13 April 2011


TSA EXCESSES. Let's be clear from the start -- I am not a fan of the Transportation Security Administration, which was created in response to the 9/11 attacks to enhance security on commercial flights. In the ten years since its inception, TSA employees have exhibited behavior ranging from the insensitive to the bizarre. These include --

~ mistreating and sexually harrassing passengers.

~ using invasive screening procedures.

~ stealing from passengers.

~ using racial slurs.

Further, agency policies have verged from the protective to the surreal. We've seen people forced to remove shoes, clothing, prosthetic devices, and leg braces. We've been subjected to ridiculous limitations on toiletry and cosmetic items we can travel with. TSA itself is subject to covert tests of its own security -- tests which it is secretly notified of in advance. TSA's own website is notoriously insecure.

The list goes on and on. Please click on the TSA link above, for further lurid details. And note that no one is immune from harrassment. Here are links to two videos -- in one a 6 year old girl is given an extended and invasive patdown. In the other, a child is subjected to a public strip search.

The irony is that air travel has not become demonstrably safer due to TSA's existence. TSA tends to impose search criteria in reaction to events, rather than in any systematic, proactive fashion. In short, TSA is security theater, a placebo to placate the public while providing no clear improvement in safety or protection from terrorists. TSA is a failure, and a royal pain in the ass.

FLYING NEWS. It seems to be a day for video links. This from NBC News -- At New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, "An Air France-operated A380 superjumbo jet -- the biggest commercial airliner in the world -- clipped a Bombadier CRJ-700 regional jet, spinning the smaller plane nearly 90 degrees. No one was injured." The monumental size of larger jets, combined with increasing congestion at hub airports, poses serious risks for more frequent accidents, both on the ground and in nearby airspace. Here is the video of the collision.

Finally, yesterday (the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program) NASA revealed the disposition of the retiring space shuttle fleet. The shuttle Endeavor will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The shuttle Atlantis will remain in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle Discovery will be on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, DC. And the prototype test orbiter Enterprise will reside at a pier in New York City.

Although the space shuttle program was an uninspired halfway measure, after the rousing successes of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo manned space missions, it nevertheless represents the only U.S. manned presence in space. Shuttle missions included launching satellites, servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, supplying the International Space Station, and hosting innumerable scientific experiments in zero gravity. With the retirement of the fleet and budget cuts for NASA, the U.S. appears by default to be ceding manned exploration to other nations. A sad thought.

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