A TSA Modest Suggestion

Leaving Orlando, I was “allowed” to “enjoy” the new air travel experience of the TSA.

Through Security

They have the usual X-Ray your Bags Belt, and a new “irradiate your whole body and show you naked” backscatter X-Ray device (at least, that’s what it looked like to me), and the old “Magnetometer Beeper Arch” but without the ‘wands’ for finding that your zipper is in fact metal and in fact in your pants…. Soo….

I got to walk up to the entrance to Security and place my bag on the belt. Then place my backpack on the belt, but before it got away take out the laptop, that went in it’s own little tub.

And away they went.

Then another tub got my shoes.

And off it went…

At that point a third tub got my jacket and cell phone.

Away it went.

OK, I’m done, I think. Having placed all “the usual” in tubs…. Not so, I was informed by the TSA guy. (At least, I think it was a guy… this was at about 5:50 AM and I’d been up since 4:20 AM but had not had coffee yet and was just a bit more than 1/2 still asleep…


‘What?’ said I… in that confused ‘did someone talk to me while I was reminiscing about REM sleep’ kind of way I have about me at 5.xx AM with all of 2 hours of almost sleeping under my belt. Wait, I’ve heard that word somewhere before. B-E-L-T belt… Something about a belt…


‘Oh, what about it?’

“The Buckle. It’s metal.”

I look down. It’s less metal than is in my teeth. GOD I hope they don’t expect me to put my teeth in a tub… they are still connected…

The belt goes in a little round tub (I’ve already preloaded all the usual pocket metal into the suitcase… coins, pens, flashlight, keys, etc.)

Away she goes…

So, I think, I’ve got on socks, pants with a plastic button and no belt, and a dress shirt with plastic buttons and some underwear (boxers… Heck, they know, you might as well know…). Not much else to ‘give up’ I think in my bleary eyed way.


‘huh?’ … ‘Nothing metal…’ and I pull out what’s still in my pockets.

A plastic case (see through) with some silicone ear plugs in it for attempting to remain sane in the plane if there is too much noise, small children (who seem to somehow have the largest of voices), a bad movie on the laptop of the guy next to me, someone snoring in the row behind me, or just a person next to me who wants to talk when I want to attempt to sleep, as futile as that might be… but I digress..), some paper money, a plastic comb, and a wallet with plastic and paper in it. Oh, and one Benadryl Capsule in the blister pack for the odd allergic emergency. (Not just me having a ‘tobacco moment’ but anyone who might have an ‘issue’… Be Prepared, someone once told me… but I wasn’t prepared, I was about to discover.)


‘What? This? There isn’t any metal, it’s plastic?’

“THE PILL, it’s got metal foil on it, and the plastic box”

‘It’s Benadryl. In case of an allergic problem.’


OK, it all goes in another plastic tub, along with absolutely everything else in my pockets and wallet and all.


‘What?’ (You see a pattern forming here?)


OK, it goes back into a pocket. WOW, I’m going to get to keep something other than my underwear …

Away goes ANOTHER Little Round Tub.

So now I’m thinking (while standing in the approach to the Backscatter X-Ray Box thingy looking at the backside of a woman in some odd uniform who is on the other side talking to someone else and looking away from me. While thinking is hard at this moment, being before noon and with neither coffee nor sleep, I’ve been prodded into it by the TSA ‘guy’ repeatedly waking me up to inform me I was overdressed… Let’s see, one big bag, one small bag, laptop tub, two big clothes tubs, two, or was it three small round tubs… So I’ve got about 7 total tubs and bags stacking up on the other side of the X-Ray Box. Gee, this is going to be a slow process when it happens at high noon with a crowd… I’m almost glad it’s it’s whatever time it is…

“GO TO The Other Line”


“SHE’S NOT READY. Go to the other line.”

As he points to the old magnetometer line…

At this point, I realize that he thought I was planning on going through the Backscatter X-Ray and I’d really only just become dimly aware of what it was and of the fact that they kind of wanted me to go through the backscatter X-Ray but the other Lady Guard was busy gossiping with someone so I couldn’t go through it, even though I’d not really figured out I was supposed to have a choice… But now I had no choice, it was the Magnetometer for Me… but I was still pondering how to get into the tight little arch of the Backscatter machine with my pants trying to reach my ankles if I let go of them to hold my arms out like the pretty pictures on the sides… Being rather “round in the middle” and tapering to pencil legs in one straight inverted triangle does not help hold ones pants up…



And away I went.

Waddling over to the Magnetometer with my legs a bit splayed to help keep the pants up and one hand on the front, hoping they would not ask me to hold my arms out. Then Boldly Waddling Through!

Nothing Went Beep!

Now, I don’t know if it was the lack of a beep; or that I was “waiting” for the Backscatter X-Ray so clearly had nothing to hide, or just that at 5.xx AM they were not interested in ‘feeling up’ a 50 something slightly pudgy guy with his pants being pulled up tight on whatever they thought might have been there once upon a time… or just that it was pretty clear that I was not capable of blowing up an airplane as I couldn’t even find coffee and clearly was daft (being without sleep does that…) but they decided I did not need the body pat / slide / fondle treatment. Kind of sad, too, as I was going to ask that the Backscatter Lady “do the deed” to see if I had a choice… She was much cuter than Mr. Magnetometer Man.

At any rate, I then waddled over to the belt where my bags and tubs were stacking up, filling pretty much the whole thing. And it was a pretty long waddle, too, being as I had to cross the Backscatter X-Ray line to get back to it. (Though it is worth noting that during all this time I was the only person to actually BE in any of these lines going through machines… as the people behind me were still busy with disrobing and saying “What?”… )

So there I was, putting on my belt first (and a great relief it was, getting the use of both hands back…) Then putting the ‘pocket litter’ back in the pockets (now that the added weight would not rocket my pants to my ankles… Wonder what they do with suspenders? Does anyone still make “braces” with the leather ends and buttons? The Amish must… no, wait, buttons are “prideful”, it would have to be a toggle or a frog… but I digress again….) And then the Laptop back in the backpack, shoes on the feet, cell phone in a pocket, jacket on.

OK, what’s left?

Oh, yeah, bag off the belt, handle up wheels down. Backpack on.

Is that everything? GOD I hope so… A last look around as, at last, the next person has an article coming out of the X-Ray Box. OH! The Boarding Pass! Grabbed it from the tub with the pocket litter in it…

Seems that the paper boarding pass must go through the X-Ray machine too. Don’t know why. They print it at the airport. Seems they could have used non-magnetic ink… but Mr. Belt Man had specifically told me to put the boarding pass in the tub ( I left that out up above and I didn’t actually remember doing it until I remembered it at the other side of the belt…. but then did remember him telling me to put it in the tub… Did I mention it was 5.xx AM?…)

Finally, Off To The Gate!

A Modest Idea

While wandering to my gate, I had time to ponder. And when I ponder, few Sacred Cows are safe from being milked for all they are worth… “How could I speed up and make easier this process?”

And the idea occurred to me that it would be easier if I had less clothes on as I approached The Machine.

To that end, perhaps this small idea could be of interest…

I wear sandals when traveling. Just leave the socks in the suitcase.

Put ALL pocket contents in the pants in the suitcase or backpack. Everything.

Put on a long lightweight ‘drover’ or ‘trench’ coat. Over your choice of ‘speedo’, jogging shorts, or swim suit (preferably tight fitting and with very short legs). And nothing else.

Think about it.

You arrive at The Bag Belt. Backpack on belt, laptop in tub. Suitcase on belt. Whip off the coat and shoes and put them in a tub. TA DAH! You now have on exactly nothing other than a Speedo (or tight jogging shorts) and can immediately walk through the magnetometer. There’s no need for the “Backscatter X-Ray” as pretty much everything is in clear view. Not much need for a “pat pat” either, as the tightness pretty much shows what all is where… (For women, the smallest bikini you can muster would do nicely).

Just think how much faster this would be! And we do it at the beach, so why not in the airport? (might want to get the heater turned up a bit, though).

And while it might be a bit embarrassing for the TSA the first few times someone did it (what with heads turning to wonder if THEY were next to be asked to strip…) I’m sure the TSA guys would rapidly come to appreciate that this really was helping them do their job, rapidly and efficiently… Especially after the novelty wore off and the TV camera crews stopped lurking nearby hoping for a TV bit…

Yes, the more I think about it, the more this looks to me like the ideal way to get through security with the least “radiation exposure” and “groping” issues, and the maximal “exposure of the issues”…

Maybe I’ll even try it some day (when I’m not in too big a hurry… and it’s not a cold 5.xx AM in the terminal…) Perhaps some afternoon when leaving the hotel for the airport. No need to change after that last dip in the pool, just toss on the travel coat, grab the bags and head to the airport! Such convenience and innocence all wrapped up in one package…

Perhaps it could even start a trend. Folks wearing speedos and bikinis at the Airport bar and in the Club Lounge…


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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51 Responses to A TSA Modest Suggestion

  1. Adam Gallon says:

    You’ll have to get the Aussie politician Tony Abbott onboard.
    First through the line with just his “Budgie-smugglers” & swimcap on!
    Come through a British airport, you’ll have a similar palava, plus you won’t be allowed to take any bottles over 100ml size with your hand luggage!

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    For us, it’s 3 ounces of ‘liquid or gel’. At the airport I pondered a while if this included “paste’ and decided that I could easily make a paste explosive flavored with peppermint… so my 7.5 oz tube of toothpaste was handed to my friend to take home…

    The silly thing is that I can think of a couple of truly terrifying things that WOULD get through their screening and would make the global news big time… (And no, I’m not saying what… the bad guys don’t need any hints…) along with a couple of ways to use the screening process itself to disrupt the whole airport.

    I’m already at the point where I drive anything under 1200 miles (or about 1/2 way across the continent) as it’s more convenient and almost as fast. I can do SFO to LAX in about 7 hours. Given the 2 hour arrive ahead time, 3 hours to LA, and then another hour (or two) to get a rental car and get to the final destination, that’s 6 to pushing 7 hours.

    Hmmm….. Same elapse time. One in a very large and comfy Mercedes seat, with my choice of entertainment, and any food I choose at reasonable prices on the way. The other in a cramped airline micro-seat surrounded by a herd of whoever, MAYBE with a small bag of peanuts and a $7 beer. After the strip search (virtual or otherwise) and followed by Yet Another Airport. Decisions decisions….

    I’d already decided that “Phoenix or closer” was not flying distance for me (from SFO). At this point I’m thinking it’s at least Dallas…. And with the ‘dip in the ocean / day at the beach’ treat from the last trip in mind (along with a glorious morning waking up in the middle of a western rangeland after falling asleep under the rich bright milky way… I’m seeing where a bit of preplanned camping can make it far more fun to do for the whole continent.

    (When weather is not conducive to outdoor accommodations, there are plenty of very nice motels with wonderful pools / hot tubs, bars, movies et. al. just waiting.)

    No, it’s not as cheap for one person alone. The break-even point for my car is about 4 people traveling together for coast to coast. 2 for SFO / LAX. And while it’s just as fast for SFO / LAX it’s about 4 times as long for ‘coast to coast’ with minimal sleep time. But unless I need to be coast to coast in under 3 days, I’m not seeing the attraction of air so much any more… Oh, and for cars that get better than 22 MPG and don’t need “super” the costs will be lower…

    Maybe I ought to just buy a smaller Diesel … I understand we’re about to get some of the Euro model schnitzel-rockets ;-)

    At any rate, the vision of 3 people a day, can you imagine 3 people a day walking in, taking off their overcoats and saying “Ta DAH!” … And if more people did it, in harmony…

  3. Jeff Alberts says:

    I’m already at the point where I drive anything under 1200 miles (or about 1/2 way across the continent) as it’s more convenient and almost as fast. I can do SFO to LAX in about 7 hours. Given the 2 hour arrive ahead time, 3 hours to LA, and then another hour (or two) to get a rental car and get to the final destination, that’s 6 to pushing 7 hours.

    From 2000 to 2009 I was traveling as an IT consultant. Since 9/11, I tended to do the same thing if possible (meaning if I didn’t have to pay out of pocket). I had a project in Columbus, OH, while I was living in Nothern VA. I lived very close to Dulles Airport in NoVa, but airline tickets out of Dulles were always VERY hgh. So, I would have to drive to BWI (Baltimore) at 3am, take a shuttle from there to Columbus, grab a rental car, then to hotel. So, instead I would get a rental car at Dulles, drive to Columbus, and get there sooner. Not to mention I wasn’t stuck in a cramped seat, could stop and get real food when I wanted, had lots of nice scenery driving through the Appalachians and Alleghenies, and not have a heart attack every time the puddle-jumper hit heavy turbulence (which ALWAYS happened coming back over the mountains.)

  4. PhilJourdan says:

    Except for the trenchcoat, I already do what you suggest. Sorry, my middle 50 body just will not do a speedo!

    Thanks for an amusing look at the TSA. They are anything but funny.

  5. gnomish says:

    I’m doing my transcontinental travel by bus – I got a 60 day pass that lets me hitch the greyhound anytime/anywhere for 523$. That beats the price of gas, even with restaurant food bills. It’s got its own downside as you can imagine – bathrooms are mostly nasty, panhandlers importune you, sleeping – well, one becomes one of the zombies after a couple of days…
    On the other hand, I’ve been able to visit a lot of friends and acquaintances – which is not just fun, but allows one to stretch out horizontal (even if it’s only on a couch, sometimes).
    I find the one thing I most miss is having a smoke on the throne. The rest I can handle – by travelling very light and eating little.
    Nobody searches you – at least so far. I saw dogs brought out to sniff the baggage 2 times.
    I have to put on about 8 or 9000 miles, though- and spend days (or, in this case weeks as i visit the MSL listings), so the dollar price can’t be beat.
    One really nice thing is that I can download movies and ebooks at high speed at the libraries and watch or listen to classics while travelling. The newest buses have 110 outlets and wifi, too. Also, these days cell phone coverage is pretty darn good so I can conduct business or chat my wife most any time.
    And I get to read The Chiefio too – and WUWT and Tallbloke. There’s not much else that engages my attention so well.
    Just atm I’m getting Robin Cook’s ‘Crisis’ from rapidshare at 125KB/s – collecting a few things for bus ride back to the northwest corner from the southeast. Also, dlling Unstoppable. I love the pirates, eh?
    I’ve been searched a number of times crossing the US/Canada border and never fail to remark, sotto voce: ‘I sure hope you don’t find the contraband taped to my scrotum’
    That gets a grim smile but nobody wants to see if I’m kidding – which I am, of course.
    I do like your idea of International Flasher Boutique, though. I think I might like to do that just for the story. :)
    Never too old for an adventure – and it’s good to make memories while one can – comes a day when there’s not much one can do but reminisce- and it’s a good idea to have something entertaining to reminisce over, wot?
    Ciao Chiefio.

  6. Malaga View says:

    Welcome home :-)

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    @Malaga View: Those are GREAT! Really ‘captures the moment’…

    @Gnomish: Yeah, bus… very low cost, but the 30 MPH average speed leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve done it a couple of times. “Amused” myself by repeatedly calculating actual time / velocity to goal and working out “food budget increase vs gas cost decrease” linear programming optimization models… Yeah, I drive now… BTW, with an air mattress in the back of the wagon I can “be horizontal” whenever I want. “Car Camping” still works. Much better now that it’s a Mercedes Wagon than back when it was a VW Fastback.

    No, I don’t do it just to be cheap. It’s more that I can rack up miles faster that way. Drive till I NEED sleep, then pull over and sleep just what’s needed. Saves about 2 to 4 hours of ‘hotel time’ at each stop. That, and I don’t need to schlep bags. I used to just drive 24 hours, then stop at a hotel once, then do the next chunk in 24 or so. It’s easier to ‘nap along the way’ as desired and be more alert at all times…

    Gives you an idea how unpleasant air travel has become when THAT is an attractive alternative…

    Oh, and I’ve got this neat $15 or so “oven” that plugs into the cigarette lighter (available at truck stops). I get “Cornish Game Hen” roast with small red potatoes, celery, and carrots “on the road”. It cooks in a few hours while I drive, then at a gas break I get nearly gourmet food. Looks like a lunch bucket. I put a piece of cardboard under it just in case of heat / drip issues, but that’s probably not needed. You can also get small toaster oven like things and even a slow cooker in miniature 12 VDC.. Yeah, this is not quite “car camping” the old fashioned way ;-)

    FWIW, the only times I fly now are:

    1) Spouse going too and it’s over 1/3 the continent. (She doesn’t do long road times well any more).

    2) Need ultra fast arrival on continental scale travel (so I’ll be flying back if NASA figures out when to launch the shuttle and it looks likely to happen. Short fuse on that one…) For less than 1/3 the continent, I can be there by car faster most of the time (especially with no or little notice to book something).

    3) International (i.e. over water). Though I’m thinking of checking out freighter passage if that’s still around. At one time you could get decent deals as a passenger on some freighters… Solves the jet lag problem too…

    4) Someone else is paying (i.e. business) and they expect things to look more ‘normal’ on the travel. (i.e. not getting 6000 miles billed at $1/2 / mile …) or the schedule does not lend itself to car travel times.

    Those are pretty rare events for me these days in most of my travel.

    @Jeff Alberts:

    I once had a job to relocate / install a couple of NETAP file servers in an IBM Co-Lo in / near Denver, Colorado. It was easier to just hop in the car and drive it than deal with the air schedule. When we finally got the truck loaded and it headed SF to CO I went home, had dinner, and headed out I-80. Checked into the hotel next day. Next day after that, we did the install et.al. Day after, final bring up. End of work about 5 PM: Hit the car. Home in 24 hours. Would have been about the same had I gone by air (as I’d have had to book the hotel one more night and leave the next day. With the car I could leave whenever we finished up with no ‘oopsy pad’ time on the return flight). AND I even went via southern New Mexico as I-80 was having snow storms when I left town. Sometimes I wonder just how many IT guys do this all the time… Oh yeah, and I could take my full tool kit with me. Screwdrivers, power drivers, voltmeters, and all.

    @PhilJourdan: Um, the “50 something in a speedo” is part of the desired “visual impact’ of the idea… ;-) Just imagine your are French or Italian. They where a speedo no matter what it looks like ;-)

    So what is it you DO wear? TEE shirt and jogging shorts? (If tight enough, might still work to dodge the ‘pat pat stroke’…)

  8. PhilJourdan says:

    E.M. – #1 I am French (the spelling of the name is a dead give away).

    And #2 – when I do travel, sandals, t-shirt, and jeans (along with underwear). I just pray the metal fastenings on the jeans do not set the damn machine off!

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @PhilJourdan: Well, in the USA and Canada there are one heck of a lot of folks who spell their names A La Mode Francaise… so it’s a bit hard to really now for sure ;-) Especially down around New Orleans. It’s almost easier to get by if you assume French culture than American… in an odd sort of over spiced Cajun kind of way…

    But given that you ARE French, what’s the problem? We’ve all seen pictures of a Mediterranean Beach with folks who never ought to be in a speedo, in a speedo! ;-)

    OK, in honesty, WHEN I actually get around to doing this, it will be in my VERY Tight running shorts (that I have left over from P.E. in high school… and I was smaller then) and a ‘spray on tee shirt’ that is also two sizes too small and so worn out that it’s nearly see through as – is… I’d have to have already hit the Lounge at the airport for a few hours to actually try it in a speedo… and I’d have to have been really drunk the prior week to have BOUGHT a speedo in the first place… So I guess I understand your, er, “position”… ;-)

    A friend has a plastic belt he uses ( I thought of using a rope ala Jethro…) and you can get pants with plastic buttons ( I have one one now). It’s the zipper that’s the hard bit to find non-metalic. Hey, maybe that’s a market… Airport Clothes….

    I’ve also wondered what’s going to happen as RFID tags end up in every article of clothing (WMT is doing jeans that way). Ought to be interesting in scanner land then…

  10. j ferguson says:

    E.M. and All.

    Planes get hi-jacked by gun-wielders -> get Mag detectors to check for guns

    Planes get hi-jacked by box-knife wielders -> no more sharp objects

    Plane threatened by hot-shoe artist -> check all the shoes

    Plane theoretically threatened by chemist -> no more liquids is useful quantities

    Plane is threatened by underwear bomber -> check the underwear and ah, er, uh neighboring local improvements

    Action -> reaction

    What are they going to do when the exploding shirt shows up, or the bra bomb, or the colon bomb?

    Despite all this after the fact car – closing the barn door after the horse is gone, the obvious care that we should expect of the TSA types is lacking. Did they look at the passport of the underwear bomber and note that he’d been to Yemen? Did they absorb the fact that he’d bought a one-way ticket with cash? Did they take seriously his father’s report to our local diplomatic establishment that his son was planning nastiness in connection with the US?

    None of the above.

    When we returned from France, no one looked at our passports except to check the photo and name. They did that after we arrived in Chicago.

    I’m convinced that all this folderol is aimed at convincing the meanest understanding that our government is on the job and watching out for our security – and in the most visible way.

    They have to have an answer for every method of assault tried to date.

    The fact, and it is a fact, that they have no current method to protect fliers from the likely most devastating attacks which are possible and practical for the assailants does not seem to have dawned on the public.

    So what I see is a lot of very intrusive superstitious behavior substituting for a real plan. Shouldn’t we expect less?

  11. PhilJourdan says:

    EM – hehehe – Just because I am French does not mean I have to do all the stupid stuff my non-patriated brothers do!

    Actually, you hit it with Cajun. Born and bred! We were taught French in grade school – which makes it hard to speak spanish as I keep lapsing into french! So that is why I married a Mexican Lady. So I would always be confused when trying to talk to her family! (Somethings french – like lack of common sense – you just cannot get rid of I guess ;)

  12. PhilJourdan says:

    j Ferguson – Effective and efficient screening will never happen. because the terrorists will yell “Profiling” (which it is and very effective – just ask El Al), and the ACLU then takes up the call.

    So the TSA, in order to be fair and equal, deprives ALL of their constitutional rights, instead of just those intending to blow up their colon with the latest bomb stunt.

  13. Ian Beale says:


    I’ve had similar thoughts about reverting to traditional dress.

    The Kilt has too many extras but what about the Toga?

  14. Ian Beale says:

    Missed this before – obviously you aren’t the only one commenting. See


    “TSA About To Ignite Citizen Revolt”

  15. j ferguson says:


    Avoidance of profiling will ultimately result in the realization that all these terrorists want to cause trouble aloft, so the answer is not to let anyone fly.

    When commuting to Dublin, I was asked if I’d like to join a couple of authorities in a little office for a little chat. They came right to the point, Why did my trips home to the US so frequently include trips to the Bahamas? I lived in Miami and it was high season and we would fly over there to see friends on their vacations.

    They liked that and I never heard from them again.

    So why is it that you like to go to Yemen, before flying from Nigeria to the US through France? Never asked, and never answered. But then that’s our skilled protectors.

    I would hope the US has guys as sharp as the ones I met in Dublin thinking about these things.

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    @J Ferguson:

    Since you mentioned it… FWIW, I can make fabric that is an explosive. Looks and feels just like regular fabric. How do I know this? I’ve done it… (Back in high school days when it wasn’t a high crime…) so I can pack a whole suitcase full of the stuff and it will pass visual and x-ray inspection. (It will NOT pass a chemical sniff, so TSA, please put in chem sniffers now that this is disclosed…)

    The ‘hard bit’ is the detonator, but on that I will say no more…

    Oh, and FWIW, I can make an explosive that does not trigger the present ‘sniff test’ machines too… An odd edge case of chemistry… the products of explosion are two solid molecular dusts. Nothing much for the CSI team… It’s a shock sensitive beast too, so the “detonator” can be any common object with some modest kinetic energy. Requires care in the assembly, though ;-)

    There is more (including some that are indistinguishable from food on non-chemical inspections; used by the French Underground in W.W.II) but at this point I will again say no more…

    And that doesn’t even begin to get into the non-chemical attacks that are possible. As Scotty said (paraphrase) “The more complicated they make the machinery the easier it is to gum up the works!” and our air traffic system has been made very complicated.

    So yes, the TSA is constantly fighting “The Last War” and I’ve seen the future of the next half dozen wars. Frankly, the only thing keeping us safe is the stupidity of the people who would blow themselves up. Acetone Peroxide? Really…. If it’s isn’t just the right dryness, it either flames (Mr. Underpants “Bomber” aka “One Hot Dog Short Now”…) or it becomes a contact / shock sensitive dry explosive and blows up too early. There are MUCH better choices…

    (To anyone worried: No, I’m neither a revolutionary nor a cop. While I did study to be a cop once, it isn’t relevant any more. My knowledge comes mostly from having a Dad who was US Army Combat Engineers – i.e. blow things up and disarm booby traps – and paying a lot of attention in chemistry class. Along with a few good books and a working knowledge of how to read a CRC handbook… It was an ‘interest’ for me right up until a 1/2 pound or so managed to make me partly deaf for the rest of my life. Now it’s just “archive” knowledge. Making bombs is easy. Making them not blow up too soon but rather just on time, that’s hard…)

    That’s probably part of why I get so irritated at the whole show. ‘Cause the whole time I’m thinking “I could have a plastic knife in my luggage lining” and “I could pack this and that to make the other thing” and “heck, just this dust would break the system and it couldn’t even be traced back to who did it'” Just a royal pain for nothing.

    Oh Well.

    @Ian Beale: The Toga… Hadn’t thought of that… A quick lift and… stride briskly forward ;-)

    @PhilJourdan: Had 6 years of Spanish prior to college, but only 2 of it in High School (an accelerated school…). At UC, found out that “only 2 years” in HS didn’t get me out of the language requirement. So it was either “test in Spanish” and be placed into the Native Speakers Getting Easy A group (and me getting hard B…) or take a different language. Took French. 18 Units later, find I loved it. But any time I try to speak Spanish, it shifts into French “right quick”… The mind has it’s preferences… ;-)

  17. PhilJourdan says:

    I would hope the US has guys as sharp as the ones I met in Dublin thinking about these things.

    There may be some as sharp. But the fear of a lawsuit, and the regulations prohibit them from using their intelligence. What happened to you would be sued here as profiling. They profiled you because you stopped off in the Bahamas.

    That is why they frisk 90 year old ladies from top to toe, and allow 30 year old men to pass without a second look.

  18. E.M.Smith says:

    WOW, Strata is more worked up about it than I am…

    I was going to leave a comment pointing at this posting, but it takes a new ‘registration’ and I’m at the point where I can’t keep track of them all already…

    The comment that they might give muslim women a “pass” on the “pat pat” just means I’ll declare myself to be a Reformed California Progressive Muslim Woman. Hey, I’m a “Dr. of Divinity” complete with degree (cost me $20, but legal..) so I can just found my own sect that demands that ALL genders must wear a burka when traveling by air… Being that close to God and all, requires more modesty…

    It’s real simple: One Set Of Rules For Everyone.

    Break that, I’m ready to sign up for some civil disobedience… and I can be very very disobedient…

  19. R. Shearer says:

    I envison the day when passengers will be asked to don a hospital style gown and lube up with KY jelly. But I’m a xenophobe and denier…that’s just me.

  20. Jeff Alberts says:

    I had a few projects in New Jersey where I did the same thing. It was about 6 hours to northern NJ and 6 to Columbus. Heck, once, with overlapping projects in Columbus and Jersey, I drove from Dulles, to Columbus, then after a week, drove from Columbus to North Jersey (in a snowstorm, no less. I had planned, though, and had rented an SUV, so I didn’t have much trouble, except for other drivers.)

  21. E.M.Smith says:

    OMG, that statistics presentation at boingboing is great!

  22. Chuckles says:

    The following comment by Jerry Pournelle certainly sounds like a good description to me –

    ‘I have long been of the opinion that TSA is not very effective and its major purpose is to convince the American Citizen that he/she is no longer a citizen, but a subject to be ordered about by “Federal Officers.”‘

    And may I suggest Derek Lowe’s ‘Things I Won’t Work With’ –


    For a discussion of some of the more ‘spirited’ chemical compounds around.

  23. j ferguson says:

    E.M., Guys,

    I think I’ve got it. Cars and High Speed Trains. Gotta get people off those planes and onto things which will boost the economy, things we don’t already have, roads and bridges which can respond to the stimuli. Gotta sell those cars GM, our car company, is building.

    How to do this? Easy make assault a part of every flight. It’s amazing to me that something that would be a felony for anyone else to do is legal for the government – at least at this level. Yah, I know about making war, incarceration, etc.

    @Chuckles, Pournelle has it exactly right.

  24. PhilJourdan says:

    J Ferguson – so do you! Brilliant and diabolical and right up Obama’s lane!

  25. Verity Jones says:

    J Ferguson

    You got it, but it gets worse….

    http://competinghypotheses.blogspot.com/2010/11/are-they-perfectly-incompetent.html and

    “…the TSA requested that international carriers ban airmail packages headed to the U.S. which weigh over one pound.”

    So how does this affect things like mail order from out of US? Surely such restrictions (especially at this time of year) will mean more of those hard earned $$$ get spent on home soil, no?

  26. E.M.Smith says:

    “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”… which just makes me want to ask “Are they REALLY that stupid?”… “Can ANYONE be?”

    Gee, so if we have a ‘critical down’ situation any repair parts et. al. will be shipped in via freighter? Um, VW stocks all their parts in Germany and does “next day air” for things not in high demand. Hope nobody has a VW…

    @Chuckles: Yeah, 4 nitrogens in a row… Already on my list of “why be in the same building?”… BTW, there are fun things you can do with selected metals and, um, er, welding gases…. and I’ll leave it at that.

    @J Ferguson: I can go to jail for “inappropriate touching” if a girl pushes herself onto me and I can’t get out of the way in time… but the TSA gets to “fondle junk” all it wants on anyone of any age… Uh huh…

    but I don’t think it’s to stimulate the economy… it just fits so perfectly the “next incremental step” response behaviour of a bureaucrat slowly reacting and never looking one step ahead…

  27. j ferguson says:

    I think the one pound limit was for freight aboard passenger airliners, but it’s still stupid. It’s like the idiotic 1099 filing for everyone who sells you stuff worth more than $600/year. Oops, I can see the foam forming, I’d better say good night.

    good night, all.

  28. E.M.Smith says:

    Yeah, 3 nights in a high end hotel? 1099 please. Drive cross country to install some gear? Hope that you can keep straight which Standard Station is a franchise and which is a company owned store… Laptop dies? Run to [ Frys / Wal-Mart / Costco / Bobs Computers / Target ] to get an emergency replacement? 1099 please. My mechanic rebuilds transmissions for other shops. EVERY transmission he fixes will now be a 1099 too. Buy a set of tires? 1099…

    BTW, someone ought to demonstrate to the TSA what happens when you have a crate of 1/2 pound bombs and one of them is set off… A detonation wave is a terrible thing to waste…

  29. j ferguson says:

    E.M. and V. Jones,
    Thinking some more about the “mailed” packages exceeding one pound. I think the issue is provenance. The mail is the one shipping method which often has no visible originator. Although it is true in the US, that one can FedEx or UPS packages without appearing in person simply by dropping them in one of their “mailboxes.” This may not now be possible overseas, certainly not in Yemen.

    So one might expect, expecting the reasonable, that orphan packages over a pound would not be allowed to fly with people, while weighty packages from known origins might.

    I think the more troublesome issue in the current over-reaching of the TSA is that they do not seem to recognize that all people, including prospective airline passengers, should be able to assume that an assault on their dignity is not part of the price of a flight.

    I will be very disappointed with Congress if this insanity isn’t put immediately to rest, or at least scaled back.

    I don’t know when the first statement was made to the effect that a surrender of some rights was an acceptable sacrifice to gain a higher level of security. Macaulay mentions it several times in his history written in 1849.

    On another thought, but on the same subject, suppose the “terrorists” are only interested in messing with us? Suppose they really don’t want “western” civilization to collapse? Maybe they’ve realized that if we go down, we’d take all of the societies they’d like to manage with us.

    This might be the explanation for why we’ve been tweaked here and there rather than enthusiastically attacked, 9/11 and the English underground attacks notwithstanding.

    Without being specific, means are available to the terrorists and the logistics to support such means not beyond their grasp to make riding around in airplanes so dangerous that all but the truly fearless would stop flying.

    I can imagine that cessation of air-travel could devastate our economies, but maybe I’m wrong.

    So maybe they just want to incite us to make or own lives less pleasant, for the flyers at least, and that would be enough.

    I wasn’t being entirely facetious with my suggestion that if every attempt provokes TSA to deny boarding to the class of passengers exhibiting symptoms of a particular method, the exploding bra is only around the corner – or maybe that is too great a challenge to the miscreant’s sensibilities.

    Ah well.

  30. Chuckles says:

    Another modest proposal from Maggies Farm –

    ‘Our proposal for the TSA mess is to hire studly young men to grope the women, and hot young babes to grope the men.

    Complaints would disappear. People might even line up for more thorough checks in the back room. Of course, they would have to revise those dorky pseudo-cop uniforms. They aren’t cops – they are toll-collectors.’

  31. sheila lyons says:

    Have the Airlines run two planes different times one with pat downs and one with no pat down.
    then see no one will ride the no pat down planes.
    There are so many mean people out there.

  32. E.M.Smith says:

    I suspect you would find quite a few folks on the “no pat down” plane… but watching the Terrorists face off against the drug dealers, undercover cops, and Texas Rednecks With Guns might be a bit too exciting for some folks ;-)

  33. boballab says:

    I suspect you would find quite a few folks on the “no pat down” plane… but watching the Terrorists face off against the drug dealers, undercover cops, and Texas Rednecks With Guns might be a bit too exciting for some folks ;-)

    My money is on the Texas Rednecks.

  34. j ferguson says:

    I’m with you. I used to “patronize” a “cop” bar in Chicago. One evening a guy came in to rob the place. He faced the bar while standing between two large guys and brandished a revolver. One of his neighbors reached over and took the gun away from him and then both neighbors lifted him bodily from the floor and escorted him outside while another “patron” called the on-duty guys to come get him.

    This happened in less time than it took to write this.

    Who would you (not you Boballab, I already know your answer) rather go flying with? Sheep?

  35. Chuckles says:

    Sounds like a variation of the other Pournelle suggestion, which is to simply issue any passenger that wants one a ball-peen hammer as they board the plane.

  36. E.M.Smith says:

    FWIW, a “cop friend” (who was also my Sensei in Karate) told the story of an unfortunate couple of guys who decided to rob a group of ‘old guys’ at a retirement party at a bar / restaurant. Problem was, they chose a retirement party for a cop and the whole room was packing….

    Bad guys brandish, Whole Room Draws down on them. Old guys approach and disarm…

    I think I’ve seen the same story in a TV show, so I have no idea which came first, the show or the story.

    FWIW, I had the “honor” of being the ‘demonstrator’ when I made the mistake of asking “how do you take a gun away from behind?” (We had been practicing frontal disarms for most of the session and a few from the side. The presumption being that if you were behind the guy you were running away; we not being cops…) Well, he demonstrated. The class got it, I got the floor. Silly me, I said I didn’t have time to figure out what he did and could I “see” it again, but a bit more slowly. Hello floor… But I did figure it out….

    BTW, my money would be on the undercover cops… but suspect the Texas Rednecks might come in first place depending on exactly WHICH Texas Rednecks they was… Oh, and never underestimate “Granny With A Gun”. Usually have small hands and a low mass gun so they can move Damn Fast. Every so often you get a news story of some jerk discovering this fact…

    FWIW, last night on the Military Channel (IIRC) they had a show about fighter pilots. Speed & Angels. Looks like boingboing has a page on it:


    That cute girl on the right with the helmet? Yeah, her. She likes to fly the F-14 Tomcat off the deck of aircraft carriers and into combat…

    Running right through the heart of America is a very strong Celtic Thread (working title of an as yet unwritten book…) and part of that is the notion that if a woman wants to go into battle, well, fellas better not get in her way or they are likely to regret it. Remember Queen Boudicca …

    So I’d not be surprised if the the “cute girls who walk up to the terrorists smiling” didn’t get in the first shots…

    The bottom line? I’d line up for the “anyone can pack a gun” line very very fast. And I’d let the cute girls have the isle seats. They can move a lot faster than I can … I’d take one near the entrance door and do the profiling. I’m good at it….

    (Once picked out a guy that I’m pretty sure was casing a train. Spooked him, though, by making direct and examining eye contact. Made it clear I was memorizing every aspect of his appearance. Radiated the “undercover cop has you” role/vibe. Then got off at the next stop. Major clue? He was just ‘too aware’ while trying to not be obvious. Had an ‘overly confident’ air along with a ‘not quite fitting in’ too. Sure, could have just been a middle eastern tourist who was gawking, but didn’t fit that profile. Not giving the ‘on vacation’ attitudes at all.)

    BTW, any time I get on a flight, or a train, I’m checking out the other passengers. The who, the where, the why. I can generally do a pretty good ersatz bio / history on them. I’m pretty sure I’ve spotted an Air Marshal or two also. (No I won’t say what to look for). But if I see a couple of groups of two of 20 to 30 something middle eastern men with small or no beards, making a visual sweep, and looking either nervous or just too ‘elated’ about what’s to come, I’ll be doing a more complete look around the room and mentioning it to the stewards…

    The singletons tend to have more of the ‘crazed bomber’ look about them… and are less willing to shave the mandated beard (but if they do, it’s a recent thing, so look for shading differences in the facial tone…) and that crazed “Going to Allah Soon!” look in the eyes…

    And if someone I was uncomfortable about got on, I’d ask the steward if I, or some other big guy, could be seated next to them… just so they wouldn’t be lonely…

    The point of this? (Other than some mild entertainment value)

    The Jihadies like to think they are courageous macho men and that the Americans are lazy fat cowards like women. What they fail to understand is that Celtic Thread. We are a Braveheart nation at our core (even if not all of us feel it) and they are not prepared for that. Remember that one of the flights was taken out of the air by the passengers on it… better ourselves than innocents on the ground. Yeah, we’re that kind of people…

    One example.

    I went to college with a guy who was a ‘pudgy kid’. Swedish / German mix. Dad was a 5 foot 6 inch Marine in W.W.II in the Pacific… Nicest fellow you ever met, but don’t even think of crossing him… Well, the friend was similarly a very very nice guy. Mellow and not a fighter at all. Got a job collecting rents as a junior property manager in an apartment complex. Knocks on a door. No Answer. Knocks again. No answer. Knocks again and announces reason (late, very late, rent, and eviction soon if not paid). Starts to walk away down the hall, door opens. Turns to face larger Grumpy Gus who is fuming. Explains need for rent, then Grumpy Gus cold cocks him with a surprise upper cut. Friend has head clear a bit as he rises from the ground, sees back of Grumpy Gus walking down the hall… tip toes up and light tap on the shoulder. As Grumpy Gus turns, friend hits him square on the side of the jaw with a right cross. Guy goes down, out cold. One phone call later Grumpy Gus is on his way to the pokey and his stuff is being removed from the room.

    Other than a neat story, the point is simple: This guy had not been in any fights since grammar school and even then had never done much. Nice quiet couch potato American. I said to him “I didn’t know you had that in you.” he said to me “Neither did I!”. But it’s lurking there inside us all.

    Call it the “Mama Bear” effect for women, if you like. I’ve seen it. More than once. Some guy getting the tar beaten out of him by a woman who he’s pushed too far.

    So that’s one of our biggest strengths. Just load up a typical group of Americans on a plane, let ’em pack what they want, and the terrorists will be toast. Just do a ‘sniff test’ for explosives and the rest is ‘no problem’…

    There was a Major Change that happened on 9/11 that I think was not anticipated by the Jihadies. Prior to that we had a deal. You hijack the plane, we’ll be quiet and go along for the ride; in the end, you will most likely get what you want and we go free. (modulo one or two sheep who get sacrificed to convince our stupid ‘leaders’ to not renege on The Deal).

    Since 9/11 the deal is now: You take the plane, we all die anyway; so we’ve got nothing to lose. But we can thwart your efforts and enjoy ripping your heart out, if possible, before we die. And we’re “good with that”… Something nice for the ‘ol epitaph…

    So I’d be pleased as punch to be on a plane loaded with folks who’ve already embraced “Deal #2” and were prepared for it…

    FWIW, I’d use a 32 ACP in Winchester Silvertip. Small light bullet that won’t damage structures much. Won’t penetrate cabin doors intact. Small guns that fit nicely in concealed carry. And the one shot stop statistics of the Winchester Silvertip in 32 ACP are the same as the .45 Colt Auto Pistol in military ball. (Yeah, nowhere near as good as the 45 ACP with Silvertips… but the 89% or so OSS is darned good). In my large hands, the tiny guns can disappear if desired. Nice for that “surprise moment”… Makes a decent ‘backup gun’ for an undercover cop too, though for that there are some very nice small 9’s… (No, I don’t know how Winchester did it. Just a spectacular bullet design. Though part of the statistics may be due to that ‘surprise surprise surprise’ factor in the usage…)

    Not that I’ve pondered this issue much ;-)

    BTW, I like to travel with a sturdy pen in my pocket. Never had any complaints from TSA… CIA likes them too… Make sure you get one with a metal point, er tip.

    Sometimes I wonder if the rest of the Jihadies are Grumpy Gusses about the 9/11 guys “blowing The Deal”… Ever since then, there have been these sporadic passenger takedowns … I know that any plane I’m on, if someone announces a hijacking, I’m just going to look around and see who else is on The Citizens Committee and make sure my plans don’t mess up their plans.

    Though that ball-peen hammer idea has a certain charm ;-)

    OK, ought to end there, but…

    I have a rock hammer. Got it in college in geology class. For folks not familiar with them, they have a spike end. Like a pick. Used to open soda cans with them in one neat light blow… makes a nice square hole about 2 cm on a side. My favored “bump in the night” appliance is the rock hammer in it’s belt sheath. Fast to get out, and completely legal to own. Basically, it’s a “Battle Hammer” in drag. Just make sure it has some dirt and grass stains on it and you have a large rock on the desk with a few hammer marks on it (so you can show your reason for having it out…)

    Where to get yours:


    There are a variety of holsters available, so you have some shopping to do:


    It helps to have a bucket of rocks, a geology class in your background, and an ability to spout words like geode and plagioclase feldspar should you end up discussing it with a cop…

  37. j ferguson says:

    I should add about “cop” bars that in Chicago, at least, they were thought to be unsafe later in the evening. The alleged reason was that there was sufficient iron and alcohol that fights would break out that might be settled ballistically.

    I had heard some of these events had happened at the bar referred to in my first post, but I never met a witness. I liked the place because it was at the end of my street. The cops kept to themselves. There was little interaction between the cops and the other customers.

    I did come to believe that police work is very hard on marriages and likely hard on its participants, both reasons to sympathize with the people who do it.

  38. j ferguson says:

    one other story on Celtic women:

    Look up Queen Maeve, the stud bull owned by a neighboring king, what she offered to borrow said bull, the response and what then ensued.

    Pay particular attention to the form of her offer.

    And this was long before the folks from the Mediterranean showed up.

  39. E.M.Smith says:

    The short form:


    (minus the ‘offer’…)

    Longer form with the terms of the deal:


    I’ve Celts on both sides of my family tree. Some Irish. Some from France. A bit of the blend of Viking and Celt from middle England. Redheads on both sides and a redheaded daughter.

    Never mess with a redhead…

    My moustache and beard used to be red, now turning grey. The top was more a brown / red. My wifes Mom was a very red redhead, now turned quite grey white.

    My daughter? Striking classical Celtic Redhead. Got if from all sides… Has some “attitude” too… and has known how to handle a gun since about age 4 or 5. Yes, that Celtic Thread lives on in America… (And yes, she knows she has her pick of Boy Toys… but uses such power wisely…)

    Per cops:

    Yes, some of the worst divorce statistics around. On the other hand, you get some perks… The addition of women to police work has, IMHO, made it a bit better in that cops now have other cops to marry. They “get it” and the ‘stress’ of wondering if hubby will come home today instead turns into the ‘ready to roll backup’…

    I’ve been to a few cops parties. It’s interesting. Folks who have to spend all day enforcing the laws actually getting a bit loose and outside some of them. Went to a party with one couple where the cop asked me to make sure I didn’t spill his status as he didn’t want to spoil the fun of the folks who would be smoking MJ there. (He was a street cop, not an undercover guy.) Interesting experience being at a party and sipping Scotch with a cop and our dates while watching folks passing a joint around and everyone having a good time… Just a tiny bit hard being fully relaxed knowing that I was watching a (then felony IIRC) in the act with a cop at my side. Made me appreciate his position somewhat more. How to be ‘off duty and normal’ sometimes ( I think for the benefit of his lady friend) and not get too ‘hardened’ while still remembering that you are always a cop. It was easier at the ‘all cops’ parties, in a more restrained kind of way.

    Part of why I decided to truncate that career path. Saw the older guys slowly getting bitter and negative about humanity. Didn’t want that end game. Yeah, there were a few who kept a sense of humor about the whole thing to the end… but not as many as I’d liked. Spent a bit of time talking to the wife of the local Deputy Sheriff. Not real thrilled about the daily ‘action’ of her husband’s line of work but willing to ‘stick with it’… Not your ringing endorsement… but liked that as a reserve officer she got to pack a gun in her purse…

    There are a lot of ‘family of cops’ who get the ‘reserve’ status for emergencies and pack heat. She would work one or two special events a year doing something trivial, like directing traffic or strolling the fair… Never ever think that that housewife is an easy target, she might just be family of a cop with a 9mm in her purse. I’ve known several who fit that pattern…

    There are times I regret not doing the police thing. I think I’d have made a decent detective, and the idea of undercover work still gets the spirits up. I really really like that ‘on stage’ and improvisational performance aspect of it all. I’ve done some similar things (that I’ll not say much about) that have let me confirm that I like that role… gathering intel and providing in depth reports, while the whole time being ‘in the moment’ and ‘in character’ at the event. It’s hard to describe the attraction of it if you haven’t done it. The whole brain is lit up as you are being two people at the same time,and both need to be perfectly done.

    One time I managed to make a meeting with an undercover lady. Didn’t know it at the time, thought I was just hitting on her… but turns out we’d both been ‘casing’ each other because she thought I was her contact… she was ‘working’ so I just gave her my card and said “I think I’m not the guy you are looking for, but if you need me for anything, give me a call.” (She WAS cute…) but never got a call… Still wonder from time to time what agency she was with. Must have been an interesting debriefing afterwards ;-)

    Another time a friend and I managed to infiltrate a meeting of undercover cops at a protest rally. Didn’t intend too, just saw some “interesting” folks gathering and joined the circle. We were ‘early in’ and the circle count rose to about double over, oh, 10 minutes. Adjusted behaviours to ‘fit in’, and after a round of ‘knowing glances’ they started talking about group dynamics, leadership formation, when to arrest the hard core folks (after the kids had started going home and the hard core rabble rousers were in full stride) and what things to do to control group behaviour (including things like setting a fire on the railroad tracks to ‘stop the trains carrying tanks’.. all carefully scripted by the police, but reported by the news as done by ‘protesters’…). This was the undercover guys coordination meeting between local police, firefighters, state police, and I think some Federal agencies.

    At the same event, picked out a Fed guy (kind of clueless about blending in, in a suit, filming with a non-media type camera, more like a 16 mm government bought thing..) who claimed he was a free-lance journalist (but was clearly NOT filming as a journalist would, but instead was doing that slow pan document everything focus on nothing that agencies do…). We briefly ‘challenged’ but when he gave his “Cover ID” said “ok”. It was after that we ended up in The Circle.

    To this day I wonder if in some TLA (Three Letter Agency) back in DC they had this study in Black and White of these two guys who were clearly undercover SOMETHING but nobody could match them to an agency. We WERE in The Circle, after all, and we WERE willing to challenge the FBI guy with the camera… My God, they must be from Some Important Agency!… ;-) S.I.A. for short. I’d gone as the ‘date’ of the daughter of a nuclear bomb guy (he made the bombs, she wanted to protest the war… go figure…) so I’m certain that film of us was inspected. Somebody probably thought I was assigned to her… (we know she had a guy assigned to her. Dad was that important.) She stayed with the protesters while my friend and I did some ’rounds’ and ended up in The Circle…

    I also had a ‘see in the dark’ camera with me and was taking pictures. Cannon FT/QL with F 1.2 lens that was quite large.. NOT what your typical college kid in the 1970’s carried around… and tended to take ‘documentary style’ pictures too. Tri-X pushed processed quite hard, all available light. I ‘fit the model’…

    One of the more colorful moments of my life. Never really told anyone for years. And never all that publicly before today. I figure by now all the grownups from then are either dead or in a nursing home… so it’s probably OK to spill the beans on it now. But I really do love that ambiguous ‘in the moment’ experience. Being two (or even three…) folks at the same time, while being no one… Reading people and ‘being a mirror’ just blending in, while not being blended at all… I’d have loved being a spy if it wasn’t for that whole dying if caught thing ;-)

    So just call me Chiefio, S.I.A. agent ;-)

    Makes me wonder if the TLA’s ever need old farts to blend in somewhere… Don’t think I could do the Jihadie role, but I can do a darned good tourist and a great business man, along with an OK clueless ‘user’ looking for a connection and a decent Scientist Guy. I do a good Janitor too, but not much use for that these days… my Spanish isn’t good enough ;-) I speak pretty good Red Neck though, but they have lots of those folks already on staff ;-)

    Hmm… I think I feel a short story coming on with the S.I.A. in it… this has promise, but will take a while to flesh out…

  40. j ferguson says:


    Above is very interesting. Be aware that in addition to TLA, there are also TOG, “The Other Guys.” If you don’t fit the event, and you are not “known” you can’t assume that you’ll be thought to be TLA. If you are noticed, and you will be if the host agency people are sharp, you are most likely to be “ignored” but if not ignored, treated with professional courtesy. “Knowing” who you are for sure can be politically inconvenient so likely no-one will make any effort in that direction but they will keep an eye on you.

    Offshore folks often need to be able to gauge the importance and perhaps the quality of management of an event by its originators so as to have a more complete understanding of our various vicissitudes. Feet on the ground are the most effective way to gain such insight.

    Life with the criminal element can be very damaging. Friend who was the head psych at a Federal Pen said that without very iron will, it was hard to make it past 5 years without being damaged. He stayed 10 years and feels damaged. The damage is that he can never talk to anyone without feeling he’s being “worked.” He says that the compulsion to divine the agenda gets so strong it’s almost impossible to ignore.

    My perception of the hazard to relationships of police life is that you need two speeds to live this life, on and off. On can never be used at home. Anyone who has ever been arrested and subsequently found to be “not of interest” by the arresting officer may have seen both speeds. The first, On, is where you are being commanded in every detail and anything you say or offer to do to help with the process is ignored. The second, off, is where the officer relaxes having confirmed that you are ok and tries to share the assumptions which led him to arrest you in the first place and how reasonable they seemed at the time.

    My daughter is a red head. She had the round freckled face when she was a kid. Now 33 and teaching in Canberra, the face is no longer round. She has an astonishing sense of humor and an Irish passport. Some years back, Ireland would issue passports as far down the chain as grandchildren of people born there. So she got one.

    It’s handy for staying longer in countries which limit visits, You go in on one passport, leave at the limit time on that passport and return in a day or two using the other one.

    Some places, an Irish passport is less worrisome to the local authorities.

  41. gnomish says:

    Well, it’s a bit sad to see how you guys glamorize the expensive and deadly protection racket.
    You certainly know that laws deviate from moral principles at every vertex – you’re not clueless TV watching CSI fantasists.

    My first personal acquaintance with a cop was when i met him at a party- he was toking on a joint while telling about how cool it was to watch the patrol cars converge on the grow-op from the helicopter. I wanted to kill.

    Cops are a much more credible threat to human beings, in my experience, than the freelance crooks. Cops just claim a monopoly on those activities.

    If you should wish to claim that cops to less damage to innocent people than the unofficial crooks- please admit that any damage done by the boys.not.in.blue WAS DONE and the boys in blue failed to protect.

    Protection is not what they can do, defense is not what they can do. Sometimes retribution is what they can do- at your addictional expense in every case. The sum total of damages is attributable to them as the protection racket they are.

    In any tight spot, I will count on tools and possibly my neighbor – never a cop.

    That’s the reality – they steal for their income, they promise what they can’t deliver, they produce nothing but damage at every turn. That’s what you can count on.

    Twin Towers came down and Iraq was invaded to distract you from the fact that they can do just about f-all except put propaganda shows on TV to convince you the world is getting warmer… er- that cops are the good guys. They are not. They can, however, feel up your teenage daughter and shoot you in the back.

    It’s not the occasional bad apple- it is the nature of The Beast. Why anybody should wish to fool himself or others about gangsters such as these? What does it get you beside a heavier parasite load with more vicious parasites?

  42. E.M.Smith says:

    @J Ferguson: I’d be concerned about how to handle the TLA TOG issue if there was a chance in hell I’d be recruited. But I’ve sent in resumes to a couple of TLAs (just after 911) and they were not interested. (Yeah, the ones with loads of computers…) So I’m at 50 something and they want 20 something and more ‘trainable’… I guess…

    At any rate, I’m very unlikely to ever be “useful” in that craft…

    Irish Passports: Yeah, I can get one. Probably will. It’s nice when they are hauling Americans off the plane to shoot them … Several folks in the R.Reagan admin had them…

    BTW, any Cop that fails to go to ‘high speed’ when needed will eventually wake up dead. It’s a necessary part of the job. Has to be on a hair trigger to change state, too. I had the ‘when to shoot’ training. 100% of us “shot” at the wrong times. (Yes, the film was rigged, but that was the point, reality is ‘rigged’ sometimes too…). The one that got most of us was the scenario with a Radio Report of a guy 20s jeans, jacket armed and dangerous near the RR Tracks. We ‘respond’ in the video… Guy matching description comes at us, refuses to obey commands to halt, show his hand, or get down, reaches behind his back and starts to draw BANG BANG BANG we all say with our finger guns…. guy pulls out card saying “I’m Deaf, I can’t understand what your are saying. Please write it on this card…” Lesson Learned… We needed to go to ‘fast speed’ and WAIT until a gun was VISIBLE and a REAL THREAT. Otherwise, we were just whacko’s with badges…

    Oh, and at one time I was a Medical Records Technician. We were in the Doctors Lounge reading the medical charts and making sure they were all correct and complete. (IF a drug was ordered, the administration was noted. etc.) Everyone had A ward. But we each did 2 week ‘rotations’ through Psych… After that you would start to ‘have issues’ …


    I understand you “have issues” with cops. I’m sure there are some bad ones. (That’s what Internal Affairs is for…) But your broad brush negative portrayal is simply bogus.

    I’ve known a LOT of cops. Almost all of them were genuinely nice folks who just wanted to do good. But they get a lot of crap in their face every day. Sometimes that wears them down. Called to domestic violence calls where the husband is beating the wife, pull the guy off and cuff him (probably saving wife’s life) and then it’s 1 in 10 you get hit on the head with a frying pan by said wife (the other 9 being incredibly thankful). Called to a Breaking and Entry. 9 in 10 the home owner loves you for saving their stuff. 1 in 10 some nutty guy decides to scream RACIST!!! because you stopped him from breaking into a house long enough to find out he was the owner and locked his keys inside (and then let him go on his way…)

    The whole job is like that. Tough judgment calls where the ‘good’ outcomes are often vague or unrecognized while the ‘bad’ ones are nightly news…

    So let me make this perfectly clear:

    I’m OK with folks saying “I had {this bad experience} with cops”. It happens. Heck, I’ve had some. But it is NOT OK to portray them as generically evil. That simply is not true.

    Yes, you can make the case that in the Gang Wars there are really 3 gangs. Crips, Bloods, and Badges. The sociology of that analysis actually holds fairly well. (ALL are fighting for dominance of The Turf. ALL are armed. ALL use violence. etc.) So yes, it’s a ‘reasonable point of view’ to say the Police are just like a gang. BUT: They are Our Gang. They work to control the turf for US. Not for their own gain. (though some politicians use traffic cops as an extortion racket…)

    BTW, in the above I didn’t see me glamorizing cops. It’s a rough, tough, hard job dealing with the scum of the earth while needing to treat them like princes most of the time. It’s a nerve wracking boring as hell job most of the time, and you are often a social pariah at parties if folks find out you are a cop. I admire folks who can do it and NOT get damaged by the job. That is not glamorizing.

    But yes, you are correct that the Police typically can NOT “protect”. One of the things that made it an unappetizing path for me (at the time I made that choice… now I’d probably choose a different path…) is that MOST of the time, it’s a dirty clean up job of taking reports about peoples misery while being completely helpless to fix it. Most of the rest of the time it’s just being seen enough to hopefully scare off the dumber crooks while doing semi-useless things like writing traffic tickets for 10 over the limit.

    But every once in a while the cop gets to take down a bad guy and put him away. And THAT is what makes it worth while. Yeah, the B&E guy may have 9 that work, then on #10 he goes ‘up the river’ for 20 years… Net, we gain 20 years without him stealing stuff.

    And make no mistake about it. The world is full of Very Bad Guys who would be happy to see you dead for $10, or just for the thrill of it. I’ve known some of them… (one who’s grave I spit on every couple of years… rumor was he was killed by the local Neo-Nazis for giving them a “bad name”… yeah, that bad.)

    So you have a choice: Accept the dominance of the most powerful and nasty bad guys; or set up a ‘countervailing force’ of a well disciplined “gang” to keep them in check and who reports to you. Yeah, I’ll take The Badge Gang every time. If you’d like to see the alternative, just look at the war zone of drug cartels just over the border in Mexico. “No Thank You”….

    Would I like to change some details? You bet. I’d dump the whole “drug laws” thing in a heartbeat. Ought to be a medical issue between you and your doctor. Let about 1/2 the folks in prison out with a full pardon (all those ‘drug possession’ folks) and tell the drug lords to go stuff it, we can grow our own in our back yards, thank you very much.

    Not going to happen as the part of “Us” who are control freaks and can’t stand the notion of someone doing something THEY don’t like is slightly larger than the rest of “Us”…

    (Frankly, ALL the “victimless crimes” ought to abolished.)

    I could go on, but I think you get the point. That I think it’s STUPID and a complete waste of money to bust some guy for smoking a joint after work or slipping a willing Lady Of The Night a hundred for a good time, does not mean the police who enforce those rules are somehow evil. It means that the folks who MAKE those rules are a bit stupid. (Then again, I think the folks who would do those things are also a bit stupid, so I’m stuck with choosing which stupidity to endorse… How did I get into this? ;-)

    But would I want a world with NO police? Not on your life.

    Would I prefer a world with more ‘armed citizens’ taking care of things themselves? You bet.

    But that also means you need the Town Marshal to make sure the Vigilance Committee doesn’t get out of hand too…

    And, as I think you can see from my prior comments; I’m quite aware of the need for the person on the ground and present at the time to “protect”. At least long enough for the cops to arrive and haul the bad guys away.

    Per the Twin Towers: Oh Please. None of that clap trap. It wasn’t some grand conspiracy to lay the groundwork for the One World Order to Rise Again. Some nuts stole some planes and crashed them into some buildings. That we’ve way over reacted isn’t sinister, it’s just stupid.

    Repeat after me: “Intelligence is limited, but stupidity knows no bounds. – E.M.Smith”. To be effectively Evil takes some intelligence, and that is in short supply. That is why it’s pretty much always Stupidity that drives things, not Evil. (Modulo the occasional Evil Nutcase who takes over a country… Stalin, Hitler, etc.)

    The simple fact is that in one of the most totalitarian and tightly controlled countries on the face of the planet, the Dominant Power collapsed as Just Plain Folks in the military decided to change directions. Remember the USSR and it’s fall? No amount of ‘police state’ can prevent ‘the folks’ from saying “NO”, since it’s “the folks” who, in the end, do everything.

    So please accept that there is a very evil group of people in the world who want us dead, they are Muslims and they are extremists. They are NOT One Worlders being directed by Rockafeller and The Crown…. They, and not some Grand Conspiracy, crashed planes into the Twin Towers. So drop that line, please. (And the obligatory for the Loony Lefties with poor reasoning skills: Yes, there are ‘good Muslims”. No, not all Muslims are evil. Yes, it was extremists and not moderates. No, that doesn’t mean you can profile Muslims as bad guys. Yes, that does mean you ought to go looking for the bad buys among the good Muslims…. etc. ad nauseum…)

    Profound stupidity accounts for all the known facts of 911, with an admixture of some extremist dogma by the radical Muslims. You don’t need to go any further than that.

    Per our reaction to it? Yeah, you have a point that that is incredibly over done. But the reason is that too many citizens want zero risk and don’t care about being groped… Throughout history cowards and incompetents have regularly traded liberty for security until they were locked in the pen being farmed. It’s just not any different this time. When it gets bad enough, the 20% or so with a spine and brains will have a new revolution and the wheel will start all over again. It’s the normal cycle of civilizations.

    (And the obligatory for the Radical Right: Yes, I know that there are SOME conspiracies. George Soros is a great example. Building a nice little apparatus to bugger our economy for his personal gain. I could name a couple of others, too. But in the grand scheme of things, such folks are bit players. The bulk of what happens is simply not centrally planned and controlled. People in bulk are not that competent… and one Grand Conspriacy tends to attract others of their ilk to try to steal their thunder and take them down, so it typically self limits after a while.)

    Bottom Line: If push comes to shove, I’m signing up with The Badge Gang. If push comes to really bad shove, a large number of them will be the folks who take down The Grand Conspiracies. In the end, they are “The Peoples Gang” as they are made from the people…

    (For an unfolding example of that, look at Ecuador and the recent events. The president of Ecuador had to hide in an airport as the POLICE were turning on him. It ended in an interesting Army vs Police event… and for now has settled back down. But when things get bad enough, it tends to be the Police that stand with the people. Though as in the case of the USSR, it can be the Army too. So don’t fear those power structures. Just make sure they are made of Citizens…)

  43. j ferguson says:

    I spent a couple of years (85-86) as a consultant with one of the TLA’s. Based on what I saw, certainly not everything, the computer jocks, guys doing more interesting things than carrying tapes around, were all less than 40 and likely Navy grads – having done similar things in uniform. My take at the time was that the employer very much wanted things done their way and also to have a very good handle on the sum of their knowledge and an appreciation for what they didn’t know. These guys were very very bright – the kind you can discuss technical stuff with and skip words, then sentences, then paragraphs – straight to the issue. I wasn’t supposed to know what they were doing – no need to know – but I did.

    Technical Architecture is a very good career for someone who can get interested in a lot of different things without getting stuck to them. I suspect itinerant computer jock could be similar. Too bad so many of the people hiring in that area haven’t done it themselves. I got a pass on a job once because they asserted I lacked the necessary skill-set. Person who made that judgement wouldn’t have recognized the needed skill set if it had driven over her. She had no idea what the problem at that place actually was.

    The apparently large number of over 50 year olds who may never work again – not you, likely, but the rest of them, really worries me. What happens when they figure it out?

  44. gnomish says:

    Knowing your personal experiences and relationships to the degree you’ve seen fit to reveal, I commend you in your restraint.
    I think you have misinterpreted some of what I said re 9/11, as I never alleged a consipiracy. I meant to assert that ‘doing something’, in this case, the invention of a seriously dangerous doctrine of ‘pre-emptive attack’ which also happened to be based on apparent falsehood, was a deliberate means to distract people from the realization tnat the ONLY justification for the military is protection – and that they can”t and didn’t do it and were whipped up one side and down the other by a handful of mental defectives who outsmarted them. The government failed in its only justifiable mission – they failed utterly. People died. Then, to distract from that totally salient fact, they kicked some butt- without provocation, without proper justification and made the united states of america a credible threat to everyone else on the planet. They acted like thugs because they could not act like protectors or defenders. Preemptive strikes on countries that have not threatened nor attacked is the worst threat any other country can face. The usa is now shameful and guilty and that attack was wrong and more people died.

    Be certain that I understand the mozzies. I have lived in north africa and i have been through 2 attempted coups and i have attended the subsequent beheadings.

    Regarding the ‘once in a while they get to lock up a bad guy’ – as you aptly state- it’s once in a while – and at our expense. Often, far more damage is done by this expense than the damage done by the crime itself.
    There is, E.M. such a thing as a defining act. Perhaps you don’t know this in your bones, but a single evil act defines the person who commits it. There is no ‘oh, well, John Wayne Gacey was a terrific clown – he just had a bad hair day’, is that clear enough?
    So you may be able to overlook those defining acts or trivialize them in your own mind. Victimless crimes seem to be of no serious consequence to you, but the lives wrecked by the gangsters who prosecute them are not yours to grant absolution over- you have no right to that. You can not justify it and you can not trivialize it. It’s evil – it’s nothing else and it defines the perpetrators just the same way a single fact in contradiction of a theory falsifies that theory.

    I can’t give more detailed informatin to win this case, sir – I would be at risk and I’ve been paid for my silence BY THE COP. That’s how i get some justice once in a while.

    We won’t agree until someone you love gets it from a cop, I think. Nevertheless, I respect that you act on your judgement. Just as you are entitled to question mine, it’s fair to discuss the contradictions inherent in yours – after all- it’s what honest conversation produces that’s valuable to all. I don’t question your honesty at all.

    In closing, I will remark that principles are the only proper guidance for actions and that obedience is the negation of reason. Without morality, which is the science of choice, force and fraud win out. No, i do not have to accept one gang over another. I am a man of principle. That makes obedience equivalent to death. I am not a self harmer.


  45. gnomish says:

    btw- i sign papers on the new home tomorrow- it took me ten days to find a place on an acre for 11k down and a 3 yr owner financed note.
    we have about 50 little palm trees – that’s always been a fantasy for me. they will grow large over the years.
    there won’t be any heating or cooling bills, i think
    well and septic, too
    just a bit rural and no crime but occasional dumping, really.

    I feel very sad for california… i’ll have to dump the properties there asap…

    this year’s adventures come to a successful close, now.

    happy thanksgiving to you and yours.

  46. E.M.Smith says:

    @gnomish: I’d love to be able to accept your need for absolutes. But I can’t. We live in a grey world. I’m willing to accept a 90% good outcome, as holding out for perfection in policing will never work, and the alternative is not acceptable.

    FWIW, I was once pulled over for speeding at about 5 am. I’d been ‘up all night’ at work. Unthinking, I thought I’d “help the cop feel better” as I’d had the training on what to do with a ‘perp’ in a “stop”. So I stuck my hands out the window so he could see they were empty.

    Little did I realize (in my up all night at work daze) that doing “Step One” of a “Felony Stop” would trigger massive adrenalin in said cop. Clearly he had an experienced Felon to deal with….

    I’ll skip the details… lets just say that after going through the REST of the “Felony Stop” process, I got my “10 over” ticket and a mini-rant from the cop about hitting such a hot button.

    Lesson learned? Frankly, it WAS my fault for hitting that profile. He had every write to expect a Felon, not a member of the local Junior G Men… Undercover cops have to deal with this too, from time to time.

    I’ve had other “interesting experiences” as well.

    But they have not left me embittered about it. They have lead me to understand just how hard it is to be a cop and deal with alternate ‘death in 10 seconds’ vs ‘Mom turning fast to check on baby’. To have “I’ve got a FELON” vs “I’ve got a dumb kid who’s not slept much hitting my buttons”…

    The present choices are anarchy or authoritarian structures. While I’d love to live in a Libertarian Free Will Paradise and pack my own protection; that’s just not a choice right now. In that context, I’ll pass on the anarchy for a while.

    On 9/11: OK, maybe I jumped to the conclusion you were a “truether”. That’s where that line usually ends. If what you are saying is just “We went way overboard on the reaction and did immoral things”. I can see that line of reasoning. I do think that some of the Iraq Invasion and Afghanistan stuff was just to ‘clean up’ messes left over from when Daddy Bush was CIA head honcho and funded those same folks into power against the USSR. Wrong to do that under the Color Of Terrorism? Yup. Wrong to do it? Er.. harder to say. I’d rather they hadn’t made the messes they left laying around the world in the first place, but if you MADE the Taliban and Sadam in the first place, better to clean up after yourself than leave them laying about…

    The major difference I see between us is that you want one answer. I’m happy with two. The goal (a more libertarian world) and the present practicality ( we’ve got this mess of a system to deal with, better to keep it running as we try to fix it rather than just shut it down and hope).

    Glad to hear you have a place. I’m hoping for about 5 acres with a few palm trees myself. The “plan” would be to plant Bambusa Oldhami around it such that in about 2 years it would be a wall 4 – 6 feet thick and 50 foot tall of 4 inch stems, then have my little private place inside for sunbathing ‘in the rough’ and fishing in private. Probably never happen, but such are things dreams are made of…

    If you are anywhere between, oh, Florida and California and south of Highway 80, I’d be interesting in stopping by to visit some time. ( I’m likely to be driving coast to coast a few more times in the next couple of years). I think you’d be good for conversation over a couple of cases of beer, especially if a fishing hole is nearby… (Don’t need fish, though they are a nice touch. I like “beer fishing”… and I always catch my limit ;-) I’ll understand if you are not inclined to divulge info about where you ended up. If interested, the email is in the “about” box in words. And if you want to do a ‘multiple key exchange’ I can send more secure contact info in return.

    FWIW, there is this interesting part of Florida near Davenport that I visited last trip… You can grow cactus and tropicals side by side and while it’s close to ‘urban areas’ it’s still out in the weeds private. Found a place on a lake where you can have a little acreage and cabin ashore, and a boat in the water. I like the idea of a water only approach to ‘home’ and a boat… cuts down on the ‘casual visitor’ problem ;-) Bamboo is your friend…

    Now if I can just get the wife to agree…

  47. gnomish says:

    E.M., in fact, i’d be pleased to give you and your significant other a place to visit – and yeah- we’d argue on some points, no doubt – no expectations should be violated by that – but it usually leads to expanded perspective. But i don’t evangelize. I’m not a preacher – just an explainer – and nobody has to hear it unless they wish to.
    For me, it is black and white. In fact, the ‘it’s gray’ analogy is a poor choice for you to use because gray presumes that, right?
    Oh- here ya go:
    The email I use is valid. I’ll trust you to maintain confidentiality. If you visit, I’ll tell you some stories and you’ll understand. I would love to hear as many as you care to share as well.
    I haven’t actually signed the papers – sposed to do that tomorrow – so the fat lady hasn’t finished singing yet, but I expect it to happen.
    It would be 30 days before taking possession during which time I have to move stuff from washington state in a uhaul. I”ll be running on fumes cuz we still haven’t sold the house on the island – and indeed, it might not sell…
    I don’t drinl and never have, but you certainly may do as you please as long as you clean up if you overdo it!
    On the other hand, for many decades pot has been a good friend. I can’t imagine writing code any other way, truthfully.
    It might be fun for you to check out real estate, too- one can get a livable place for less than the price of a car, eh?

  48. John F. Hultquist says:

    49 responses and not one picked up on Arlo’s lyrics.

  49. gnomish says:

    don’t touch my bags if you please, mr custom’s man

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