Saturday, November 27, 2010

If there's one thing Republicans hate more than terror, it's math

Over at Defending People, Mark Bennett takes the fearmongers to task using that greatest of irrefutable proofs: mathematics. In a post titled Transportation Economics, he outlines just why fearing terrorism is a ridiculous proposition given than almost all of us engage in far more dangerous activities every day, such as driving, and in this follow-up, he takes Marc Thiessen of the National Review to school on why most Americans don't fear terrorism enough to alter the way they travel, and that doing so, even in the worst circumstances, is still foolish. I won't repost all the numbers, since Mark did the work and should get the credit, but suffice it to say that terrorism is a miniscule threat in the grand scheme of things, least of all a threat worthy of the vast expansion of government it's been used to justify.

Thiessen, in what seems to be a contest to see who can say the stupidest thing in an article, says that "Some critics have argued that the terrorists are more likely to attack us in other ways that can’t be stopped by the new screening procedures." Let's look at this for a moment. In 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked planes and turned them into projectile weapons using box cutters and knives, both of which were allowed on planes at the time. The newly-created TSA, then having approximately 12 employees, decided that to prevent this from happening again, they would outlaw knives, boxcutters, fingernail clippers, knitting needles, and anything else that could be used as a weapon. Fair enough. Then, in late 2001, Richard Reid tried to blow up a plane using an explosive device in his shoes. So passengers were then required to remove their shoes for inspection before boarding. Not too long after that, a passenger attempted to bring an explosive liquid onto a plane, prompting government officials to ban all liquids over 3 oz. Then, last year, some idiot tried to light his underwear on fire to ignite an explosive device hidden within them. So the TSA rolled out its vast new plan for protecting us, featuring backscatter x-ray machines coupled with new pat-down procedures designed to check the places that passengers might be concealing explosives. The important thing about each of these terror attempts is that they were done using methods that were not detectable by the then-implemented screening procedures. The TSA procedures since 9/11 have been entirely reactionary, responding to threats after they happen rather than identifying new methods of evading security. But apparently Thiessen doesn't see this, as his mind is too occupied with numbers like 9/ transatlantic flights with 1,500 passengers on board...66 percent of Americans say that “the risk of terrorism on airplanes is not that great.” Sixty-six percent. I'm no conservative columnist, but even I had to take a basic math test before I got hired as a Subway sandwich artist when I was 16. I was told there would be no math involved.

TSA has told us that it is doing what it takes to keep us safe. It's unfortunate, then, that the TSA and its apologists like Thiessen are so terribly misinformed (not to mention misleading) about what they're supposedly keeping us safe from. Just remember, on your way to the airport, where the government is keeping you safe from horrible atrocities lurking around every corner, wear your seatbelt.

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