training my mother to be a terrorist

I have flown 10 flights since April 14, the day that they banned lighters on planes. Last night, having forgotten the bagel knife in my backpack, i got lots of attention by the security folks. Yet, they still didn’t do anything about my lighter. In fact, i have yet to have a lighter taken away from me. After each flight, i walk out to the smoking area with all of the other passengers who take their lighters out of their bags and torch their cigarettes. Ever since this ban, i have been witness to absurd numbers of conversations on the topic.

The conversations are typically framed in a question of how one can hide one’s lighter. One 30-something year old woman talked about how she hid it near her vibrator because the security people wouldn’t want to look at that. Others talked about hiding it with their keys or other “legitimate” pieces of metal. All in all, the conversations are hysterical because they are coming from people who would never conceive of hiding anything, people who only commit crimes by speeding. It’s almost laughable because smokers are suddenly linking their practices with drug users (who often talk about how to hide substances while flying).

Why does anyone think that taking away lighters is a good idea? The vast majority of people who take lighters onto a plane are not criminals and they have no interest in behaving. They want to be able to smoke and they’re starting to think like terrorists, starting to envision how they can hide property from the authorities. This is not actually solving any problem, simply creating more people who doubt the practices of the authorities. In fact, it is most likely to be damaging for the authority of the TSA. When people doubt this authority, the culture of fear will start to crumble. I can’t complain about that, but seriously, what on earth are they thinking?

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8 thoughts on “training my mother to be a terrorist

  1. fling93

    Always annoyed me, too. I have a fondness for those fancy Colibri lighters and I’m too paranoid about it getting confiscated and always stick a cheapo one in my bag instead.

    But I think this doesn’t undermine them nearly as much as the fact that they steal stuff from your bags. Yeah, real good screening of your employees there. That’s reassuring!

  2. Dan

    I think you’re right, but part of your reasoning is wrong. “The vast majority of people who take lighters onto a plane are not criminals and they have no interest in behaving[sic].” If we allowed guns, the vast majority of people who took them one wouldn’t be criminals, but they might be a hazard.

    [I have no idea if there’s any serious threat from lighters; I somehow doubt it, but…]

  3. Mark Federman

    what on earth are they thinking?

    A: They’re not. They are instead operating by rote, “protecting” planes, passengers and paranoics from yesterday’s attacks. In case someone may light their shoes (again), we confiscate lighters. In case someone with a strange name may commit a terrorist act on an airplane (again) we confiscate the privilege of flying from people with strange names. And so on. The perfunctory following of rote and procedure works well for a neo-militaristic mindset, but does not work well to detect those who would cause real damage. That takes true insight and intelligence.

    But I’m just ranting here…

  4. Abe

    not to rain on this smokers parade, but the reality is that lighters are one of the few things on the banned list with proven terrorist potential. Most notably in the “shoe bomber” case of Richard Reid. Reid apparently tried and failed to ignite his shoe bomb using matches. Had he used a lighter instead there is a reasonable chance he would have succeeding in igniting his device, quite possibly killing 183 people in the process.

    now of course striating items out into a “banned” list is a somewhat impossible process, the Belkin laptop lock I’ve carried on to dozens of post 9-11 flights is clearly a more physically effective weapon then the box cutters apparently used on 9-11 (psychologically its a different story). But if there is going to be a banned list, and unless you are in favor of letting people take guns and machetes on board there needs to be, lighters have a much better case for being banned then most items, no?

  5. fling93

    An obvious issue is that it seems ordinary Joes are getting lighters through the ban. If that’s the case, I can’t see how this affects a terrorist one iota — other than to make people more terrified because they know our airport security is an absolute joke.

  6. barb dybwad

    But that’s just it — are they asking the right questions? The net result seems to be people asking “how can I, personally, get around this silly rule” instead of “how can we, collectively, get together to get rid of this ridiculous infringement on personal liberty?” The former requires very little time/effort, the latter obviously is a different level of commitment/level of meta-awareness. In a way, it almost seems that the rule is reinforcing people’s apathy — by passively cognitively accepting (in the larger sense, if not the smaller) this relatively small infringement, it sets us up to accept larger infringements when they inevitably come — I think that’s what they’re thinking, if you can call that sort of small-brained totalitarianism “thinking.”

    @Abe: Okay, so, some dude used a lighter in his particular flavor of terrorism, so we ban all the lighters so we can regain some illusion of safety? What difference does it make (other than increased revenue for Bic)? They’ll smuggle the lighter in or just use any of the umpteen million other devices (Belkin laptop lock, e.g.) that are not (yet) banned — “any tool is a weapon of you hold it right,” eh? Wait til someone gets jabbed in the eye with a fingernail and we’ll all have to get manicured before takeoff (which’ll be tricky, since they’ve confiscated everyone’s nail clippers).

  7. crystal

    I enjoy reading these posts, but if I were to feel strongly about a certain subject, I will post my thoughts. lol 🙂

  8. robert

    why don’t you also throw a fit that we won’t allow you to bring a five gallon can of gasoline on the plane with you?? same mentality! It has nothing to do with terrorist, it has everything to do with not allowing flammable liquid on the plane….!!!

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