Keeping the Skies Safe From Kleenex

I read this article about how the TSA is targeting complainers right before heading out to the airport.  Not that it made any difference (as you’ll see in a bit).  The line at Terminal C of IAH was interminable–35 minutes in mid-afternoon.  There weren’t that many people in line, but TSA had only 1 lane open and was making everyone go through the body scanner so the line moved at a glacial pace. In preparation for the scanner, I took off my watch, and removed my wallet, boarding pass, and plastic comb from my pockets (the last item having been identified as suspicious in one of my previous nude photo shoots).  I went through the machine, fingers touching over my head as instructed.  (Guess which ones.)  I get out of the scanner, and Officer Friendly says (I quote exactly): “I need to inspect your buttocks.”

Oh joy.

So he gropes, and says, “What’s in your back pocket?”  I thought I’d taken out everything, but I reached in and found a piece of Kleenix balled up at the very bottom.  I show the worthy public servant, who barks at me: “We told you to take EVERYTHING out of your pockets.”  I replied: “Sorry.  So relieved to know you are keeping the skies safe from the Kleenix threat.”  Apropos the article, that set me up for special treatment: the bomb swab.

I’m sure you’re shocked to learn that I passed.

What’s the point of having expensive technology that can provide precise, anatomically correct 3D images of your junk, but can’t identify a plastic comb–or a piece of facial tissues–as harmless?  Based on my myriad experiences in airport security lines, I estimate that the rate of false positives of body scanners at about 30 percent, meaning that about 1 out of 3 people require a grope down to uncover some innocuous thing that they inadvertently missed in their self-grope before entering the machine.  That’s just idiotic.

So, Obama is right when he says that through government we can do things we cannot do as well by ourselves.  Especially things involving incompetence, inanity, and insufferable attitudes.  But you better not mouth off about it lest you get attention from the Nurse Ratched wannabes.

On this subject, Obama continued his full-throated defense of the need to spend more, More, MORE in a fundraising speech in Chicago.  Quoth Mr. Post-Partisan:

“Under their [the Republicans’] vision, we can’t invest in roads and bridges and broadband and high-speed rail,” Obama told a select group of the Democratic faithful at the second of three fundraising events in his hometown of Chicago.

“I mean, we would be a nation of potholes . . .”

He apparently said this without the slightest sense of irony, given that his speech was delivered in Chicago, City of the Big Potholes.  The city where it takes 10 Streets and Sanitation workers to fix a pothole: 1 to actually fill the hole with asphalt, the other 9 to lean on their shovels and rate his performance (that doesn’t include the guys sleeping in the truck).  The city where the only things that government fixes are elections and contracts.

Yeah.  We have to protect all that from the budgetary meat axe.  (The last being the standard political rhetoric referring to cuts that only a trained microsurgeon could make under high magnification with a laser.)

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About Craig Pirrong 238 Articles

Affiliation: University of Houston

Dr Pirrong is Professor of Finance, and Energy Markets Director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. He was previously Watson Family Professor of Commodity and Financial Risk Management at Oklahoma State University, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University.

Professor Pirrong's research focuses on the organization of financial exchanges, derivatives clearing, competition between exchanges, commodity markets, derivatives market manipulation, the relation between market fundamentals and commodity price dynamics, and the implications of this relation for the pricing of commodity derivatives. He has published 30 articles in professional publications, is the author of three books, and has consulted widely, primarily on commodity and market manipulation-related issues.

He holds a Ph.D. in business economics from the University of Chicago.

Visit: Streetwise Professor

2 Comments on Keeping the Skies Safe From Kleenex

  1. Just curious. Why do you think it is ok for the government to look at your genitals? And the genitals and breasts of your children? And, at 1 out of 3 getting groping anyway, the strip search is obviously ineffective.

    The strip search scanners are not allowed by the police, yet it seems people are more than willing to submit to a Gestapo-like inspection.

  2. The “false positive” rate is actually much, much higher than 33%. It is calculated by dividing the number of false hits by the number of hits, i.e., what fraction of the 33% who got groped after “something suspicious” showed up on a scan did not have anything dangerous on them. I bet the actual false positive number is somewhere north of 99.9%.

    A medical test that had a false positive rate like this (if 99.9% of the people told a test said they might have cancer actually didn’t) would be declared useless.

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