security checks to be abandoned.

    The high quality of their staff training, eh? Not, for instance, the fact that the “security checks” they use include interviewing each passenger, running all checked luggage through a low-pressure-environment simulator, having multiple levels of security checks rather than the US model of having one checkpoint, having reinforced cockpit doors and cargo bays (the former of which is consistently cited by experts as one of the actual useful post-9/11 changes to US aircraft security). Perhaps you missed the bit where it said “The reason for this alternative approach [focus on psychological profiling] is because explosives and other devices used by terrorists can be so creatively and well concealed that is would be virtually impossible to identify and discover them in luggage.”

    As to recommendations, you must have missed this: “However, an ineffective security measure is an inefficient one almost by definition.” And this: “The first is that the airport security checkpoint system is organized around a single point of failure (Kaminsky 2007). If a dangerous item/person is not detected while
    passing through the checkpoint, it is unlikely that they will be detected at all.” Or this: “The evidence presented, however, seems to suggest today’s security systems, especially in the airline industry, are both ineffective and inefficient.”

    They make fairly modest recommendations that include streamlining the technology, eliminating some of the “silly policies” like removing belts, and adopting a more El Al-style multilayered system. The other articles I’ve posted give additional advice, based on security experts trying to explain the difference between actual security (which is effective but often invisible to casual observers, like reinforced cockpit doors) and security theater (which is flashy and obvious, but does no good and in fact may do harm).

    Security theater is the placebo of the security world, and like placebos, people think they’re effective and trust their personal anecdotal judgment over the evidence. But whether it’s taking your echinacea or taking off your shoes, the people with relevant expertise on the matter disagree about its effectiveness, and instead recommend remedies that are backed by evidence.

    You can come in with compelling stories about common sense and passionate reiterations of what happened on 9/11 all you want, Omar, but that has no bearing on what the evidence and experts have to say. Please, spend an hour on Bruce Schneier’s blog. Read the Vanity Fair article I linked to above, and track down the other experts it mentions. Look at what they have to say. I’m not going to continue going around in circles with you on this. You have an opinion. The experts disagree with your opinion and have actual evidence to back them up. I’m a scientific skeptic; your “common sense” and intuition and passionate stories are not going to sway me from believing the relevant experts and their evidence.

    Induction is only as good as the information you’re inducing from. Why would you trust the conclusions you’ve reasoned to inductively over the ones that experts with better information have reached?

  98. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom:

    “Right, in a crisis, the best thing to do is ignore the evidence and experts and just dump a ton of money on any measures that feel like they should work. Gotcha.”

    No. As far as I can gather, Mohammad Atta and his colleagues showed how easily modern aircraft could be hijacked and then used as devastating weapons against civilians. In the aftermath of 9/11, a few simple questions like ‘how did they achieve this?’ and ‘what measures would have best prevented it?’ would I think have been asked before the security procedures we know (the ‘security theater’ you dismiss so blithely) were established. Moreover, I would be very surprised if the procedures now in place were set up without expert consultation. (Bans on gels and highly viscous liquids like honey might have been hasty, and might not have anticipated the triggering of a tantrum and dummy spit by the odd celebrity like the otherwise venerable R. Dawkins.)

    What I would like to see is some evidence of expert consensus that checking of carry-on baggage, shoes, belts etc are useless, and should be abandoned. Note: showing how these procedures have been tested and found wanting does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that they should be abandoned.

    The ease of movement from cabin to flight deck was one obvious point to consider: obvious even to a poor benighted common-sense toting aeronautical ignoramus like me. Likewise, one would expect some provisions to be more effective than others, and we should I think assume that suicidal terrorists will be always on the lookout for the least effective of the measures.

    “Right, in a crisis, the best thing to do is ignore the evidence and experts and just dump a ton of money on any measures that feel like they should work. Gotcha.”

    I do not think that your above thumbnail sketch is a fair or accurate description of the actual post-9/11 response. Or of what I said.

  99. says

    In the aftermath of 9/11, a few simple questions like ‘how did they achieve this?’ and ‘what measures would have best prevented it?’ would I think have been asked before the security procedures we know (the ‘security theater’ you dismiss so blithely) were established.

    I’m sure they were. It does not follow, though, that all post-9/11 security measures were developed as evidence-based answers to those questions. I’ve mentioned already, pulling from articles I’ve linked to that you clearly have not bothered to read, what steps experts thought would be most effective, and they were indeed taken. The problem is that a lot of other, less effective, more expensive steps have also been taken.

    Moreover, I would be very surprised if the procedures now in place were set up without expert consultation.

    Yes, it’s very surprising that branches of the government, in some cases acting because of Congressional decree, would do things that were not validated by solid science. Congress, as we know, is thoroughly scientific in all their decisions, and never motivated by other concerns. And it’s that staunch adherence to expert testimony that has led us to take such drastic and immediate actions on climate change, and allowed the US government to step in immediately and stop the Iraqi military from purchasing pseudoscientific dowsing rods dressed up as bomb detectors. This adherence to basic scientific principles is why the military nixed project Stargate and never wasted money trying to develop a gay bomb.

    What I would like to see is some evidence of expert consensus that checking of carry-on baggage, shoes, belts etc are useless, and should be abandoned. Note: showing how these procedures have been tested and found wanting does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that they should be abandoned.

    Let’s be clear: I’ve never said that all checking of baggage (etc.) was useless, and I don’t know of any experts who have. What I have said (again, drawing from the experts) is that some of those checks are useless, and costly besides. It’s kind of a no-brainer that if we have methods that do not work, and methods that are proven to work, then we should direct our energy and funding to the latter.

    But then, I thought it was kind of a no-brainer to listen to experts on a subject, and look where that’s gotten us.

    Assuming that any given policy works until proven otherwise is (again) the same fallacious nonsense we get from every single pseudoscientific crank with a pet claim. That way lies madness, falsehood, and wasted tax dollars. Null hypothesis, and all that.

    You said you’d like evidence of expert consensus. Have you gone looking for it? I did a couple of quick searches, both of the general internet and of Google Scholar in particular, for things like “airline security.” If you can find articles talking about how great and effective the US system is, I’d like to see them. Here’s an article from the former head of the TSA talking about how security is broken. and here talking about how the lighter ban specifically was security theater (the first article states that it was an act of Congress, but that must be a mistake, because we’ve already established that Congress is a perfectly rational body).

    There may be contradictory research. It may amount to a consensus among security experts. I admit that I can’t access a lot of the papers I’ve been able to find, because I am not a university. So if you find some evidence of that consensus, please share it. I’d honestly love to see it. As it stands, I can only judge the proxy for consensus that is the testimony of every relevant expert I have been able to find speaking or writing on the subject.

  100. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom:

    From your last link: the former head of the US Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley wrote:

    “To be effective, airport security needs to embrace flexibility and risk management—principles that it is difficult for both the bureaucracy and the public to accept. The public wants the airport experience to be predictable, hassle-free and airtight and for it to keep us 100% safe. But 100% safety is unattainable. Embracing a bit of risk could reduce the hassle of today’s airport experience while making us safer at the same time.

    “Over the past 10 years, most Americans have had extensive personal experience with the TSA, and this familiarity has bred contempt. People often suggest that the U.S. should adopt the ‘Israeli method’ of airport security—which relies on less screening of banned items and more interviewing of passengers. But Israeli citizens accept the continued existence of a common enemy that requires them to tolerate necessary inconveniences, and they know that terror plots are ongoing.

    “In America, any successful attack—no matter how small—is likely to lead to a series of public recriminations and witch hunts. But security is a series of trade-offs. We’ve made it through the 10 years after 9/11 without another attack, something that was not a given. But no security system can be maintained over the long term without public support and cooperation. If Americans are ready to embrace risk, it is time to strike a new balance.”

    I would myself favour encouraging citizens to adopt a version of the Israeli minimal-risk outlook: there is a continual enemy targeting and operating against all liberal-democratic and open societies. That enemy is antidemocratic, religiously-based militant oligarchy. At the moment the most prominent contender is militant Islam, which has moved into front position, displacing communism.

    (The Israeli case is something else again. My own view is that the setting up of Israel as part of the post-WW2 settlement by the victors and in what used to be the territory of the Palestinians was a tragic but understandable mistake, but one that cannot easily be undone. A two-state solution now looks like the only way out.)

    In 2006, the abovementioned Richard Dawkins wrote in the Preface to his book ‘The God Delusion’:
    “In January 2006 I presented a two-part… documentary on British television …called ‘Root of All Evil?’ From the start, I didn’t like the title. Religion is not the root of ALL evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything. But I was delighted with the advertisement that Channel Four put in the national newspapers. It was a picture of the Manhattan skyline with the caption ‘Imagine a world without religion.’ What was the connection? The twin towers of the World Trade Center were conspicuously present.”

    Dawkins’ book was at least in part, his own response to 9/11.

    Here in Australia where I live, I do a fair bit of road travel. Periodically, there is some major disaster involving articulated trucks driven at excessive speed. There is always a hue and cry, and calls from politicians for an inquiry (yet again) and subsequently, a notable restraint by truckers becomes detectable along the roads. (The last such disaster resulted in the mandatory installation of speed-limiters on all heavy trucks.) But with time, things slacken off again, and the trucks noticeably speed up again. We are in that phase right now, and police are detecting a lot of trucks with disabled limiters. And so the clock starts ticking down to the next disaster.

    I surmise that one of the two worst ways to die is to be in a plane that is heading for an imminent crash. One’s life expectancy is by then measured in minutes at the most: a consciously realised and unavoidable end about to happen. The other is being burnt alive. The airline bomber can arrange a combination of both.

    At least if you are in a car or on a ship you can take some evasive action. But in a plane you have no control and no way out. That I think is the psychological reality behind airport security. If flying becomes no safer than driving, most I think will elect to drive.

    I suspect that Impatience with security measures at airports, and the lack of follow-up disasters on the scale of 9/11 will lead to the opening of loopholes and some easing. A cigarette lighter is said to hold the energy equivalent of a stick of dynamite. Right now in all likelihood, some Al-Qaeda chemist is working at finding the optimal way to turn a cigarette lighter into a bomb, against the day when the bans on them are lifted, and some randy Islamist (pbuh) with dreams of Paradise and a divinely chosen personal allocation of 72 virgins steps onto the plane that will fly him right out of all his frustrations.

    Then the cycle will begin again.

  101. says

    Good for you. I’ll be sure to give what “you, yourself” recommend in terms of security the proper weight, weighed against former TSA heads and recognized security experts.

    I want to pull out one thing, if I may, that underscores some of the ridiculousness:

    A cigarette lighter is said to hold the energy equivalent of a stick of dynamite.

    A stick of dynamite contains about 1 megajoule of energy. Here is an incomplete list of other things which have the energy equivalent of a stick of dynamite:
    *0.33 kg black powder
    *0.024 kg gasoline
    *Ten 22-oz Yankee Candles
    *1 large single-patty hamburger
    *17.3 fl oz of Mountain Dew
    *1 slice Supreme thin-crust Pizza Hut pizza
    *1 2/3 Twinkie snack cakes

    The danger in explosives comes not so much from the energy content, but from the speed of the reaction. The nitroglycerin that makes up the explosive part of dynamite reacts very quickly, creating a shockwave. Black powder, by comparison, reacts much more slowly, which is part of why dynamite isn’t used to launch bullets from pistols. Lighter fluid reacts slower still, which is why you get a combustion and burning when you light a lighter, and not an explosion. Lighter fluid also tends only to ignite when it’s vaporized, similar to gasoline, which is part of why the whole lighter doesn’t just go up in your hand the moment you hit the flint.

    There may be some al-Qaeda chemist trying to figure out how to speed up the reaction rate of lighter fluid to make it a high explosive. You have about as much to fear from someone that poorly educated and inefficient at their task as you do from 1 2/3 Twinkies. Less, actually–heart disease and diabetes kill considerably more people than terrorism.

  102. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom:

    “There may be some al-Qaeda chemist trying to figure out how to speed up the reaction rate of lighter fluid to make it a high explosive. You have about as much to fear from someone that poorly educated and inefficient at their task as you do from 1 2/3 Twinkies. Less, actually–heart disease and diabetes kill considerably more people than terrorism.”

    Then those among your venerated ‘experts’, and whoever else in the first place advised the world’s airlines to ban cigarette lighters, were clearly a bunch of shonks, charlatans and quacks. Probably took the airlines’ money and skedaddled. Got while the getting was good. That is, if your assessment above is right.

    In the light of this, it strikes me that being an airline safety consultant is a bit like running a tattoo parlour. You can get paid by the turkeys coming and going: once when you put your works of art on their gullible hides, and once again when you take them off.

    “Did we advise you to ban cigarette lighters? Yes? Oh, then perhaps we did. But let me tell you now, that ban is soooo last year. This year’s advice is to let them on the aircraft. Actually, selling them in the duty-free shop down the back of the plane is not a bad money spinner at all.”

    I am not an explosives expert, but I do know a little bit about chemistry. There are bombs of many different kinds, and to make one from say, a butane lighter, one would not necessarily need to form a high explosive. After all, the hydrocarbon-air mixture in the cylinder of an automobile engine is not high explosive, but ignited in a confined space it can certainly move things around. And the cabin of an aricraft is a confined space.

    And there is another type of bomb: the incendiary. In crashes of modern passenger aircraft, my understanding is there is an added danger of spontaneous fire, and the plastics on which the interior fittings are based burn rather readily, filling the cabin interior with toxic fumes. So our Al-Quaeda bomb-designing chemist can choose from a range of possibilities based on cigarette lighters.

    The trade-off seems to be between ‘efficiency’ and safety. The safer the plane, the less ‘efficient’ the overall check-in and boarding process becomes. Perhaps then, the airlines ought to consider different classes of flights rather than of seating once aboard. Some planes could fly ‘slow to load, ultra safe’, some ‘medium to load, medium safe’, and some ‘fast to load, minimal safe’. (There might be problems recruiting crew for that last category.)

    It would be interesting to watch public response if any airline offered this choice. It would be interesting to study the fare structures offered as well.

  103. says

    Then those among your venerated ‘experts’, and whoever else in the first place advised the world’s airlines to ban cigarette lighters, were clearly a bunch of shonks, charlatans and quacks

    If you had read either of the last two articles I posted, or even my next to last post, you’d know that the banning of lighters (at least in the US) was a decree handed down by Congress. The experts denounced it as security theater from the start.

    I am not an explosives expert, but I do know a little bit about chemistry.

    And yet, somehow, not enough to realize that “the energy equivalent of dynamite” is a useless metric for determining how dangerous a substance is.

    After all, the hydrocarbon-air mixture in the cylinder of an automobile engine is not high explosive, but ignited in a confined space it can certainly move things around. And the cabin of an aricraft is a confined space.

    Compared to the piston of a combustion engine, the cabin of an aircraft is very much not a confined space. The amount of gasoline you’d need to achieve an explosion like that in an airplane would likely draw some attention, since gasoline typically has an additive which gives it a rather characteristic odor. The terrorist spritzing it into the air (since gasoline is only explosive in any sense when it’s vaporized) would likely draw some suspicion, I would think.

    And there is another type of bomb: the incendiary. In crashes of modern passenger aircraft, my understanding is there is an added danger of spontaneous fire, and the plastics on which the interior fittings are based burn rather readily, filling the cabin interior with toxic fumes. So our Al-Quaeda bomb-designing chemist can choose from a range of possibilities based on cigarette lighters.

    The number one possibility an al-Qaeda bomb maker could have with a cigarette lighter is “filling it with something more dangerous than lighter fluid.” But then, that goes for absolutely any container, which kind of makes lighters a red herring.

    But I notice you’ve changed positions. Up ’til this point, you’ve had such overwhelming and unshaken trust that the decision makers who put these regulations in place knew what they were doing and were acting based on solid reason and evidence, despite what the experts have consistently said for years. But your discussion of the terrible dangers of lighters seems to ignore that the same decision makers decided to re-allow lighters onto planes, in a case where the actions of the decision-makers actually were in line with the recommendations of experts. No, you say, lighters really are a clear and present danger, which suggests that you think you know better than both the security experts and the politicians and bureaucrats who made the security decisions. And you achieve this certainty by puffing up your chest, reciting passionately the details of 9/11, and steadfastly refusing to do any research, even when it’s served up to you on a silver platter.

    I’m tired of beating my head against this particular brick wall. You can continue playing airport security creationist and have the last word, if you like. I’m confident at this point that you’re not actually reading the ones I (or anyone who actually knows what the hell they’re talking about) posted, so I see no reason to continue this conversation.

  104. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom:

    Thanks very much for your generous offer of the last word. Much appreciated.

    As you well know, I have not ignored ALL your links, but I do confess I have limited time available for this sort of interesting activity.

    Re your list:

    “A stick of dynamite contains about 1 megajoule of energy. Here is an incomplete list of other things which have the energy equivalent of a stick of dynamite:
    *0.33 kg black powder
    *0.024 kg gasoline
    *Ten 22-oz Yankee Candles
    *1 large single-patty hamburger
    *17.3 fl oz of Mountain Dew
    *1 slice Supreme thin-crust Pizza Hut pizza
    *1 2/3 Twinkie snack cakes”

    I assume you found that list in some book with a title like ‘AMAZING FACTS OF SCIENCE!!!!’ You know: the kind that comes packaged with a set of crayons so that the proud new owner can colour in the pictures.

    There is no valid equation of hamburger, mountain dew, pizza or snack cakes with a butane lighter containing several grams of liquid butane (b.pt at 1 atm = 0 Celsius), in the context of a discussion on airline safety. After all, butane is chosen for those lighters precisely because it switches from the liquid to the gas phase so easily, and unlike gasoline, needs no carburettor to help it along.

    In safe conditions, I suggest you try this simple experiment: Take a brand new butane lighter, toss it into a fire, stand well clear, and see what happens.

    I have not performed this one…. yet. But I intend to. What I anticipate seeing is the sort of very rapid combustion that in everyday language is referred to as an ‘explosion’, even though high explosive is not involved.

    A possible scenario then. A suicidal Islamist boards and takes his seat in an aircraft. Once airborne, he pulls out a butane lighter. His brother Islamist in the next seat hands him another. (He could have boarded with two or more, but that might have aroused suspicion.) He thanks his Islamist brother and mutters softly “God is great.” Then off he goes to the toilet.

    Inside, still quietly muttering the same mantra, he ignores the warning signs about smoking, and uses one lighter to heat the other until the butane inside boils and blows the softened plastic of the lighter barrel apart. Hot butane gas is released in the presence of a flame into the confined space of the toilet. He ignores the fire alarm, partly from lack of any other choice. The whole toilet cubicle then blows apart and the fire spreads. God has been proved great yet again.

    I do not know if the above is feasible, or the details of the politics behind the US ban on lighters in planes. Maybe some importer of lighters has family in Congress and can pull a few strings in Washington. But maybe also some consideration of possibilities like the above was in the mind of the regulators who brought in the ban on lighters, and they were backed up by the sort of ‘rule-bound dundridges’ who get up the nose of R. Dawkins. I don’t know.

    But I think, therefore I still am.

    Good night, and good luck.

  105. says

    Just when I thought I was out.

    Sorry, my generosity only goes so far, and as an educator, I have a hard time letting such rank, arrogant ignorance and idiocy go unanswered. Congratulations, Omar, you are officially crisis-level stupid.

    As you well know, I have not ignored ALL your links, but I do confess I have limited time available for this sort of interesting activity.

    Oh, poor you. Plenty of time to spout off as if you knew things, so little time to actually learn. That’s the problem with unearned certainty like yours: it’s so easy to achieve and costs nothing, and is worth exactly what you paid for it.

    I assume you found that list in some book with a title like ‘AMAZING FACTS OF SCIENCE!!!!’ You know: the kind that comes packaged with a set of crayons so that the proud new owner can colour in the pictures.

    No, I actually did the calculations myself, you horse’s ass. But a book packaged with crayons would still be a better source of science than these impossible chemical scenarios which you have excised from your rectal cavity. It took less than a minute of searching to find out the energy content of a stick of dynamite, and I worked from the assumption that your claim about the energy equivalence of dynamite and a lighter was true (it’s not, by the way. Assuming a capacity of 20 mL, the best figure I could find from a quick search, a butane lighter would have about 0.5 MJ of energy, half that of a stick of dynamite). Knowing that, and knowing that in science, words like “energy” actually have meaning, it was pretty simple to determine what other fun things we could compare to dynamite.

    There is no valid equation of hamburger, mountain dew, pizza or snack cakes with a butane lighter containing several grams of liquid butane (b.pt at 1 atm = 0 Celsius), in the context of a discussion on airline safety.

    There’s also no valid equation to compare a few grams of liquid butane to a stick of dynamite in the context of a discussion of airline safety. So why did you do it? Is it because you heard a scary factoid in an e-mail somewhere, swallowed it uncritically, and being almost completely scientifically illiterate had no idea how meaningless it was?

    Hint: the answer is yes. Yes you did.

    In safe conditions, I suggest you try this simple experiment: Take a brand new butane lighter, toss it into a fire, stand well clear, and see what happens.

    This is an experiment that lots of teenagers have done, and it’s not hard to find documentation. Here’s what happens: there’s a long wait while the lighter casing melts and/or the pressure of the expanding butane increases, and then there’s a sizable fireball, and then things go rapidly back to normal.

    A possible scenario then. A suicidal Islamist boards and takes his seat in an aircraft. Once airborne, he pulls out a butane lighter. His brother Islamist in the next seat hands him another. (He could have boarded with two or more, but that might have aroused suspicion.) He thanks his Islamist brother and mutters softly “God is great.” Then off he goes to the toilet.

    Inside, still quietly muttering the same mantra, he ignores the warning signs about smoking, and uses one lighter to heat the other until the butane inside boils and blows the softened plastic of the lighter barrel apart. Hot butane gas is released in the presence of a flame into the confined space of the toilet. He ignores the fire alarm, partly from lack of any other choice. The whole toilet cubicle then blows apart and the fire spreads. God has been proved great yet again.

    Yeah, you’re a complete idiot.

    Butane burns rapidly. That’s part of the point. It’s part of why when you let go of the button on a disposable lighter, the flame goes out almost immediately. But I’m actually typing this across the hall from a chemistry lab, so I performed a micro-scale experiment with butane and a lighter just to see if my suspicions were correct. I can say with some certainty that your hypothetical terrorist would, at worst, end up with some second-degree burns on his hands and lap, maybe set his clothing on fire, and end up the laughingstock of the al-Qaeda picnic. He’d have better luck trying to light the carpet or make a bonfire of his pants, but thankfully airplanes are equipped with these highly functional safety devices called fire extinguishers.

    See, a fireball may be what Hollywood has conditioned you to think of as an explosion, but fireballs have to be pretty big to do any significant damage, because otherwise the vaporized fuel burns up too quickly to ignite anything else. Actual explosives have rapid reactions that create pressure waves (the difference between a detonation and a deflagration like a fireball), and this is what makes them dangerous. Even a significant amount of butane released into the air burns up in a fraction of a second, and it’d take a lot more than one lighter to get a pressure wave of any concern. You’d have trouble lighting paper with a combusting butane lighter, let alone doing any damage to an airplane bathroom.

    I do not know if the above is feasible

    Obviously. And this is why your whole argument is so bog-stupid, because you think your scientifically and realistically implausible hypotheticals should be the basis for real action. In that way, I imagine you have a lot in common with lawmakers worldwide, more concerned with absurd fictional scenarios than science, and so casual with their application of other people’s money.

    But you know, when idiots in the Congresses and Parliaments of the world bring up ludicrous, unscientific scenarios like the ticking time bomb that can only be located by waterboarding a terrorist until he gives up the location, they’re usually not predicated on such appalling ignorance of chemistry that a high school student could correct them.

    But thank you for providing me with a prime, linkable example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Stunning, really. You deserve a pat on the back.

  106. Omar Puhleez says

    Tom Foss:

    I have been on safari and have just returned and regained proper access to the Internet. One thing you said in our recent pleasant discussion of airline safety and butane lighters was this:

    “But thank you for providing me with a prime, linkable example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Stunning, really. You deserve a pat on the back.”

    Linkable. The threat of being linked to from your blerg (as I recall, entitled Digito Ergo Bum – however that translates out of the Mediaeval Latin) and of being ridiculed forever down the corridors of cybertime, has been you will understand a bit of a thorn in the underpants. It would be made worse were you being cheered on all the while by your faithful wowbagging acolyte. So my aim is to head your link followers off at the pass, or whatever might rhyme with that.

    “There’s also no valid equation to compare a few grams of liquid butane to a stick of dynamite in the context of a discussion of airline safety. So why did you do it? Is it because you heard a scary factoid in an e-mail somewhere, swallowed it uncritically, and being almost completely scientifically illiterate had no idea how meaningless it was?”

    Many chemical substances are oxidisable, and have energy that can be released when they are mixed with an oxidising agent (such as air) at the right temperature. Bars of chocolate etc contain stored energy, but would be hard to make into bombs. Not so, I suggest, butane lighters.

    My work brings me into contact with the grain industry, where there is justified concern about grain dust-air mixtures resulting in silo explosions. These are explosions in the everyday sense of very rapid combustion, not the result of a detonation wave in a tightly packed redox mixture or disproportionating compound. But highly dangerous all the same. I also read from time to time about yet another boat explosion, brought about by ignition of a gasoline-air mixture in a bilge compartment. Commonly the superstructure gets blown off, the boat gets burnt to the waterline, and people get injured or killed.

    “Gasoline has a lower explosive limit (LEL) of 1.4% by volume and an upper explosive limit (UEL) of 7.6%. The percentages within the LEL and UEL represent flammable gasoline/air mixtures. Therefore, a flammable gasoline/air mixture can exist when 100 ml (approx. 200 drops) of gasoline liquid is vaporized in 1 cubic metre (approx. 35 cubic feet) of confined air space. Furthermore, gasoline vapour is heavier [denser] than air and tends to collect in lower compartments of the boat. Therefore, a small leak or spill can present a significant hazard of explosion [in the common sense of the word] and fire.” http://www.waltersforensic.com/articles/fire_investigation/vol3-no2.htm

    Our airline toilet has a volume of say 7 x 3 x 3 feet = approximately 60 cubic feet. So to blow it apart and have a good chance of starting a fire, we need a minimum of about 10 lighters, each containing 20 ml of liquid butane, assuming LEL equivalence of butane and gasoline vapour. (I checked. We can.)

    No real problem for our toilet bomber. Thanks to the airlines’ possible abandonment of what you so cavalierly call baggage inspection ‘theater’, a future terrorist will have no trouble boarding with as many butane lighters as he likes.

    Inspector: “Why do you have these 72 butane lighters, sir?”
    Innocent looking traveller: “I thought it would be a good symbolic idea to buy one for each of my 72 virgins… I mean 72 cousins; to be gifts for our upcoming end-of-Ramadan party.”

    “Butane burns rapidly. That’s part of the point. It’s part of why when you let go of the button on a disposable lighter, the flame goes out almost immediately. But I’m actually typing this across the hall from a chemistry lab, so I performed a micro-scale experiment with butane and a lighter just to see if my suspicions were correct. I can say with some certainty that your hypothetical terrorist would, at worst, end up with some second-degree burns on his hands and lap, maybe set his clothing on fire, and end up the laughingstock of the al-Qaeda picnic. He’d have better luck trying to light the carpet or make a bonfire of his pants, but thankfully airplanes are equipped with these highly functional safety devices called fire extinguishers.

    “See, a fireball may be what Hollywood has conditioned you to think of as an explosion, but fireballs have to be pretty big to do any significant damage, because otherwise the vaporized fuel burns up too quickly to ignite anything else. Actual explosives have rapid reactions that create pressure waves (the difference between a detonation and a deflagration like a fireball), and this is what makes them dangerous. Even a significant amount of butane released into the air burns up in a fraction of a second, and it’d take a lot more than one lighter to get a pressure wave of any concern. You’d have trouble lighting paper with a combusting butane lighter, let alone doing any damage to an airplane bathroom.”

    Is that so?

    Ever heard of a (methane gas) mine explosion? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xivmux0kuw4

    These are not detonations of high explosive, but can do an awful lot of damage, killing and injury.
    So our Al-Quaida chemist would have the task of figuring out how to create maximum mayhem and destruction, and calculating how many butane lighters would do it. The ventilation system in the toilet would be a possible help to him, as it would create turbulence inside the toilet, tending to mix the butane and the air, meaning less fireball, more explosion.

    I can understand the airlines’ reluctance to abandon the ‘theater’. After all, Pan Am – one of the world’s leading airlines – was sent broke by the Lockerbie bombing of 1988, which also killed all 259 aboard the plane.

  107. says

    Maybe next time you go on safari, you can take along a children’s primer that will teach you to read. And then you can expand your University of Google education by penning a thesis on how you expect a terrorist to bring a grain silo and a methane gas mine onto an airplane.

    Until then, I’ll continue to laugh heartily at your cartoonish misapprehension of basic chemistry, and your brave stand against experts. Just you and Don McLeroy fighting the good fight against actual knowledge and information.

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