THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 650 November 21 - 28, 2010
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November 22, 2010
Rush Limbaugh, quoting an article in the Atlantic magazine, says that the TSA pat downs are deliberately being made intrusive and invasive in order to induce people to choose the X-ray machines. Too many people were refusing to go through the new X-Ray systems, choosing rather the older personal inspections.
Of course that's all true. The purpose of the TSA is to make it clear that Americans are subjects, not citizens; at least it has operated as if that were the mission from its beginning. The X-Ray machine are expensive, and I suspect that if you trace the profits made from the government's buying them you will find paths to lobbyists involved with those who made the policies. Given the profits involved, I would not be astonished to find that donations to al Qaeda from people who make profits from those machines. Stranger things have happened.
There is a story that one chap stripped to his underwear. They required him to put his clothes back on before doing the pat down. I don't know if that story is true, but it certainly would not be astonishing. It's just routine, Ma'am. This is the new normal. You wanted change, didn't you?
And the jokes are flying.
What I have not heard is a discussion of the effectiveness of the new machines and procedures. How much explosive does it take to bring down an airplane? Is a Tampax full enough? A Super size Kotex? If so, we can all see where this concentration on searching for objects rather than terrorists is going. There is simply no way to detect every dangerous thing that someone might be carrying.
Nor have I seen any sane debate on alternative security procedures and their effectiveness. Reading Miranda rights to the underwear bomber was probably not be one of the most effective moves in this game; what was the cost of that compared to the effectiveness of X-rays and patdowns? We might also debate rights tradeoffs. I am willing to give up Miranda Warning rights as a condition of flying; I'd damned well prefer giving up some procedural post-arrest rights than concede a blanket right to be groped and humiliated for no cause whatever.
The first thing one learns in Operations Research is the importance of choosing the true criterion of success. We have not done this. The object of security agents in the airports is not to prevent potentially dangerous stuff getting on airplanes: the object is to prevent dangerous objects from getting into the hands of terrorists who get aboard airplanes. Not quite the same thing.
Surely this is all worth discussing?
We cannot "just adopt the Israeli system." There is far too much air commerce in the United States to have college educated counter intelligence agents interview every single potential passenger. If we try interviewing a selected list, then there will be enormous controversy over who is selected. There will be accusations of racial and religious profiling, and that will go on through the courts.
The Congress of the United States is the Grand Inquest of the Nation. It's time the Congress got into this act: not for theater but in a serious way, to examine the costs and benefits of security policy. It's clear the TSA has already become a typical Iron Law bureaucracy. There needs to be debate on whether it does more harm than good. Perhaps it needs to be abolished, and rebuilt from the ground up. I suspect that can be done for a lot less than the $7 billion a year this agency costs us now.
The TSA Czar says he hopes "people will use judgment and reason" by which he means "Submit, Por Favor." I note that he has not directed his agents to use judgment and reason, presumably because he has a good idea of just how plentiful good judgment is among his employees.
TSA (Citizens abused, humiliated, molested, reduced to tears): 25,346,034
American Citizens (terrorists caught): 0
Why try terrorists if we are not going to release them no matter the verdict? What is the purpose of the show trials? Why give Miranda rights if the accused will be jailed for life no matter what?
TSA now admits that some of the agents have "acted inappropriately" in conducting searches. Does that mean that they will be charged with assault? Can the victims sue for compensation? But of course most of these were not vicious, merely overzealous, although what you say about men who will not listen when told of a medical condition and an external urine bag until they burst the bag should never be in a situation in which zeal matters. There should be a minimal level of judgment for becoming a Federal officer.
Of course the entire strategy -- force the people to accept the x-ray scanner by giving them something considerably less pleasant as an alternative that cannot be refused -- was ill chosen, and put the TSA into this box they are now trying to climb out of. The master strategists of the TSA did not think through the situation, and now they are faced either with being inconsistent or in favor of illogical and useless procedures. Then there is the assumption that anyone attempting to fly is presumptively an enemy of the people required to prove that he is not out to destroy the airplane and all in it. Failure to prove that justifies treating the passenger accordingly.
One does fear when realizing that the security of the United States depends on high level officials incapable of predicting the effects of their forcing the people of the United States to choose between Scylla and Charybdis. We are not yet the Servile State.
So what happens when the next terrorism attempt employs a large Kotex? And then Tampax? What will the TSA do then?
"You must accept that this is reality, and the government is not going to change." Never waver! That's the Rule! That I learned way back in security school!
Incidentally, one of the charges against the chap in San Diego who stripped to his underwear is taking unauthorized photographs in the airport. Now that's freedom of the press.
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|This week:||Tuesday, November
The hoop-la continues over the TSA "love pat" -- sexual assault -- routine body search -- procedures designed to make it so miserable for those refusing the new X-ray scanners. Of course we've invested a lot in those scanners, and that has to be justified, so the "persuasion" will continue; there's too much at stake. The Administration isn't going to give in. As to the X-ray machines themselves, I have yet to see much evidence that the dose per scan is significantly higher than 0.01 mrem per scan, and I know of none at all that it is greater than 0.1 mrem. Note we are discussing ionizing radiation, not UV. I have no figures on the UV dosage of the scanners (if any). Meanwhile, it is well known that flying at jet altitudes gives dosages in the order of 0.5 mrem per hour. That is ionizing radiation (UV doesn't penetrate the aircraft structure). Now if the X-ray scanners give as large as 0.1 mrem per dose (and there is zero evidence of that; I am assuming a worst case maintenance or operator error), then pilots might well object to the scan, but there is no real reason for casual passengers to do so.
Which is to say, the X-ray scan is less intrusive and less violation of basic rights than the general routine operations of the TSA have been from the moment it came into existence. My experiences with TSA have usually been pleasant enough -- I work at trying to be pleasant -- but even so I have been subjected to indignities, unprofessional behavior -- one TSA "officer" told me that if I wrote down her badge number I would be in violation and not allowed to fly -- and general boorishness. I hasten to say that isn't usual. Most of the TSA people were trying to be pleasant in an unpleasant situation. "We are only following orders." They're doing the best they can, given the caliber of people willing to make a career at working for TSA.
In operations research the important first step is to figure out what you are trying to accomplish: what is the goal of the organization. There is usually the stated goal, and the inferred goal. By inferred goal I mean what is the organization doing best? What goal is it actually accomplishing? Regarding the TSA the stated goal is to prevent contraband from getting aboard aircraft, this to be in aid of making the passengers more secure. The inferred goal is to convince the American people that they are subjects, not citizens, and security is preferable to personal liberty. TSA accomplished the inferred goal quite well; it's hard to see how they could do that much better. The stated goal can be questioned: perhaps it ought to have something to do with facilitating air travel, and maximizing the number of passengers who get to their destinations safely and on time. I see no sign that anyone is actually doing an analysis with that as the criterion.
North Korea is shelling South Korea, but only a little bit on a small island. It's an act of war, but it will be ignored while we think of ways to bribe North Korea to stop doing that. And the beat goes on. And see below.
Thanks to Rose for this:
That caused me to write a short screed intended for a private conference, but then I got to thinking it was of more general interest.
That caused me to write a short screed intended for a private conference, but then I got to thinking it would be of interest to View readers, and I have edited it thus:
Perhaps reports of OTEC's demise were slightly exaggerated?
I have done no research on OTEC for 20 years, but when I was doing the series for American Legion on "America's Looming Energy Crisis" way back then I did quite a lot. I didn't see any show stoppers. The technology is simple enough that it was used in the Caribbean in about 1930 to furnish fresh water and some power for special operations. D'Arsonval was the engineer in charge, and while the plant didn't turn large profits, it does not seem to have been a financial disaster. The scale was small, something like 10 kW using 1920's turbine technologies.
Technologies have improved a lot since then. Of course there are only a few locations where OTEC might work -- I put large scale OTEC ops in my stories in Tonga, where they have the conditions and need the power. I was probably also partly responsible for spiking some interest in the subject, and eventually there were Navy and DARPA x-project contracts, which is the appropriate way for the Federal Government to participate in development of new energy sources (as opposed to the subsidies paid for alcohol fuels, which even Al Gore now realizes was probably a mistake).
Anyway, OTEC continues to be looked at, as it should. As a power source for certain areas with the right conditions it still seems appropriate and possibly economic, unless someone knows of show stoppers I don't know about. I always did wonder if the Kona Coast was the right place for an X project, but I didn't look that hard and assumed those who funded the project did. That's not always a sound assumption, as I have found to my sorrow, and often what is said to be an X project turns out to be something entirely different like X-33 which set the development of recoverable spacecraft back 20 years.
It's been a while since I did hard research on new energy technology x-projects. Perhaps it's time.
My last hard-work assessment of "green" energy technologies was done in the 1980's, when I rated their importance for the future as:
In about that order. As I recall back in those days Doc Bussard agreed with me but placed fusion considerably higher in the priority list. We did agree that if small scale fusion became economical it would probably dwarf all the others; the question was how long that would take. I was then and remain a bit sanguine about the claims of the fusion advocates: they have predicted commercial break-even technology "in about 30 years" since Jimmy Carter's time. (I didn't agree with Carter in cutting fusion research, but he was probably right to do that).
If we are forbidden to use nuclear energy to get out of the energy shortage, perhaps the best course would be a large x-project power plant (x-project: build the best we can build with technology existing a year after the contract is awarded; don't rely on something yet to be developed) for waste bio-mass supplemented power generation using either coal or natural gas as primary: in other words, see what we can make of thermal recycling. Of course that would probably emit CO2 like mad, and thus be unacceptable in today's scientific consensus.
What does that leave for a major US energy x-project? OTEC is a good idea, but it's not likely to save the world since the places you can use it tend to be places where it's hard to get the energy from there to somewhere that it's useful.
Perhaps a good reader discussion might be on what energy x-projects we would recommend in what order. I think we can get the result to be considered seriously by the relevant committees in the new House.
For the record, sometimes it makes sense to bribe nations far away. It encourages others to try the shakedown path, but for Empires with limited military resources, it's often cheaper to bribe than to fight. Of course an alternative is to bribe an ally or a puppet to go fight. When the Danes are on your soil, you fight (see Appius Cludius the Blind)
David Nolan, RIP
November 24, 2010
I'd like to get to an end of the X-ray health discussion, but apparently that hasn't happened yet:
TSA, Body Scanners, and Lies
There are reasons to object to the scanners, but radiation and health problems aren't very important. I point out that if you fly, you will get 10 to 50 times as much radiation per hour as you got from the scan. It would be impossible to say that the scan had anything to do with it since you'll fly at least an hour each time you get a scan. The additional radiation you got from the scan is lost in the noise. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but I have seen no evidence whatever. The linear exposure theories of Tamplin and Goffman are no longer accepted as science, but even if you assume they are true, and all radiation is dangerous no matter how small, you aren't avoiding much by not getting one of those security x-rays once a month. It isn't possible to avoid all low-level ionizing radiation, but if you want to minimize exposure to low level ionizing radiation you must stay at low altitudes, avoid living in brick houses, avoid living above granite, and I could give you a long list of other natural sources you must avoid.
Statistically someone is going to get cancer from these x-rays is not a scientific statement, because there is no possible experiment that could falsify that statement. It may be "true" in the sense that logically it is inevitable, but it is not the same as saying that someone is going to get cancer from those x-rays who would not have gotten it from something else, which is even less falsifiable. At all events we are fishing about in very low probability events. You're far more likely to be involved in a fatal accident during your trip to or from the airport, but that's a risk you will take every time you fly.
The question is whether we are better or worse off using the scanners and love pats, and that means compared to what? What are the alternatives? I have not seen that debated. I don't need to play statistics games to determine that TSA costs us $7 billion a year in direct costs and a lot more in indirect costs from delays, frustrations, stress, and so forth. No one has done an impartial analysis of transportation safety. The proponents of the x-ray scanners claim to have done so, and compared to some of the procedures the machines replace they may even be correct, or they may not be.
But objecting to the scanners on grounds of radiation is a bit like objecting to the foot bath in the public swimming pool. If you are going to swim, your feet are going to get wet whether you go into the foot bath or not.
But whatever policy we have, it will not apply to those who make the decisions. After all, this is Washington:
But why should important government officials be subjected to security theater? They aren't likely to be terrorists. Of course neither are you or I or those reading this, or indeed anyone sane. The goal is to keep the kind of unstable people willing to die to bring down an airplane from getting aboard with the means for doing it. It is not clear to me that (1) what TSA is doing is necessary to accomplish this, and (2) whether it will in fact manage it. Keep in mind the possibility of Tampax bombs, and the probable TSA response to it.
I am way behind, and I have to get the column done, so I am taking the rest of the day to work on that.
A quick note on the Korean situation: from everything I can tell, this has more to do with events internal to North Korea than anything else. I do not expect any long lasting implications. The United States is not going to send in Task Force Smith, or attempt to roll back the frontier the north edge of the DMZ, or do anything that will look like actual punishment of North Korea. Whatever formal messages we send to China, the informal communication will be "We understand your problem but you have to keep your dog leashed more securely." Administration policy makers will probably add "Anything we can do to help?", and the result will be a bribe of one kind or another, precisely to whom is not clear. China has its own goals, and their client state is expensive and distracting. On the other hand, North Korea is a client state, and would be paying tribute if they had any tribute to pay, and Korea as a client state of the Empire is part of the Chinese picture of a long term future. They eventually intend for Korea to be united and become a tributary client, with South Korea taking care of the poverty of North Korea, and ending the mass refugee pressure from North Korea. If anyone in Mexico has an incentive to migrate northwards, think now about North Koreans.
We'll get past this "crisis" without much cost, thus delaying having to decide just what is the US goal in Asia now that Russia is not Communist, and Communist China is not Marxist. Perhaps that is better put off until we have a Presidential team more familiar with foreign policy and diplomatic history. Sometimes the best thing to do with a small crisis is to damp it out and wait for better policy makers
November 25, 2010
.Happy Thanksgiving. We went to our son Alex's house. First time I haven't been involved in big dinner cooking fest in a very long time. Alex's wife Dana had everything done perfectly, a gluten-free feast with sugar free pecan pie and pumpkin pie, chestnut dressing. Much to be thankful for.
I expect to recover from this soon. It's been pretty grim and I tire easily.
November 26, 2010
.I have taken the day off.
November 27, 2010
I took this day off too.
November 28, 2010
I still haven't finished the doggone column, and it's way late. I am trying. This flu-like stuff has left me with zero energy.
I may catch up with that tonight.
The news if full of the triumphal announcement of how they managed to sucker a 19 year old nut case into trying to set off a truck load of baking soda. A few hundred police and security people were involved. The total cost of this caper hasn't been announced, but I would be astonished if it were only a million dollars. It will cost another million to imprison this chap for the rest of his life. One does wonder just what was learned by leading this kid on for so long. Perhaps something important.
Many of you have pointed me at this:
A Goldman Sachs analyst says that the Euro is in trouble. That is hardly a surprise. The Euro is a means for Germany to subsidize Greek civil service unions, and now Irish banks. At some point the Germans are going to wonder why they are working so hard in order to let Greece pay large pensions and give Greek workers lots of holidays and vacation days.
I am told that the NK were using impact detonated 155's. About 150 rounds were fired. They disabled 3 of the 6 SK guns on the island. One radio reports says SK has one gun disabled by a stuck round, i.e. insufficient propellant. How the others were disabled is not known. The SK guns were left in place after their last live fire exercise. They weren't moved. Their location being given, and the distances known to the meter, one would expect even NK gunners to have a very small CEP given lots of time to plan the mission. This is known to SK, of course, and argues that no one expected this move, which disabled half the SK guns in the opening salvoes.
I am wondering about the counter battery effectiveness of the South Korean artillery in this exchange of fire. It is reported that they did counter battery fire. I am not all that familiar with modern anti-personnel ammunition. I am told that political correctness forbids using certain very effective ammunition now, but I don't know that for a fact. I confess I haven't kept up with modern artillery ammunition. Last I heard, old fashioned shrapnel was right out, and we were making due with high explosives. Presuming that the South Koreans are using fairly standard HE with VT detonation at 6 to 8 meters above ground, it still can't be good for the NK gunners, assuming they didn't take real cover -- slit trenches won't do it -- as soon as their opening fire missions were completed. I would think that the SK return fire, even with just three guns, could have been pretty effective. Surely they have had a long time to build firing mission lists with complete data. On the other hand, we don't know if the SK gunners are long term regulars, or conscripts. I haven't heard much about SK effectiveness, which is a bit odd.
There's no way to tell, of course. Google Earth doesn't show any DMZ territory at all so we're not likely to see where the original artillery fire came from, and we don't know what preparations the NK took before beginning their fire, and whether they moved their batteries during the engagement. There sure wouldn't be any SK observers near the NK basing areas. Note that the reverse isn't necessarily true. The whole thing was under NK control until the first rounds detonated on the SK island. We don't even know if the counter fire radars were turned on, or what kind of fire control observation the SK units have.
In theory, SK could have the whole area covered with radars and come up with an instant map showing the origin of every round fired, accurate to centimeters; and since their equipment is likely to be pretty good, they ought to be hitting targets at those engagement ranges with considerable accuracy. Once again that can't be good for the NK gunners, but I don't really know. Perhaps we will learn more as time goes on.
Considering that all that area is easily in range of land based fighter bombers, I can't think that adding a US carrier to the mix will have any effect other than to give the NK forces another very high value target. I presume that the Navy has thought of that one and that anti-submarine measures are fully in place. We don't know just how insane the NK leadership is. Presumably all this is part of the rite of passage for the new candidate for supreme leader, so that he can show that he has the stones to twist the tail of the Korean tiger and pluck tail feathers from the US eagle. The best outcome from the NK point of view would be humiliation of SK and the US. The best outcome for the US would be that this all gets damped out and nothing happens. Well, that's not the best possible outcome, but it is the best of the ones I think likely given the present situation and leadership.
If you have not seen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9fc-crEFDw it might be worth your time.
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