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Did you know that we’re winning the War on Terror™?

I’ll forgive you if this comes as a surprise because I must say I find it hard to believe myself, but the evidence is inscrutable, indisputable and undeniable. You’re alive aren’t you? What more evidence do you need? If we were losing the War on Terror™, you and I would surely be dead, because the Terrorists would have killed us both in despicable ways. It’s quite simple really, you’re no doubt thinking ‘ohh yes, of course how silly of me. The Terrorists. You’re quite right’.

It’s ok, don’t worry about it.

If however you are still unconvinced, you may want to share in my experiences of how this great culture of ours is keeping us both safe. Before I carry on though we must accept that this safety does come at a cost, but you must agree that convenience, comfort, dignity and of course cold hard cash, are but a small price to pay for keeping us safe from The Terrorists.

Have you flown in an aeroplane recently? If so, unless it was your own private jet, you may have had a similar experience to me. I recently had the pleasure of flying from London Luton Airport (though its name is about as accurate as someone referring to ‘Paris Calais Port’) and was provided with an experience I would like to think was mildly less comfortable than methods currently undertaken in the transport of cattle. No doubt it is for my convenience that they have done away with any form of order or direction, lest I think that I am being patronised or disrespected in some way. Instead they have opted for the now classic British system of an enormous queue that ends with people crowding in a small area whilst slowly being herded to smaller subsidiary queues, all the while being reminded of all the things they are not allowed to take with them.

Here’s the UK Government’s information on Dangerous and Restricted Items

Worse still those most deadly of things: liquids.

The directions on these horrifically dangerous items is as follows:

Liquids include:

  • all drinks, including water, soup and syrups
  • cosmetics and toiletries, including creams, lotions, oils, perfumes, mascara and lipsticks
  • sprays, including shaving foam, hairspray and spray deodorants
  • pastes, including toothpaste
  • gels, including hair and shower gel
  • contact lens solution
  • any other solutions and items of similar consistency

If you need certain liquids during the flight, you can take them into the cabin in limited quantities as follows:Extortion

  • containers must hold no more than 100ml
  • containers must be carried in a single, transparent, re-sealable plastic bag, which holds no more than a litre and measures approximately 20cm x 20cm
  • contents must fit comfortably inside the bag so it can be sealed
  • the bag must not be knotted or tied at the top
  • each passenger can carry only one of these bags
  • the bag must be presented for examination at the airport security point

For your convenience, these clear plastic bags are available at the airport from vending machines that will charge you £1 for between two and four bags. In my opinion this is quite simply extortion. If they are forcing you to use these bags, they should be provided, and I will not spend any more time debating it.

Moving on, presumably these restrictions are such because anything over 100ml would constitute a risk. A threat to the security of everyone on the plane. Now, unless recently uncovered Terrorist plots have involved smearing, say, large quantities of toothpaste into the eyes of the pilots whilst simultaneously holding back security with nothing sharper than a toothbrush, I’m assuming it’s whatever they think could be put into the toothpaste that’s the problem… Surely the toothpaste itself can’t be considered a risk? So if we’re allowed to take 100ml of toothpaste on board, that must mean that 100ml of toothpaste is deemed a safe amount to take, similarly 100ml of shower gel and sun screen etc. So how does it work? Have they calculated that whatever insidious accelerant could conceivably be injected into toothpaste for nefarious purposes cannot constitute a risk in a quantity of up to 100ml?

So what if The Terrorists decide to instil all of their sub 100ml liquids, creams and gels with said Terror ingredient? Assuming the limit of 10 ‘liquids’ is universal, that gives them a litre of Terrorism imbued substances, which suddenly sounds like quite a lot. Of course that’s not even counting the litre or two of liquids they’re allowed to purchase between passing through security and boarding the plane. Because we must assume that whilst any of the shops in the airport outside of security go completely unchecked and could well be supplying you with ingredients of Terror, the branches of the same shops within the terminal are perfectly secure and stocked from a completely different and more tightly controlled area.

And if the regulations are so specific, why are they administered so inconsistently? Not only inconsistently, but leniently as well? I don’t believe for a moment that all women place their lipsticks and mascaras into their little plastic bags, yet they are clearly allowed to board their flights. Not knowing that such items were considered liquids ourselves Emily neglected to place her hair gel (not hair liquid, hair gel) in her little plastic bag. This was not an issue on our outbound flight and it was not even mentioned. On our inbound flight however the security staff called her over and asked whether she had any other liquids in her hand luggage. When she answered no, the member of staff added that he thought there was a small tube of hair gel in the side pocket of her bag, and could she please retrieve it. When she did, he acknowledged it and let her go.

So not only had Emily risked the safety of everyone on board our plane by leaving the gel in her hand luggage, rather than the safety of the plastic bag, security were able to not only locate it, but identify it as well. This begs the question: what is the point of the plastic bag at all? What is the point of the restriction if it is not fully explained enough to people that they can leave as many restricted items in their hand luggage, not knowing they’re restricted, as display in their little plastic bag? Especially if the staff are expert enough to identify those items without seeing them anyway.

Further to this, I recently found this commentary by Bruce Schneier, which I also wholeheartedly agree with.

Don’t get me wrong, if the restrictions are going to be in place, I’d rather security were more lenient than not, but doesn’t it all beg the question as to what the point really is?

Once I had dealt with my liquids I then had to remove my belt and watch (but not shoes this time so presumably I was wearing a brand not considered Terrorist friendly, unlike a girl at Berlin airport whose military boots were deemed too risky to be worn. She had to spend several minutes untying them and holding up everyone else), empty my pockets and walk through the metal detector, forgetting that I should try not to look quite so relieved when it doesn’t beep after I pass through. Whilst I don’t have a problem with the detectors themselves, they are just another thing that seems to be inconsistently administered for security. I don’t know whether they truly have an adjustable sensitivity but the fact that I have passed through wearing a shirt with metal poppers without setting it off, yet Emily has been unable to pass through wearing a scarf with silver threads doesn’t seem consistent to me.

Still, it shouldn’t be long before those atrocious full body imaging scanners are rolled out countrywide and we’re all subjected to the indignity of having a security bod getting a detailed view of our more personal details. I wonder whether we’ll still have to remove our shoes and belts? Will they be an added inconvenience, or will they simply replace what we have now? If they’re not designed to replace anything I would ask what the benefit is? Otherwise surely they’re saying that previously the security wasn’t worth much at all. Like the laundry detergent adverts showing off the latest generation of their products: “Look how bright we can get your whites now!” They say. “Compared to this, our old product made your whites look like they were rolled in shit!”

Nevertheless, finally we were through the hell and ready to actually board our bus with wings, and I for one felt secure in the knowledge not only that a limited amount of toothpaste was on board, but that a ‘Crash Axe’ was safely stowed away in case of emergency.

Yet all the indignities, inconveniences and costs that contributed to making my experience such an awful one are the very same things that are supposed to remind me that we’re winning the war on Terror. I can’t help but feel that we’ve got it the wrong way round. Aside from it being an impossible and frankly absurd ‘war’ anyway, surely we’re only winning when we are able to go about our lives in a more normal fashion? When my government is no longer telling me that I am under the constant threat of a random and indiscriminate Terrorist attack. When I no longer have to scour the streets for a bin because most of them have been removed in case they have a bomb put in them. When I can take fucking nail clippers onto a plane with me. Then I might start believing that we’re ‘winning’. And I hope that happens soon, because all I really think when these new laws and checks come into place is not that they make me any safer, but that they make me less free.

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