27 April, 2005

3 yrs, 6 mos, 2wks, and 1 day later: Counterterrorism wises up

I am often amazed at how the Fatherland Security apparatus in the USA treats everyone like a suspect -- this in a country where practically everyone, even people who consider themselves anarchists, have a pretty good sense of collective defense and preservation.

I'm not a huge fan of the NRA, but they are on the generally right track when they say that if everyone were armed, we'd be safer -- there are far more good people than bad, and if you give everyone the ability to handle dangerous or violent situations, good will win. (I part from them in that they dwell far too much on firearms while ignoring the far more important types of self-defense weaponry: good communications skills in multiple languages, physical fitness, empathy, even machine tools: when I have a 15-mm crescent wrench I can help someone I see on a dark street late at night with, say, a tacoed bike wheel.)

But instead of relying on this type of collective, non-hierarchical defense, Fatherland Security treats everyone like a suspect and wastes everyone's time and money, inuring us to the totalitarian police state, and arguably making us more vulnerable to terrorism and crime. For example, I had to give up my 15-mm crescent wrench because it was in my backpack as I tried to board an Alaska Airlines plane last summer. Can't have that -- someone carrying a tool on a plane!

At this point the only airport security we need is bomb-sniffing dogs and maybe machines. All this worry about knives and guns is ridiculous. There are plenty of people on a plane to disarm anyone carrying such a thing, and since 0.8181, people have been mentally prepared to respond with whatever it takes to any physical threat on a plane.

So I am happy to see that clam-diggers in Boston are now being called on to watch the port. This initiative makes sense -- trust the people who know the area. Even if a few "bad guys" start digging clams, they won't be able to stop their spade-wielding colleagues from calling Fatherland Security on their government-issued mobile phones should an explosives-laden speedboat start pulling up to the latest LNG shipment.

What I hope is that this relatively smart initiative can spread beyond the largely Irish-American Boston clamdigger culture into the far more diverse, but equally important "eyes and ears" cultures of, say, cab drivers, or the largely minority communities living near our 297 chemical plants that could "affect" over 50,000 people apiece.

(Yes, I know. This post ignores the legitimate questions about the likelihood of terrorism as compared to, say, a gale that wrecks the LNG tanker or poor OSHA inspections that contribute to a chemical leak. And it ignores whether terrorism should really be stopped at the last possible second, after the terrorists have already been indoctrinated, assembled, trained, funded, armed, transported, and launched -- or whether, maybe, better global policies could "dry the swamps" well ahead of that. My point is to argue that even on the terms of the current blindered system, this is one of the first time I've seen the Fatherland Protectors act with anything resembling brains.)

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