Sunday, November 21, 2010

TSA: Tough Shizzle for All

Edit Update: I've just had clarified that the TSA requires either the Full Body Scan OR the Pat Down but not both. So all of the below was my personal delusion. It was fun while it lasted even if it wasn't based in any kind of reality !

This past week I flew out to see my nephew in his school's production of West Side Story. Aware that the airports were now host to the latest round of more stringent 'TSA Quality (of the passenger) Assurance' tests I arrived at the airport at what I assumed was a ridiculously long 1.75 hours before my flight was scheduled to take off. I was right and I was wrong. I was right to arrive that early, and I was wrong that arriving that early was crazy. By the time I got through security my plane was in line to take off in 5 minutes.

While waiting in line I mused at how progression of TSA procedures seems to have been totally and only reactive..

What ? people used box cutters as weapons ? OK, from now on no more blades.
What ? someone got explosive liquids on the plane ? OK, from now on restrict and inspect the liquids.
What ? someone had shoe bomb ? OK, from now on off come the shoes
What ? someone stuffed explosives in their underwear ? OK, from now on 'enhanced' search.

Now, what would the future hold if someone makes use of a 'false eye bomb' ? 'OK, from now on an opthamologist's inspection ?'

One poor woman waited her hour+ in line only to have her CA driver's license ID rejected because it had expired a few months ago.. So despite the facts that it likely was a valid license until recently AND the picture looked like the (maybe) passenger: REQUEST DENIED. Seriously, if I were to make a fake ID in order to slip past security, wouldn't I be careful to make the counterfeit appear to be valid ? I wished that I could have stuck around to see the outcome, but I was getting close to missing my own plane so I didn't.

I knew that I'd be in for the full body scan but I wondered if there was anything I could do that would decrease my chances of getting the 'pat down' treatment. We don't know (and shouldn't know) the methodology by which the TSA agents decide who gets it and who doesn't. It might be a blind sequencing algorithm or it might be up to the agent's discretion or a combination of both. Since I can't influence any machine like algorithm, the best I can to is to look as much as possible as the opposite of a threat. One would think that this would mean to look as ordinary as possible, but isn't that exactly what a 'threat' would do ? To try and be inconspicuous ? So I decided that since most of the people flying will probably be dressed in every day drab clothing or in business attire, I would be conspicuous but not over the top.. to look like I'm on vacation (which I was) and obviously NOT trying to hide something that I don't want people to see.

I wore the bright clothing seen in the photo above.

Yes, after going through the scanner, the man in the three piece suit ahead me got the pat down. When I stepped up after him, the TSA agent barely looked at me gave me the weary wave 'go on your way'.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Frog Dog, Dog Frog, Frog Dog, Dog Frog, ...

I usually don't respond much to attempts to turn our pet dogs into quasi-humans.. but Halloween is a case for which I'll make an exception. This cute doggie may not know what's going on here, but for us humans, it great !

Chairless Society Awareness

I first became aware of it a few decades ago. Walking downtown to school one morning I saw a man in a three piece suit waiting for the bus. Nothing unusual about that except that he was soles of his feet flat on the ground squatting waiting for the bus the way people from a society without chairs would do. The juxtaposition of a person dressed in formal western clothing squatting on the sidewalk in a non-western way was a bit of a jolt.

Yesterday morning I saw the person in the photos above (video stills, please pardon the low resolution) squatting on a bench and it reminded me about how 'obvious' things in our culture may not be so obvious after all. Here is provided a bench for sitting on so naturally the girl sits on it, but something isn't quite 'right' about the picture.

I recall a local story from the 80's in which a group of people who had risked everything to aid the US cause during the SouthEast Asian undeclared war were given asylum and allowed to settle in the US. Cultural assumptions by those charged with getting the people settled here led to some initial problems... The people were shown the kitchens of their new abodes and were told that the stove is where the food is cooked. Very good. Upon later visits though it was clear that the new settlers were piling wood on top of the stove burners and lighting the wood on fire to cook. No one had thought that they would not automatically know how a stove was designed to be used. After a (few) brush(es) with law enforcement, the same group of people had to be informed that hunting small game in Golden Gate park for dinner was not allowed. Too bad they were such early settlers.. If they had waited a few decades they'd be hailed as the ultimate 'eat locally sourced food' pioneers.

So, seeing the girl squatting on the 'sit' bench reminded me to question my natural assumptions.

I think I tended to buy too readily the idea that in a certain country in the middle east, after coming in and deposing a dictator, the people would welcome their given opportunity to have 'freedom' and embrace it eagerly as we in the US do. The reality may be that the majority have no concept of 'freedom' as we understand it and even if they did, they wouldn't want it.