A New Way to Fly, or Why You Should Start Wearing Tight Pants

New York Times reports changes coming in the way air passengers are screened.

Changes will involve new types of random searches and expanded pat downs for targeted passengers.

Interestingly, the new screening will relax restrictions on small sharps — scissors and the like.

This is an interesting political bargain. Homeland Security is reconizing the necessity of the changes — and the urgency — by putting them into effect on Dec. 20, right before the peak of holiday travel. Is this in response to a specific threat?

Yet, as if acknowledging the increased discomfort for passengers, HomSec tosses the proverbial bone by letting passengers keep their pointy trinkets.

Adding to the interestingness of these changes, it seems to me that the new pat-down rules are designed less to catch evil-doers than to relieve the stress and boredom for employees from perfunctory searches. The searches — while formal and proscribed — will have the additional effect of trusting employees to use their judgement in searches.

Under the revised policy, screeners will still have the option of skipping pat-downs in certain areas “if it is clear there is no threat,” like when a person is wearing tight clothing making it obvious that there is nothing hidden.

This change will empower employees to use their own good judgement in their work, which can only improve the overall quality of it. A fascinating, forward looking innovation in federal policy brought to an area of critical national concern.

Here’s hoping it works.

That Sound You Hear is the Generation Gap Yawning

Researchers in the UK have developed a device that repels teenagers. No joke. It emits a high-pitched noise that only affects young ears. Convenience store owners, rejoice!

But last month, Mr. Stapleton gave him a Mosquito for a free trial. The results were almost instantaneous. It was as if someone had used anti-teenager spray around the entrance, the way you might spray your sofas to keep pets off. Where disaffected youths used to congregate, now there is no one.

At first, members of the usual crowd tried to gather as normal, repeatedly going inside the store with their fingers in their ears and “begging me to turn it off,” Mr. Gough said. But he held firm and neatly avoided possible aggressive confrontations: “I told them it was to keep birds away because of the bird flu epidemic.”

Back in my day, the owners of 7-11 and McDonalds franchises had just discovered the power of classical or country music to scare away teens. But this is a laser-guided missile by comparison.

Yes, Tony Blair Personally Cut Off Your Colleagues’ Heads

Far, far be it from me to judge the idealism of peace activists risking their lives to make places like Iraq a better place — not to mention contemplating the particular terror of being kidnapped by machete-wielding kooks — but I have to say there is a big disconnect in play when the organization you’re working for blames the occupiers and not the terrorists for the predicament you’re in:

Also on Tuesday, the aid group Christian Peacemaker Teams confirmed that four of its workers had been taken hostage on Saturday in a neighborhood in western Baghdad. The group posted their identities on its Web site: Norman Kember, 74, from London; Tom Fox, 54, from Clearbrook, Va.; James Loney, 41, from Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, also a Canadian.

The Christian peace group said today that the policies of the United States and British governments were ultimately to blame for the kidnapping. “We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and the U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people,” the group said in a statement posted on its Web site.

I’m assuming these people are going to be extricated or released somehow, but on the off chance they won’t be — what in Sam Hill are these evildoers thinking? Apparently, it’s a new sort of Salem, where no matter how you cut it, you’re still a witch, except the witches here are “spies”:

The Arabic-language television station Al Jazeera showed a video showing the four men and displaying a passport with Mr. Kember’s name. On the video, the kidnappers, who said they represented a militant group called Swords of Truth, accused their captives of being “spies of the occupying forces.” Al Jazeera did not say whether the group had made any demands or had threatened to execute the foreigners.

The Radical Neo-Cons of The West Wing

As I’ve noted before, watching The West Wing in re-runs these days it becomes clear how pragmatically right-of-center, in some respects, the Bartlet Administration was. Though it’s often derided as The Left Wing, the show’s pretty centrist all around. Sure, the religious right is the butt of a lot of jokes, but hey, they’re funny!

But from free trade to missile defense to terrorism, much of the policy wouldn’t be out of place in the Bush White House. I was particularly struck by this Toby/Andy scene from Season Three (which straddles 9/11):

TOBY
It’s fanaticism whether we call it that or not, so were going to call it that. We respect all religions, all cultures.

ANDY
To a point.

TOBY
Yes, to a point. Grotesque oppression isn’t okay just because it’s been institutionlised. If you ask me, I think we should have gotten into the game three, four decades ago, but they’re coming after us now, so it’s time to saddle up.

ANDY
Toby…

TOBY
We do know what’s right.

ANDY
This is why they hate us.

TOBY
There’s a lot of reasons why they hate us. You know when they’re gonna like us? When we win.

Continue reading The Radical Neo-Cons of The West Wing

Where’s My Paul Simon Soundrack?

I would love to believe that the Global War on Terror (GWOT) is entirely fought on the battlefields, or in dank, dusty alleys by guys as cool as George Clooney. For example, I share Peggy Noonan’s desire for a suitably dramatic version of the apprehension of UBL, complete with a Paul Simon soundtrack, but I fear that reality might be less exciting than that, that GWOT is more about accountants and analysts working in John Snow’s Treasury Department to cut the flow of funds supporting terrorism.

So it’s concerning — in that big, yawning of-course-I’m-listening sort of way — that the Treasury Department and Department of State can’t figure out who’s doing what:

The government’s efforts to help foreign nations cut off the supply of money to terrorists, a critical goal for the Bush administration, have been stymied by infighting among American agencies, leadership problems and insufficient financing, a new Congressional report says.

. . .

In at least one case, the State Department refused to allow a Treasury official to enter an unidentified foreign country last year to help with strategies to fight terrorist financing because of turf battles, investigators found. Because the country had recently been upgraded to a priority, State Department officials wanted to do their own assessment first before allowing the Treasury Department to conduct its work, causing a delay of several months.

Scandal o’ the Day

Another headliner from the Elephant, or, A Factory for Producing Big, Stinking Piles of … Scandal.

Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), pleaded guilty to taking bribes for steering defense contracts to comrades.

In a statement, prosecutors said Cunningham admitted to receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes paid to him by several conspirators through a variety of methods, including checks totaling over $1 million, cash, rugs, antiques, furniture, yacht club fees and vacations.

What’s worse, the good Rep. Cunningham is chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and human intelligence — i.e., he has privileged access to classified defense information, and thus is in a unique position to use his influence to help determine which companies receive defense contracts.

Can America please fast-forward to November 2006?

Stability Operations

I meant to blog about this NY TImes article (link goes to the only place i could find it archived) before Thanksgiving, but it got away from me. Interesting stuff:

The Pentagon’s leadership, recognizing that it was caught off guard by difficulties in pacifying Iraq after the invasion, is poised to approve a sweeping directive that will elevate what it calls “stability operations” to a core military mission comparable to full-scale combat.

The new order could significantly influence how the military is structured, as well as the specialties it emphasizes and the equipment it buys.

This is a big deal, of course. Transforming the military doesn’t happen overnight, as Donald Rumsfeld could tell you. Joe Klein wrote this week that the problem with Rumsfeld — and John Murtha, for that matter — is that they want to buy boats to fight China and not Arabic speakers to police the streets of Ramadi. Kein writes:

Rumsfeld’s Pentagon has refused to undertake the violent reordering of priorities┬Śmore special forces, more intelligence, zero boats┬Śneeded to fight a scruffy, labor-intensive struggle against an enemy that thrives in shadows in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Well, it looks like that reordering of priorities is going to happen, as it should. The great thing about the U.S. military is that it’s so incredibly adaptable in the long term. It might take years, however. As Courtney Vance’s character said in The Hunt for Red October, “a boat this big doesn’t exactly stop on a dime.” But the point is that they have the feedback mechanisms in place to evolve. Which is why the U.S. military totally rocks. Seriously.

Maybe that’s the silver lining we take from Iraq. Win or lose, we’ll know better next time. We’ll have the peacekeeping systems to make it work. Is that enough?