More Airline Insecurity

The bill pushed by House Republicans would create a Transportation Security Administration within the Transportation Department responsible for security of all modes of transportation. It increases the number of air marshals on flights, takes steps to strengthen cockpit doors, requires law enforcement personnel at each screening location in airports, and imposes a passenger fee of up to $2.50 per flight to pay for new security measures.

The Senate bill and legislation introduced by House Democrats contain many of the same provisions. But the Senate bill would make all 28,000 airport screeners federal workers, allowing smaller airports to use local or state law enforcement officials.

If our only choice is one of these two versions, then my vote is for the House version, but what’s frustrating about this debate (as in most public policy debates) is the “false-choice” aspect of it. It is based on a set of flawed assumptions, e.g.:

  • That what happened on September 11 was a failure of airport security procedures
  • That improving those procedures will prevent future such events
  • That the legislation being contemplated will actually have the effect of improving those procedures
  • That no price is too high to pay to prevent airline hijacking attempts

The story notes that a price of $2.50 will be added to each ticket to pay for this improved security. This is indeed a trivial amount, and if it were the only cost, and it really increased our safety, I’d cheerfully pay ten times the amount. But what is always ignored in these debates is the real cost (perhaps because politicians and bureaucrats, who are not paid by the hour, don’t understand that time really is money).

Has anyone ever done a cost/benefit analysis of these bureaucratic butt-covering edicts? Has anyone ever calculated the undoubtedly tens or hundreds of billions of dollars that confiscating toenail clippers from business travelers costs in terms of lost time and productivity? Has anyone even attempted to estimate the lost wealth to the economy because of deals that don’t get done because someone finds flying not too frightening, but simply too harrying and inconvenient?

As I’ve pointed out in a previous editorial, I don’t worry much about hijackings any more. The hijackers themselves have put a permanent end to that by shifting the paradigm of both passengers and crew–we simply will never tolerate it again. I am now more worried about bombs on board, and at least in the case of checked luggage, these can be checked for with very little inconvenience to the passengers, and even with carry-on, a bomb is much easier to detect, and can be screened without wasting time on the minutiae of personal grooming tools, or even Swiss Army knives (I had to leave mine in Puerto Rico last month because of the continuing brainlessness of the current security approach).

Some say that if people are expected to have to defend themselves, they won’t fly. My bet is that what will keep people from flying is ineffective and time-wasting security procedures, that only give us the illusion that we don’t have to take any personal responsibility for ourselves. As Ann Coulter once said, the flawed thinking is apparently that, the more annoying the procedures, the safer the plane. I know that I’ll be flying less, and not because I’m afraid, but because I value my time.

My preferred anti-hijacking solution remains to allow qualified people to carry–cockpit crew, active/retired military, law enforcement personnel, even people with valid CCW. Let’s make the hijackers have to guess who’s carrying and who’s not and how many are, and my bet is that there won’t even be any more attempts, let alone successes. But that remains a politically incorrect solution (though perhaps becoming less so, as we see gun sales skyrocketing in the wake of the attacks).

Egg Drop Update

“What it’s about is terrorism and not anything else if you get right down to it,” Haynes said. “It’s nothing about Islam or any other kinds of ethnic groups in the world.”

Well, to use the tired old cliche, DUHHHHH!

Virgin Shortage In Heaven

HEAVEN — Heaven has admitted that it is suffering a severe shortage of virgins following a huge increase in Muslim martyrs. A spokesperson for Heaven claimed that paradise is struggling to meet the martyrs’ demands that their acts of terror are rewarded by “the favours of 72 virgins in heaven”.

“Normally around this time of year you’ve just got a few Palestinians and the occasional Egyptian who has shot up a tourist bus,” reported Heaven’s spokesperson. “But the attacks on America have really pushed us to our limit.”

In the face of the crisis, Allah yesterday said He could not recall making the 72 virgins promise and blamed clerics on earth for beating up expectations.

“I mean 72 is a ridiculous number of virgins anyway,” said Allah. “It’s not like heaven is overflowing with virgins and we are sent less every year.”

I received the above in an email this morning. While it’s amusing, there is a serious point to be made here. Take a patriarchal society in which the wealthy few get multiple wives, in which virginity is valued far beyond reason, in which much of the populace is poor, and the males have lousy prospects (in economic terms) for getting any female, let alone a virgin, from the pool reduced by the polygyny. Combine that with the promise of not just one, but seventy-two virgins upon martyrdom, and you have a recipe in which death by the killing of innocents becomes much more attractive than life for many young men. This is the poisonous culture with which we’re dealing.

Follow up

Michael Lynch of Reason Online has a little piece titled, “No Freedom, No Prosperity,” expanding on the theme that the problems of the Middle East lie not in the stars, or in the west, but in themselves.

Yet if the root causes of terrorism are open to debate, the root causes of this poverty is no mystery: That?s what countries get when they combine socialist economists with totalitarian politics.

Patent Nonsense

The recent tendency, both here and in South Africa with AIDS, is to chip away at patent protection and to lowball the compensation offered. In the short run this approach plays well before a public when resources are stretched thin. But in the long term, our stock of pharmaceuticals depreciates, and it must be replenished. It takes over a $250 million to bring a new drug to market today, and the revenues derived from a successful drug must cover not only its cost of production, but the costs of experimenting with promising products that never make it to market at all. We rightly do nothing to socialize the costs of pharmaceutical research that leads nowhere. Why then take away the fruits of a high side?

Such suspension of law and rights might almost be justifiable, and of less concern, if we were formally at war, but the government continues to refuse to make such a declaration, rendering the precedent all the more dangerous.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!