I see London

Posted by By at 1 December, at 12 : 00 PM Print

I see London, I see France, I see someone’s underpants, or, why not let airport security go to the dogs? When I was a kid, back in the late Jurassic, we used to have to practice the “duck and cover” drills in our school.

For those of you who grew up after the interesting years of The Cold War, “duck and cover” was practice for what we were supposed to do in the event of a nuclear (or, if you prefer the down-home version, “nuke-u-lar”) attack.

We would scramble underneath our desks, kneel into a fetal position, and cover our heads with our hands.

Years later, we would all joke that the position was to make it easier for us to kiss our butts goodbye if it turned out there really was an attack.

The folks in charge, whoever they were, understood two very important things.

One: If there really was an atomic holocaust – something that could easily still happen – we were all toast. Or ash. Or vapor, depending on how close we were to the nearest Ground Zero.

Two: It was less important that the “duck and cover” routine wouldn’t keep us from dying en mass than it was that it would make us feel that there WAS something we could do to protect ourselves.

It diluted the dread. A little.

Immaterial was the fact that the routine gave us as little protection from atomic fireballs as a St. Christopher medal would have given anybody who was wearing one on Flight 93 on that Sept. 11.

Americans, for some reason, think that machines can fix anything — experience with their own vehicles, kitchen appliances, and ATMs notwithstanding. So, now the Bureau of Peeking and Poking is giving us a choice between being scanned by a device that can see through our clothing AND GIVE DIM OUTLINES OF OUR USUALLY UNREMARKABLE PRIVATE PARTS, or having a perfect stranger give us a very thorough pat-down, all in the interest of detecting WMDs or wads of plastic explosive packed around our no-longer-all-that-privates.

I saw a promotional photo of a traveler in one of the scans, hands upraised, a semi-automatic pistol tucked provocatively in the rear waistband of her jeans.


Well, obviously, it was a posed photo. If terrorists were dumb enough to try to smuggle a metal weapon through the devices, which use backscatter x-ray or radio wave technology to see through clothing, then we would have nothing to worry about.

God bless the feds. They really have our peace of mind at heart. That’s terrific, as far as it goes. But I read recently that at least one test subject managed to get past a scanner while carrying bomb components secreted on his person.

Not very impressive for a device that costs between $130,000 and $170,000 each. Multiply that by, the 1,000 scanners, the feds plan to have in place in airports by the end of next year, with more planned for train stations and subways.

Back in April, Canwest News Service in Canada quoted Israeli security Rafi Sela, who helped design security at Ben Gurion International Airport, calling the scanners “expensive and useless…” and furthermore stating that he could “overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747.”

I wish we would get over this idea that there is a gizmo to solve every problem. Even if, there is, gizmos don’t always make the most sense. There was a tale going around a few years back about how NASA spent untold thousands of dollars coming up with a ballpoint pen that would function in zero gravity. The Soviets simply used pencils.

I have no idea if the story is true, but it illustrates my point.

Bomb-sniffing dogs would be, if not cheaper in the long run, more reliable. A dog’s olfactory senses are 200,000 to 300,000 times more sensitive than those of a human, and a dog is not shy about where he might put his nose. And dogs can stroll around the premises with their human partners, an added bonus.

Besides, you can give dogs names like Nitro or Max. Nobody’s going to name a scanner.

Rock The Capital covers airport security, Wikileaks and the environment.


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- who has written 28 posts for Rock The Capital
T.W. Burger was born in western Pennsylvania but spent more than 30 years growing up in Athens Ga., with a two-year side-trip to Greenville, Mississippi. He has lived in the Gettysburg area since 1985. Before becoming a newspaper reporter at 35, he was an apprentice mortician, concrete mixer driver, garbageman, salesman, laboratory technician and all-around roustabout. He has written professionally since the late 1970s. He lives along Marsh Creek near Gettysburg with his partner Sue and a loose affiliation of cats. He is the author of the “Burger to Go” blogsite at Burger2go.wordpress.com. - Email tburger

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