23 November 2010

"Instead of looking for bombs, we should be looking for terrorists."

New York Magazine | Dan Amira | The TSA Is Literally Killing Americans With Its Pat-Downs

According to Steven Horowitz, a transportation economist from St. Lawrence University, the TSA's intimate pat-downs — which could get you all the way to third base, if you're lucky — will encourage some people to forgo flying for driving. Since driving is statistically much more dangerous than flying, the pat-downs will, in effect, "kill more Americans on the highway" — ironic, since their entire purpose is to keep Americans safe.
And more specifically to keep us safe while traveling.
Of course, this would not be a new phenomenon. A 2005 Cornell study concluded that 1,200 traffic fatalities were attributable to the post-9/11 shift from flying to driving. The authors of the study posited that the shift happened for two reasons. The first is the same as the pat-down effect — that the inconvenience of increased air-travel-security requirements made driving more attractive. The second was that fears about the dangers of air travel convinced people to take a car — the supposedly "safer" mode of transport. Which shows that people are going to kill themselves via driving whether flying is not safe enough or too safe for its own good.
Not so fast.  That second group of people didn't shift to driving because flying wasn't safe enough. They shifted because they thought flying wasn't safe enough. That mistaken impression was caused in no small part by our national pants-shitting about how undersecured air travel was and how critical it was that we go all in on passenger air security immediately.

Via Mungowitz, who absolutely nails it with the line that appears as the title to this post.  Bravo for that.

He is wrong, however, to say that George Will makes a good point when he says "What the TSA is doing is mostly security theater, a pageant to reassure passengers that flying is safe. Reassurance is necessary if commerce is going to flourish..."

Maybe people will find the TSA reassuring and activity will flourish.  But maybe the opposite will happen.

Maybe the TSA running around trying to slam barn doors shut after the fact reinforces the idea that they have no clue how to keep us safe. Maybe people conclude that they're having their delicates fondled because they're in grave, mortal, imminent danger all the time. Maybe being felt up by rent-a-cop-level guards who are obviously barely wrapping their feeble minds around the rote script they'be been handed and can not tell the difference between nail clippers and automatic weapons does not reassure the populace.  Maybe every time someone with a tattoo that says "bomb" is thrown off a plane people realize the security apparatus has no god damned clue how to keep people safe.  Maybe people will just think that all these drastic and intrusive measures are necessary because shit is going to happen at any moment and OH MY GOD WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!

Maybe the way to reassure people that they're exceedingly unlikely to die from a terrorist bomb on an airplane is to calm the hell down and act like things are under control. Maybe you remind people that all this screening has never succeeded in catching a single terrorist, and as such all the real efforts are going on behind the scenes, investigating, watching, listening, being proactive, rather than waiting for some nutjob to show up with C4 sutffed down his drawers and hoping we notice.  Maybe the way to instill confidence is to act confidently.

1 comment:

  1. Heh. I wonder what will piss Steve off the most -- that they misspelled his name (it's Horwitz), or that they referred to him as a "transportation economist."

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