Thursday, September 28, 2006

Shampoo Explosions

A couple weeks ago, I was convinced the lodging junta had gotten to the Transportation Security Administration. After all, who would see the biggest benefit from the recent ban on liquids in airplane cabins? Hotels, obviously: the knapsack majority would no longer be able to steal those little tiny shampoos and lotions they leave in your bathroom, or on maid carts in the hall, or in utility closets behind easy-to-jimmy locks. The hotel lobby and its backers would see shrinkage decline and profits increase. And I’d have to start buying full-price VO5 from Target to stock my home shower.

Now it seems the little-tiny-shampoo-bottle manufacturers were behind it all along. Since TSA slackened its restrictions this week, Americans are able to take three-ounce containers of our favorite gels and liquids in our carry-ons, so long as we consolidate our stash in a clear, one-quart zipper baggie segregated from our ordinary handbags. Now, if we want to exfoliate or condition while on the road, we either have to steal from the hotel, forcing Holiday Inn to buy more little tiny containers, or go to Target to buy the minibottles ourselves. Diabolical single-serving-health-and-beauty-distribution geniuses. Are we supposed to believe it is a coincidence that all the suspects arrested in the transatlantic terror plot come from countries where the tiny-bottle trade is the leading employer (not an actual fact)?

The bigger advance for Joe Zip-pack is TSA’s blessing to bring aboard liquids and gels purchased between the checkpoint and the gate. Rather than venture dry into the cramped seats of U.S. airlines, we are permitted the small dignity of first arming ourselves with airport-expensive versions of lattes already overpriced in the normal world and brand-name water in clear plastic bottles, which they say is the only sensible form of water these days.

Former Homeland Security Inspector General and current mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent Ervin thinks this is a terrible idea. The opinion he imports in USA Today is essentially the same from his appearance on CNN the day TSA loosened its regulations: “if inherently innocuous items can be mixed to make a bomb, then permitting people to buy such items past the screening checkpoint at the airport and bring them onto airplanes is just as potentially dangerous as allowing people to carry on prefabricated bombs” (link). The problem is in his premise. No one ever accused the terrorists of attempting to make airplane-destroying bombs out of “inherently innocuous items”; they were going to make them out of completely nocuous items disguised as innocuous. You can’t blow up an airplane with bottled water itself, but you could blow it up with an ammonium-nitrate solution in bottled-water containers. (I wouldn’t advise trying it at home or on a plane, because you would hurt yourself and a lot of other people.) The idea is that prior screening can guarantee that sports drinks sold at postcheckpoint newsstands don’t have gel explosives concealed beneath false bottoms. That Mr. Ervin believes TSA is afraid of anyone mixing genuine Aquafina with genuine Head and Shoulders mid-flight and blowing a jetliner out of the sky makes me wonder how little common sense you have to possess to become a high-ranking DHS official. Fourteen-year-olds are probably disqualified.

Mr. Ervin is just as critical of the bottle-manufacturer-backed move to allow small quantities of toiletries through security. “I am skeptical that TSA has definitively determined that small quantities of liquids and gels pose no threat,” he writes. “Given its track record, it is far likelier that TSA has simply determined that small quantities pose minimal threats.” So TSA, damn them all, determined that the small risk that terrorists could use chemicals in three-ounce shampoo bottles to bring down a commercial flight is outweighed by the needs of passengers for convenience and comfort. Isn’t this what they’re supposed to do?

On the one hand, we could adopt an abstinence-only security policy and not allow plane travel at all, and on the other we could allow anyone and anything on all flights. The smart course is a balance. Once in a while planes are going to crash and people are going to die, and it is right and good that we should do what we can to make the onces few and the whiles long, but such is ultimately a real cost we calculate into the air-travel equation. Reasonable, educated people can and will bicker over where in the demilitarized zone between freedom and security to draw the line, and TSA more than likely has still not found the optimal place. But it makes sense to have restrictions on truly threatening items and allow the freedom to carry nonthreatening ones, and it makes sense that in times of emergency immediately surrounding a disaster or credible threat more items would fall in the former category.

I flew cross-country twice in the past week, once before the regulatory change and once after. Both times I defied TSA by carrying gel-based deodorant in my carry-on. There is danger in making laws overly stringent: suddenly disobedience seems like a less absurd option. There’s a slight chance that antipersperant-armed people could create a crisis on a plane, but there’s a much larger chance that, had I traveled without deodorant, my rowmates’ return flight would have been less than pleasant.

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One Big Fiesta for Illegal Aliens and Homosexuals

North Carolina Republican Vernon Robinson is setting the bar higher for forthrightness in campaign attack ads. This television commercial is about how his opponent, Democratic incumbent Brad Miller, "even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia":

(Via BoingBoing) And this radio ad uncovers Miller's secret plan to turn the United States into a gay wetback roller disco.

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Video credits: "Vernon Robinson Attack Ad," posted by estone28, courtesy YouTube, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Charles Lindbergh once mistakenly landing in a nearby field was, sadly, "undoubtedly the biggest event" in area history.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

From Good Samaritans to GTA Abettors

The good people of Mesa, Arizona, are so good that they'll help a stranded driver learn to drive stick without batting an eye—even if the driver is fourteen and the car is stolen:
The boy stopped mid-getaway Wednesday to ask for help, and at least 15 people responded, according to Phoenix police. Police said the boy then got stuck in reverse, and more neighbors helped him push the car.

When he still couldn't figure out how to operate the manual transmission, police said he asked a passer-by for an impromptu driving lesson. Margarita Wood tried to give him directions through the car window and finally climbed in to help.
Link (submitted by kbrudnic). I would think that his being fourteen would only make his inability to drive stick more plausible. Pay it forward.

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Image credits: Cop Car, courtesty Wicked Good Art, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Going Batty

The Grave Digger
Arkansas is facing a serious bat problem at Mansfield Elementary School.

Bat have been roosting in classrooms, and since school has resumed in August, the problem has only worsened. A few days before school began, a teacher discovered a dead bat in a utility closet. But then, there was the guano. Sweet Jesus, the guano.

'I had no idea it was going to be this big, had no idea,'' said Mansfield Elementary Principal Kathy Goff. 'We found guano on the roof. That's when we knew there was a major problem.'

Superintendent Jim Hattabaugh believed students were the source of one problem.

'We started looking around and noticed the odor was something else, and we kind of blamed that on the little boys missing the toilet,'' he said.

Link. Animal control workers have suggested a bat funnel, which will lead the bats to fly out during the night and be unable to find their way back in. Next year, the school is looking to replace the roof, which should eliminate the bat problem.

If you ask me, you should just scare them out with some good old fashioned Meatloaf.