Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

April 28, 2005

LAX Security

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:08 pm

This past weekend, I went to Southern California, and for the first time in several years I used Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) instead of Long Beach or Orange County. Soon after landing, I started seeing signs everywhere saying “LAX this” and “LAX that,” and I immediately thought it would be great if the security staff had a logo on their shirts or jackets that said “LAX SECURITY.” In fact, those windbreakers police and FBI agents sometimes where, with only the word “POLICE” or “FBI” in block letters on the back would be a great model for a novelty item — jackets that say “LAX SECURITY,” which could then be used to test how “lax” the security at LAX really is — put on a jacket, grab a walkie-talkie, and see where they let you in without asking questions….

Trouble is, security at LAX might be plently lax anyway — or at least, severely misguided, as shown by an event that occurred when I came back to the airport for my return flight. In line to go through the metal detector, I had just reached the front when a uniformed TSA security screener broke into the line, said (politely) something to the effect of “hold on, let these people through” and allowed a large group (half-dozen?) of other uniformed TSA security screeners into the line in front of me. It was a new batch of screeners, arriving to begin their shift. Some of them put some things on the x-ray conveyor belt, and they all walked through the metal detector. “What, you have to be screened?” I asked one of them. “Yes, everybody has to be screened — and if it beeps I have to be wanded just like you,” he answered.

Now if we think about this for even a moment, we should see that this is really strange, and really disturbing. The obvious implication is that from the standpoint of security, the screeners themselves are not considered “trusted” — that is, they might not only possess some hidden weapon, but would be considered a threat to security if they did. Now, this may or may not be a valid assumption, depending on how well they screen the screeners during the employment process. But either way, the implications are not good:

  • Suppose the screeners can, in fact, be trusted — but they have to go through the metal detectors to satisfy some bizarre notion of fairness to social equality. This is harmless in itself (the line was only delayed by a minute or less), but it guarantees that (a) the screeners will all be unarmed, and (b) the public — which has to see them go through otherwise they would not know how “fair” everything is — will know they are unarmed. This means that terrorists will also know the screeners are unarmed. This is fine if they are just trying to stop a retired general from traveling with his Congressional Medal of Honor. But for terrorists, it basically means that they can get through with weapons even if they are detected — what’s the screener going to do to stop them? (Call someone else to shut down the terminal? They seem to do a lot of that — but a clever terrorist could point the gun or knife at the screener who’d just detected it and say something like, “my buddy’s in line behind me with a gun watching us, and if you say a word, he’ll shoot you and run.”)
  • On the other hand, suppose the screeners cannot be trusted. In this case, screening the screeners doesn’t help.
    • First, they are trusting the screeners to screen each other, perhaps under the assumption that even if one screener is not trustworthy, the likelihood that screener being screened by another untrustworthy screener is small. This assumes, probably incorrectly, that two terrorism-inclined screeners could not arrange for one to screen the other.
    • But even if you assume that they couldn’t — or that terrorism-inclined screeners are rare enough that they chances of one being screened by a trustworthy screener are high — it doesn’t matter. Because if a screener cannot be trusted with a weapon, he can’t be trusted to keep other people with weapons out, either. In other words, if you are a terrorist “organization” with at least two members, one of you can get a job as a screener, show up to work without any suspcious items, and then let the other through the screening checkpoint with a gun in every pocket.

In other words, the mere fact that they find it necessary, or even desirable, to make the screeners walk through the metal detectors shows that the security at LAX is just lax security — if even that.

Clarification: They don’t actually have jackets that say “LAX Security.” I just thought it would be really funny if they did.

Disturbing News, Refreshing News

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:05 pm

I came back to the Internet on Tuesday from a four-day (!) hiatus, to find the following disturbing news, on the website of Laura Ingraham, the radio talk-show host:

PRAYER REQUEST FOR LAURA: You know I hate Drama Kings or Queens, but I am asking for your prayers today and for the forseeable future. On Friday afternoon, I learned that I have joined the ever-growing group of American women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. As so many breast cancer patients will tell you, it all came as a total shock. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who love me–my family, a wonderful fiance (if he thinks he’s going to get out of marrying me because of this little blib, he’s sadly mistaken!), my friends, and my church. I am absolutely blown away by how helpful and kind everyone has been–including total strangers who have experienced the same rollercoaster of emotions. The sisterhood of breast cancer survivors is inspiring. I am truly blessed. On Tuesday I will have an operation and within a few days will know more about the future. I am hopeful for a bright future and a “normal” life (well, scratch the “normal” part). Anyway, people have gone through much worse, and I know I’ll obliterate this. I am thanking you in advance for your prayers. You are my family. And remember, I’ll be back sooner than you think.

There was a corresponding — and rather upbeat — recording from Laura played on her show by the person sitting in for her, Congressman (!) J.D. Hayworth. In the recording (made by phone just before she went into the hospital for surgery) she said the cancer was not visible on a mammogram — it was picked up on physical examination during an exam by her gynecologist. She had not been to her gynecologist in three and a half years; this visit was prompted not by any symptoms, but rather by her impending marriage.

My first reaction was, of course, gosh-this-sounds-serious/I-hope-everything-turns-out-OK. My next reactions, in quick succession, were as follows:

  • How serendipitous this was — had she not been getting married now, she might never have caught it in time. (And you all know how important early detection is in determining whether cancer treatments are successful.) Sounds lucky!
  • If she had gotten engaged a year or two earlier, she might have caught the cancer a year or two earlier, and had an even better chance of successful treatment. Sounds unlucky!
  • How strange it is to be talking about whether on is “lucky” to have found breast early or later. “Lucky” is being in the 99.8% of women who will not get breat cancer this year. Better yet, “lucky” is being in the 87.5% of women who will never get it at all. (“Still pretty lucky” is being in the 97% of women who will not die of it even if they do get it.) The problem with this is, the 9.5% of women who get breast cancer and get cured will probably feel a heck of a lot more “lucky” than the 87.5% who never got it in the first place. This is really strange, but seems to be a fact of human nature. We usually feel fortunate and thankful when we have a possibly-bad thing happen that turns out to be not-so-bad (cured cancer, car accident without injury, etc.), but we rarely feel fortunate when nothing notable happens at all (no cancer, no car accident, etc.). The more I think about this, the stranger it seems. But it’s undeniably true.
  • There is something extremely refreshing about hearing that someone out there still thinks it’s important to go to a gynecologist before getting married — in this age where most people seem to have forgotten that there is any connection whatsoever between the body system gynecologists deal with, and marriage. Still, someone shouldn’t have to get cancer for us to find this out.

Yesterday (Wednesday), Laura’s website had this update:

THE POWER OF PRAYER AND LAURA UPDATE: Laura’s breast cancer surgery yesterday “couldn’t have gone better,” in the words of her surgeon Dr. Katherine Alley. Initial sentinel node testing done during surgery showed no signs of cancer involvement in the lymph nodes, and we all hope that this good news is confirmed by more in-depth tissue testing done over the next 48 hours. “The outpouring of love and concern coast-to-coast in prayer, emails, telephone calls has left me feeling more blessed than I can possibly convey,” said Laura Thursday morning from home. “I really don’t know what I did to deserve such kindness but I will gladly wrap myself in it,” she chuckled. “It’s weird but getting cancer has made me feel more blessed than I ever felt before, and I will do everything I can to return the generosity 100-fold when I am feeling a bit better.” According to Laura and her friends who were there throughout, the entire staff at the Surburban Hospital Outpatient Medical Center in Bethesda, MD was amazing. Absolutely top-notch! According to one of Laura’s friends, as she was being taken into surgery, she joked about whether the hospital was running a “two-for-one” surgery special–”a lumpectomy and a lift together–20 percent off!”

And today:

LAURA UPDATE, DAY 3: Hey everyone! I am sitting here in bed with my wireless laptop wishing I was going to be on air today (Thursday) as I planned. Oh well, the post-op was a bit more taxing than I thought (I felt great when the anesthetic hadn’t worn off!), so I’m not ready to rock and roll quite yet. I think I took a turn for the worse when in the middle of the night I turned on CNN to see Al Gore popping gasket about “extreme” judges at the moveon.hasbeens rally. Or was that Darrell Hammond from an old SNL? Anyway, it was a jolt to my system. Awaiting lab results now to see just how “angry” that breast tumor was, its “hormone receptivity,” etc. This is jargon that I hope that none of you ever have to become familiar with, but sadly 1 in 9 women in this country do! I cannot wait until I can resume our daily conversation. You all are so important to me, and I hope you know how grateful I am. Until I am back behind the mic, stay with the show–we need your support–and please keep the prayers coming. To quote Pres. Bush, “I feel comforted in the storm when people pray for me. People ask me why, and I tell them because I can feel it.”

Moral of the story: Don’t watch CNN while in post-op recovery.

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