Here we are again…

Another attempted bombing on an American airline.

The arguing that has already begun about this will continue. Everyone will see in this what they want. Everyone will trim their sails to take advantage of this particular gust of wind.

I don’t have any particular new or original information about the incident, or what was and will be done about it. But I have a couple thoughts, and one idea. These are things that I think are fairly clear.

The only way to absolutely prevent this kind of thing is to scan passengers for intent. We can’t do that yet. Not well. Sure it seems like a good idea to have things like no-fly lists, but then, as in this case you get into a whole argument about how we pick people for such a list. I’m sure that one of the effects of this will be a lowering of the bar for entry onto the list. I would expect the no-fly list to balloon, if it hasn’t already. This may or may not prevent another attempt.

I think I can say with some confidence that expanding the no-fly list will not absolutely prevent another attack. It will, however, absolutely guarantee an increase in the number of people who are on the list who have no intention of ever doing anything on an airplane but traveling. This increase will increase the number of people who have a pretty legitimate reason to be frustrated and angry with the US. And the cycle continues…

Do I have an answer? No (well I have one idea but we’ll get to that).

Do I think this guy should have been let on that flight knowing what I know now? No.

Do I think that it is possible to know what someone is going to do before they do it? No.

And this is the problem. We’re dealing with people. People with passion. Given the right circumstances almost anyone will commit terrorism. And given the right circumstances almost anyone will jump across airline seats to stop an act of terrorism.

So what do you do if you can’t scan for intent?

Our current solution to not being able to do this is presumption of guilt. We assume intent, so we try to remove the means. Let’s say I want to blow up a plane, and I try to get past TSA with a couple of bottles of fluid, disguised as shampoo, which constitute a binary explosive. What happens is that they take away my bottles and I go my smiling, if thwarted, way. If I’m sufficiently motivated, I’ll still try to do something. My intent is still there.
To be absolutely consistent, it should be legal to carry explosives on airplanes. What should be illegal is the blowing up of airplanes. Of course its hard to come up with a good benign reason for having C4 in your carry-on, but we allow people to carry guns in all kinds of crazy places if they don’t seem to have criminal intentions.

I hate the current TSA checkpoints, and the regulations on behavior in the air (how is listening to my iPod while the plane is landing going to cause a problem?). And now they’re going to get worse. Great! As Harry Shearer said: “The passengers prevented a disaster, so let’s punish all passengers.”

Most solutions are not solutions to problems, but distractions from problems.
(and if you’re going to fly, you better make sure that your solution is non-flamable and in a bottle that is 3.4 ounces or less.)

It has been a mental habit of mine to think as I go through TSA… “This would be easier on me if I thought it was actually helping.” I don’t say this out loud… I’m not a complete idiot, nor do I think hassling the employees of TSA is a sane or humane way of expressing anger about our society. But now we have a case in which despite all the hoops they make us jump through, this yahoo still gets to self-imolate on an airplane. So our response is, let’s do MORE of what we’re doing, because clearly we’re not doing ENOUGH. Instead of lets look at what we’re doing.

So here’s my suggestion (I don’t know how original it is): How’s about a licensing system. If you want to travel by air, you have to get a license. And society will check you out and decide if we think its safe to have you in the system, just like with guns and cars. I’m sure that if we imposed 24 hour sobriety checks on every street corner, we would save millions of lives, but we don’t do that. We check every passenger, every time they use air transport… and we still don’t do it well.

I mean if there were a well designed test, that determined my ability, and presumed willingness, to use the air-transport system without endangering society, then I should be allowed to do so without undue hindrance. And I should be issued a license card that allows me to identify myself as such. I’m sure we could come up with something here, and yes, such a system would be rife with abuse and problems, but so is the system we have, so let’s try SOMETHING!!

Aren’t we supposed to be the country that’s innovative in the area of human liberty? I know we haven’t been sometimes, but aren’t we supposed to be? Aren’t we supposed to be the country that inspires people to want to come here and be part of this interesting project?
Rather than inspiring young men to come here to try to blow stuff up…

What do I know? I’m just a citizen, and that seems to mean less and less these days…

hmmm.

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