Why we are engineered for another 9/11; the TSA is working backwards

The media and blogosphere is going nuts with this recent hulla-balloo over the TSA pat-downs and full-body scanners. In news segment after segment, after the guest tirades about lack of privacy, dignity, pornography scan and whatever else is the convenient bumper sticker claim of the hour, the anchor eventually asks the guest, “What would you do differently?”

The question generally sends the guest into a sputtering mutter and the anchor then makes his/her point, “See? You have nothing. This is the best system we have even though it is imperfect, so sit down and shut up. We all want to be safe.”

Only that’s not really true.

All the TSA did after 9/11 is replace a patch-work of private security guards of questionable authority with standardized, uniformed TSA agents with unchallengeable authority and a McDonald-ized set of procedures. All airports must be set up a standard way. All interactions with passengers must be conducted in this manner with this script. All escalations are handled by a supervisor, here’s how passengers proceed through, here is how to wand, etc, etc.

When there is a procedure and a script, employees to fill the jobs are easy to find, easy to process, easy to train, cheap to pay and cheap to replace. It is like changing out a bolt in a piece of machinery. That is how we approached the job at hand; fill 65,000 jobs in less than a year. Instead of asking ourselves why we needed 65,000 TSA agents, we just marched forward to replace the patchwork system we had into a uniform one.

It’s how we handle anything that needs mass-processing in this country. And it is prone to malicious injection because it is standardized and predictable. A smart man who happens to be a retired Dayton police officer told me something right after 9/11 I’ll never forget. He said the minute we go to a national police system is when we become vulnerable. We may find it easier to communicate and coordinate, but it is easy to inject a virus and mole into a system. It is almost impossible to do the same with patchwork.

What I would do differently
Inject unpredictability into the airport environment. That helpless lost young man you helped who couldn’t remember where he parked? TSA agent. That pretty chatty girl who was in the elevator who wanted to know where you were flying off to? TSA agent. That grandmother whose cell phone battery just died and she asked to borrow your cell phone to call her niece? TSA agent. That frazzled businessman who was running late for his flight and wanted to know what time it was? TSA agent. That college student who thought your iPad was really cool, where did you get it and can I see it? TSA agent. That blind man with the dog at the duty-free store who asked you if he was holding a bottle of Absolut? TSA agent. The dog too. That hipster who liked your shoes and where did you get them? TSA agent.

All watching you, all asking you questions to determine how you react in situations that are unpredictable. And all either clearing you or escalating you before you reach security and even after you pass through.

And we all pass through metal detectors set up really high and we put our loose stuff in bins like we did before. We are waved through by cheerful uniformed guards but it is all just a show. Only the passengers who have been escalated past a certain comfort point are channeled through a special “high risk” area where their tickets, documentation, luggage and person is more thoroughly searched. Most of us blithely proclaim the United States is the most free country to walk around in. No planes are highjacked, because we all trust each other. That is how we live with freedom in America.

Or at least that is what the TSA wants us to believe. Just like Walt Disney makes everyone believe the streets on the Happiest Place on Earth are never littered with trash.

We would need less than half of the thousands we employ already with the TSA. We would have to commit to hiring and training people to be really good actors and profilers (not racial profilers) and we would have to be willing to inject new scenarios and outcomes every day into the airports. We would have to pay these people well. We may even be able to save a few from a life as a greeter at WalMart (who can spot a lie better than someone who has raised a teen-ager? AARP, you listening?)

We’d have to be committed to the real security of human beings by applying a human solution, not a blind faith in technology with a promise of automated safety. A system is predictable and predictability can be injected and highjacked.

What about putting people in charge again scares us most?

.

Quit scaring us and quit calling us ignorant. The great Park51 mosque debate

I’ve been mulling over this issue of the Park51 community center containing a mosque for the past week now, trying to reconcile in my own head the disconnect I have with an unconditional freedom of and from religion and the general unease and empathy I feel with those who oppose the placement of a community center containing a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. After being scared to death by the Republicans and called ignorant and intolerant by the Liberals, I struck me what was at the core of this issue.

Most Americans don’t see Islam as a religion but rather as an imperial political and cultural machine. When a “religion” becomes politicized, it then becomes fair game to oppose, much like Fascism, Communism or Socialism. The intolerance becomes perfectly rational because this “thing” you oppose is no longer a religion. Ok, just hold on a minute and I’ll explain how I’ve arrived at this conclusion.

In the West, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the natural state of religion is separate from the secular state. When we look “over there” at governments like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines and such, we see a religion that trumps the secular state. To us, it is the equivalent of the Supreme Court being overruled by clergymen and The Bible.

I object strongly to the Republicans painting a picture of fear and mistrust, comparing Islam to Naziism and the like. I get why they are doing it. Nobody pays attention to the rational anymore. Everything has to be hyperbolic. But what irritates me even more than the calculated contrived craziness of the Right is the haughty indignation of the Left, calling us all ignorant for not recognizing Islam as a religion for which we need to be tolerant. They scold and berate us for having a bit of trepidation about the intent of the Muslim community when clearly we can see established government states being unnecessarily cruel and inhuman, run by the same religion that tells us it is peace-loving. We are conflicted. What is Islam then? Islam ultimately must be a religion that is peaceful until it gains power. Then it is not.

For eight years, the peace-loving Evangelical Christians had the US Government at its beck and call, wielding power over who was and was not worthy to serve as an elected in a secular government. Only toward the end of the George Bush Administration did their stranglehold loosen.

A Catholic as late as the 1960s was seen as unelectable because it was believed that allegiance to the Pope in Rome would trump the Oath to defend the Constitution. John Kennedy proved that wrong; Bart Stupek made us wonder all over again.

In 1620, the Puritans landed in Massachusetts after getting kicked out of England and The Netherlands and promptly set up a theocracy which eventually led to some witch trials some seventy years later. Eventually, secular sense took hold, but not before a lot of people were scared into confessing sins which they did not commit as a matter of civil law. It is a convenient myth to believe that the Puritans were kicked out of England for practicing their religion, when in fact, they wanted their version of religion to rule the State. King James kinda had it right.

We mistrust the Muslim intentions because we mistrust our own. We’ve seen how a religion that purports itself to be tolerant, patient, peace-loving and kind will turn cruel, ugly and destructive when it gains power. While many of us can’t articulate exactly why we feel like we do about the Mosque at Park51, these feelings of uneasiness are no less valid. It is not empty fear stoked up by loud voices nor is it intentional ignorance and faulty logic the arrogant intellectuals would have us believe. Perhaps it is our own sense of history with regard to religion that gives us pause.

But we are not ignorant, fear-mongering intolerant trolls. We mistrust because there is a reason.

And a small pup is easier to kill than a full-sized bear.

..

The BP oil gusher needs empathy to cap more quickly

Image Fran and Margaret Sally Phillips Buffington Orange Beach Alabama
Fran and Margaret by Sally Phillips Buffington. Orange Beach, Alabama when the sands were white and pure.

Down two blocks and over one, there is a house that has two special-needs kids. Every morning at 6:27am, a over-sized school bus with tinted windows roars up to their door and whisks them away. The driver must always be running late because he (or she I can’t see into the bus) punches the gas and leaves behind a huge cloud of exhaust that reeks of burned diesel fuel.

This morning, we were slightly late on the walk and we missed the bus, but not the fuel smell. As we rounded the corner, the lingering odor of the exhaust caught up in my lungs, throwing my otherwise peaceful walk in the cool, early-morning air into a fit of irritation.

* * *

After 9/11, many people here in Dayton expressed their angry and fear about the terrorist attacks. Many had never been to New York City and seen the twin towers up close so the connection to them wasn’t strong. They would mouth the words of patriotism and revenge as if written on a cue card. But there was no deep sadness in their voices, no tremble of loss in their souls. It wasn’t empathetic. Where there was no experience, you saw fear, anger and worry as a veneer in their eyes.

But for the few of us here who had experienced the towers first-hand, the feelings ran deeper than anger and fear. Where there was experience, you saw deep sadness that could only come from empathy; from knowing that none of us will ever again be able to stand small under the towering glass and steel that seemed to lift endlessly into the sky.

* * *

I read an email from a friend last night about the oil from the BP disaster coming ashore on the white sand beaches of the Florida panhandle. Her description of her backyard was about as beautiful as I had ever read and as gorgeous as I remember the last time I was there more than ten years ago. Almost immediately, the sights, sensations and smells of a Florida beach came rushing over me. And I felt overwhelmed with a sense of loss.

* * *

My head was still on the Florida beach when I stepped out to walk this morning. As I turned the corner at the end of the street two blocks down and one block over, the putrid, vile smell of exhaust jolted me out off the beach and into the reality of what Florida is about to become.

And I felt very sad, very helpless and very violated.

Forty-three days of apathy later, I understood why most of us aren’t connecting our lives to the true horrors of what is happening in the Gulf, even as we are assaulted with it 24/7 by cable news as we were with 9/11.

Blame the terrorists.. again

41nhb5qfrl_sl500_aa240_Generation Y isn’t lazy, impatient, demanding, high-maintenance and self-absorbed. They are just living life fully, in the moment, every day. Why? Because of terrorism.

Huh?

Yes, says Tamara Erickson in a recent podcast posted on Bnet.com. GenY came of age during the era of terrorism and that affected them so much that they seek to be in the moment just in case everything comes crashing down around them in a single, unpredictable moment.

Perhaps they seek to be in the moment because they have been handed everything by their Boomer parents? Perhaps they don’t know how to delay gratification. Maybe? Even just a little bit? Is there no depth to which GenY will not stoop to blame someone or something else for their failing?

There are all sorts of other tangents that Erickson goes down that are flawed reasoning. For example, she suggests that corporations give them a task, but don’t over-train them, let them figure it out. The problem there is GenY really has no skills nor do they have any sense of when a project is complete or well done. The conclusion most would draw is “If my boss has a problem with the quality of my work, he will give me feedback. Otherwise, its all good.”

Sounds like a theory being backed into a book.

Put the smart guys in charge, please

Susan Suess Kennedy wrote an article recently for the Huffington Post examining why Americans have such a disdain for smart people. A popular terms among the non-intellectuals and shallow thinkers is “elistism.” The undereducated white guys chant this, along with “drill baby, drill” (which I don’t really get as a mantra, but ok..) Here’s the puppy take on all this.

Way back in the good ol’ days of air travel (pre-1996 or thereabouts) getting on a plane was something that you did because you had really important business. You knew the rules (or got to know the rules quickly) ticket prices were high, but so was the expectation of flyer sophistication and service from the airlines.

At some point, the airlines thought it was a good idea to let anyone fly. They deserved to fly to see grandma, visit the new baby, etc. Ticket prices plummeted and the airports were suddenly overrun by people who really didn’t have a clue where they were going, what they were doing and had expectations of service that was far in excess of the price they paid for their ticket. The airline employees suddenly felt like a “babysitter” when they were hired as a trained air traffic professional. Things got surly and the service and profits plummeted straight to the bottom. In addition, the airlines and airports were so overrun with volume that it was easy for nineteen people to slip into planes on 9/11.

The same thing happened with the housing market. Days were the only people who were allowed to buy a home were those who could actually afford it. They saved their money, they worked hard and smart and they had at least 5%-10% down on a home. They bought a home that might have been a little lived-in, was probably too small and in an area that was not exactly their first choice. And buying that first home was tough as bankers made you sweat the details of employment history, credit history and cash. The money was real and it was hard-earned.

Then, along came a generation of people who deserved to be in a home, regardless of their credit history or income. The question was not whether or not it made sense to buy a home; the question was how do we bend the rules to get you in a home. And so we put a lot of people in houses that they did not work for, they couldn’t afford to buy and more importantly, couldn’t afford to maintain. In addition, we sent a message to all the home owners who did work hard for their homes that their work was just not that valuable. And now, as these $0-down, sub-prime folks are abandoning their homes in record numbers, they are kicking more dirt into the faces of the hard-working folks in the form of lower home values, higher property taxes and an economy in shambles.

The same thing happened with a college education. A time was only the really smart people who tested high on the ACT or SAT, had a solid GPA and could write a coherent paper got accepted into college. Paying for it was another matter, but if you were really smart, you either found a way or were given a way.

Now, colleges are more interested in being in the food service and housing businesses than the business of education. Most colleges will take any student who applies, but require they stay in student housing for their freshman and sophomore years. Their cafeterias are now stocked with branded food items from Chik Fil A, Burger King, KFC, etc. in addition to gourmet lunches and dinners. The dorms are lavish apartments starting at $3,000+ a semester, per student, sleeping four per unit. And every student there believes they deserve a college degree, regardless of how hard they work or the quality of their work.

And we get to the US Elections. On the one side, we have someone who is really smart and is a deep thinker. On the other side, we have a candidate who shoots from the hip, deserves to be President because he served his country for decades and it is “his turn.” Moreover, he has paired up with an “average hockey mom” and journalism major who doesn’t read newspapers, speaks plainly but incoherently and identifies well with the Bubba vote who is able to fly to Vegas for less than $100, lives in a house he can’t really afford, went to a college where he majored in drinking and works at a job for a company that really doesn’t produce anything of value. But, by God, she deserves to be VP!

Despite her dreadful interview performances with Charlie Rose and Katie Couric, Palin could win the debates tomorrow because she appeals to a growing audience that has become dumber and dumber, but more deserving. We have abdicated our need to know facts for sound bytes and slogans to chant. “Drill, baby, drill!”, “U-S-A, U-S-A” and statements like “We are all Georgians”, “Make the Wall Street fat-cats pay” and the oft-used “Main Street vs Wall Street.” We don’t know what these mean, we don’t really examine why they have meaning or even if they do, but they have a nice cadence and chanting them in a large crowd makes us feel a part of something.

We need smart people to start leading this country. We need to quit giving the masses what they want because they feel they “deserve” it. We don’t really have to look very far to see what happens to industries that succumb to the pressures of market expansion at any cost. Eventually, the industry dives to the bottom and crashes. Air travel, housing, education, credit cards, and soon to be the executive branch of the United States.

The office of President and Vice-president of the United States of America should be the hardest job to get in this country. The people who eventually get elected to fill these top jobs should be the best and the brightest, not the ones who can drink beer best with us or who can shoot a moose the best. We need to advance the country forward, technologically, politically, ethically and societally for the next generation of the best and the brightest, not drive the standards down to allow more people to participate. To borrow a phrase from TheLadders.com, if everybody plays, nobody wins.

It’s time to make being smart a thing of value again. We don’t need presidential and vice-presidential candidates mocking community participation, academic accomplishment, reasoned arguments and hard work as elitism. We need leaders who appreciate the value of human smarts and recognize that there is more power in a pen than a sword. Human smarts is the ultimate infrastructure of any society. When that is damaged and devalued, the society will eventually crumble, united or not.

After-post: If you have a chance and have read this far, perhaps you will read one more article by Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post Writer’s Group.

And this says more of the same, but a far better post than mine. Thank you, Deanie Mills.

9/11 through the eyes of Gen Y

Tim Weaver write this article today about 9/11. A short snippet.

I’m not saying that we should not defend ourselves from terrorists and other foreign threats. I’m not even saying that the war on terror is a lost and hopeless cause and a horrible squandering of our resources. All I’m saying is that we can’t let the anger and the grief still lingering in our hearts change us.

Read the entire article here.

Also, a similar piece I wrote back on Memorial Day. A good refresher.

Scott McClellan from a dog’s point of view

There is a lot of talk about Scott McClellan’s new book. Comments from it range of “now, we know the truth” to “he is bitter” to … oh, who really cares. Just everyone shut up already. If you want, buy and read the book, if not, just quit talking like you know anything.

Here is the canine take on what really happened in the White House and is best illustrated by the fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes, written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837, 171 years ago! Amazing we knew so much about humanity back then and still we don’t pay attention. Kids, stay in school, crack a book!

For anyone under 40ish, here is the synopsis from Wikipedia,

An emperor who cares too much about clothes hires two swindlers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they tell him, is invisible to anyone who was either stupid or unfit for his position. The Emperor cannot see the (non-existent) cloth, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime. The Emperor then goes on a procession through the capital show off his new “clothes”. During the course of the procession, a small child cries out, “But he has nothing on!” The crowd realizes the child is telling the truth and begins laughing. The Emperor, however, holds his head high and continues the procession.

But, this is a fairy tale, so the emperor had to be the laughing stock. But, here is what would have happened if this were a true story.

Royal guards would burst out of the royal procession and beat the kid to death in a bloody attack, in full public view. Then, they would have arrested the kid’s family, beating them the entire way to the dungeon, where they would have been tortured and held without a lawyer indefinitely. Do you think the crowd would keep laughing? Do you think the crowd would turn on the royal guards and administer mob justice? Probably not. They would have kept their heads down, waved like they meant it and worked on trying to get out of the parade and go home as quickly as possible.

A lot of royal guards burst out of the royal procession after 9/11. And the crowd did not stop them and did not speak up. The few who did were beaten back like a bratty little kid. And deep in their hearts, the crowd knew this was wrong, yet kept silent because they didn’t want to get beaten and they didn’t want to get hauled off. (Bill O’Reilly, if you are reading this, this is a METAPHOR for what happened, not a literal representation. You use a lot of big words at the end of your show to describe how folks should write you. Can you say metaphor?)

For the people who are saying “If Scott felt this way, he should have spoken up sooner, not write a book later.” Hmmm…. 171 years ago, Andersen knew this. I think what Scott did was kept his head down, waved and tried to figure out how to get home as quickly as possible. Then, when he was safe, he cried out “The emperor is wearing no clothes.” But, the royal guards came after him anyway. And probably will for a very long time.

Please read, then speak. In that order. Start here.

The real death of the Dayton Daily News

For those of you who may not know, I was with the Dayton Daily News from 1998-2002. It was perhaps the most meaningful period of my life, in which I learned how to write objectively, think independently, treasure really, really talented people around me, learned how to change the world with little more than a thought and a pen, to learn patience, compassion and humility from greater human beings and learned how to find meaning in a job where I was paid almost nothing and expected to accomplish almost everything. I loved every heartache of the 4 1/2 years I spent there.

Yesterday, I visited the DDN building on Ludlow Ave in downtown Dayton. They were having a public sale where furniture, computer equipment, etc was being sold for whatever they could get. I went to walk the halls for one last time, to hear my friends, colleagues and mentors in my head one last time, to reclaim the same excitement I felt coming into the old newspaper building every morning. I was not disappointed.

….