Sunday, October 12, 2014

Geniuses at the TSA

Remember, after the 9/11 attacks these are the people we're counting on to keep us safe in the skies:
Among the many changes the Nobel Prize brought to Schmidt’s life: travel hassles. Here’s what he said it’s like to carry a Nobel medal aboard an airplane:

“There are a couple of bizarre things that happen. One of the things you get when you win a Nobel Prize is, well, a Nobel Prize. It’s about that big, that thick [he mimes a disk roughly the size of an Olympic medal], weighs a half a pound, and it’s made of gold.

“When I won this, my grandma, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, wanted to see it. I was coming around so I decided I’d bring my Nobel Prize. You would think that carrying around a Nobel Prize would be uneventful, and it was uneventful, until I tried to leave Fargo with it, and went through the X-ray machine. I could see they were puzzled. It was in my laptop bag. It’s made of gold, so it absorbs all the X-rays—it’s completely black. And they had never seen anything completely black.

“They’re like, ‘Sir, there’s something in your bag.’
I said, ‘Yes, I think it’s this box.’
They said, ‘What’s in the box?’
I said, ‘a large gold medal,’ as one does.
So they opened it up and they said, ‘What’s it made out of?’
I said, ‘gold.’
And they’re like, ‘Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?’
‘The King of Sweden.’
‘Why did he give this to you?’
‘Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.’
At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, ‘Why were you in Fargo?’”
If the probability of a hijacking weren't so low I'd be concerned every time I got on a plane.


EdD said...

Perhaps we should consider the real reason the TSA exists. There are about 45,000 of them and they are unionized. Union dues are extracted from their salaries by the American Federation of Government Employees. Dues average $30.00 per month so the union collects well over sixteen million dollars a year to use on whatever unions do with dues money taken from the union's members whether the members want to pay those dues or not.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Understand the world those TSA folks live in.

They're not rewarded for cleverness or industry. In fact, they can't do anything to distinguish themselves except not screw up and "not screw up" in this context means do anything that might cause their bosses discomfort.

Their world is a box set about with rules and enabling legislation. Anything outside that box is inherently a threat. A threat to them, not the country.

It's the novelty that's the threat since those TSA folks are being forced to do what they're punished for doing - showing initiative, taking responsibility. So their first instinct is to try to force this threat into the box with which they're familiar so the threat can be safely handled.

If that doesn't work they want to delay making a decision as long as possible in the hopes that the situation will somehow resolve itself to their satisfaction.

Is this beginning to sound like some other organization with which you're familiar?

Darren said...

Allen, if I had to guess I'd say you're probably talking about school districts :)

Yes, there's plenty wrong with the TSA, including the fact that Democrats forced President Bush to agree to their unionization. I wish he'd just not created the agency in the first place. Or the Directorate of Internal Security, also known as the Dept of Homeland Security.

Peter Reilly said...

Reminds me of the incident with General Foss and the medal of honor.

maxutils said...

The question about what the gold medal was made of, was, indeed stupid...but I don't think you can fault them for being curious about seeing something on the x-ray machine that they had 'never seen before.' That's kind of their job ... and it would have gone quicker if he'd volunteered more information initially, rather than just snarkily answering their questions.

allen (in Michigan) said...

And a gold star for Darren!

Of course since the concept of the school district is my regular whipping horse it wasn't much of a stretch. And then there's the similarity to the actions of school district employees...

What bugs me about this story isn't the story itself so much as the massive blind spot about the inevitability of such stories.

The common belief seems to be that government agencies will do as directed by their enabling legislation and fix whatever problem the agency was created to fix. The fact that we're repeatedly, even uniformly, disappointed seems to have no effect on that assumption.

It's that indifference to failure that puzzles and fascinates me. I think that indifference may tell us something about ourselves that we're not eager to know so we turn a myopic, if not blind, eye to it.