Category Archives: Bastards

Ten Years of Fuckery

Someone named Payson just left a comment on a very old blog post. It starts this way:

Hello, happy 2015.

I have never heard of this website but out of rage I googled “sprint is a fucking piece of shit” and this came up. I don’t blog and I rarely leave comments on anything. However, that being said, Sprint has managed to fuel a fire deep within me that has caused this post…

Heh. I love that.

It’s been ten years since I ran into some difficulties trying to change my cellular phone plan with Sprint. In a fit of frustration, I lashed out the only way I could, by using this newfangled blog thing I was experimenting with to create what is arguably one of my most successful posts ever. It is lovingly titled “Fucking Sprint!!!

And for the ten years, angry Sprint customers like Payson have been venting their rage in the comments.

Given the relative insignificance of this blog, it’s kind of shocking how well that post does in search results. As I write this, Googling for “Fucking Sprint” will return it as the 3rd link. I’m a little disappointed that it’s fallen all the way down to #12 in a search for “Fuck Sprint,” but I’m happy to see that when I search for “Sprint fuckers” it comes up #1. (On Bing it comes up as #1, #1, and #2, respectively…not that anyone cares.)

Ten years ago, “social media” marketing wasn’t really a thing. But I’m sure that by now Sprint has some marketing people whose job it is to monitor their web reputation. Given the out-of-proportion prominence of that post, I figure someone at Sprint (Hi!) is probably aware that I’m pissed off.

I guess that will have to do.

Some Tortured Thoughts

Well, the CIA torture report is out. And for the record, it’s pretty depressing that I now live in the kind of country that has a torture report.

I’d heard about some of this stuff before, but some of the details are shocking. The rectal feeding, for example, is not a normal medical procedure, and using that route to get nutrition into the body is inefficient. It seems to have been done solely to humiliate and dominate the victims. So “rectal feeding” is something of a euphemism, something of an excuse. There’s a more accurate word to describe the act of penetrating a person’s anus without their consent: Rape.

It’s dismaying that one of the most hotly contested topics during he whole torture era has been, “Does torture work?” I mean, it’s torture for God’s sake! When Zero Dark Thirty came out, depicting American CIA officers using torture, our reaction should have been outrage at the CIA. Instead, critics argued that filmmakers had been swayed by the CIA into depicting the torture as having been useful in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It’s a bit like arguing whether American slavery contributed to GDP growth. It kind of misses the point.

But I understand. If torture works, if it really saves lives, then those of us who are morally opposed to using it are arguably saying those lives should be sacrificed to satisfy our moral intuitions. It’s a lot to ask.

Fortunately, there’s not much conflict, because torture mostly doesn’t work. I say “mostly,” because I think that torture can produce useful information when interrogators are trying to extract a specific piece of actionable information that they can check on, such as “Where is your weapons cache in this town?” or “Where are you supposed to meet with the others?”

That sort of specificity is what leads every torture proponent to confront opponents with that staple scenario from TV movie plots, the ticking time bomb: “What if a terrorist had planted a nuclear bomb in New York City? Are you saying you still wouldn’t torture him?” My response to that is that yes, I would be willing to make an exception for nuclear terrorism. In the unlikely event that anything like this ever happens, sure, go ahead and torture him to find out how to disarm it. But first, according to summaries of the report, we’ve tortured 39 people in the war on terror. Now show me 39 bombs or shut the fuck up.

The thing is, that torture scenario isn’t very common, and as soon as the prisoner’s confederates discover he’s been captured, they’ll begin changing the rally points and moving the weapons dump. So there’s only a short period of time where torturing information from someone could do any good. Even then, there’s little historical evidence that torture will produce more information or produce it faster than conventional interrogation techniques.

Historically, torture has really only proven useful for getting people to confess and to name other conspirators. And as the long history of torture demonstrates, torture victims will do both of those things without regard for the truth. Torture someone until they confess to a crime, and they will confess to any crime. Torture people until they name co-conspirators, and they will name anyone a co-conspirator.

Torture apologists say that a lot of useful intelligence has been obtained that way, but they can’t tell us about it because of the need for secrecy. Yet whenever the details come out about some situation where torture supposedly produced useful intelligence, it always seems to turn out that torture didn’t really help. I can’t see why anyone should ever take these people at their word — not without rock solid evidence. Show us the proof or shut the fuck up.

Ideally, what I’d like to see come out of the torture is indictments. Start with the people who actually did the torturing. Normally, unlike conventional thinking on the issue, I feel that “just following orders” is actually a pretty good defense. In all but the most egregious scenarios, it’s unfair to expect every low-level grunt to perform the legal analysis necessary to determine if their orders are legal. It’s their commander’s job to make that determination, and the troops have a right to expect that it will be done correctly.

However, the CIA is a civilian agency, so it’s agents don’t have orders, not the way the military does. CIA operatives just have stuff their boss told them to do. If my boss told me to torture someone, I would tell him to get stuffed, and I don’t see any reason CIA employees couldn’t do the same if they wanted to. So I say indict them, get them to flip on the people who gave the orders, and then follow up the organizational tree as far as it goes.

Given that even the Democrats — especially the Obama administration — have been unwilling to investigate and prosecute the Bush-era torturers, I don’t hold out a lot of hope that anyone will go to jail. (Except for whistle blowers, of course.) I suspect the best we can hope to get out of this is the truth: Name those responsible for torture, and tell us what they did.

We might as well start with James Elmer Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, the pair of psychologists that somehow managed to make a fortune by running the interrogation program. We need to make an example of these guys. It’s bad enough that we have a military-industrial complex and a prison-industrial complex. If we don’t stop the torture-industrial complex, we’re probably doomed.

The Threats Are Real, But the Danger…Not So Much

I play video games pretty regularly, but except for the occasional threat of government censorship, I’m not much interested in the politics of gaming, and I’m certainly not interested in the politics of gaming reviews or of identity-group-based game criticism. Which is why wrote about a game instead of writing about GamerGate.

(Although…is anybody concerned about the under-representation of left-handed people in first person shooters? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a left-handed viewpoint character. Talk about erasing an outgroup from the discourse…)

Fortunately, Ken White wrote a damned good post about #GamerGate that said almost everything I thought about saying, said it better, and said a lot more that’s interesting as well. Ken’s final point is to denounce the threats of violence, and that reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write about.

From what I’ve read, several women targeted by misogynistic members of the GamerGate crowd have received threats of rape and murder. At least three of them — game designer Zoe Quinn, game designer Brianna Wu, and feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian — have decided to leave their homes for their own safety. Games journalists Jenn Frank and Mattie Brice have received so many threats that they decided to stop reporting about games. For God’s sake, they’ve even gone after Felicia Day.

This is a sad and pathetic situation on so many levels. Even if everything Zoe Quinn was accused of was true, and she slept with game journalists to get good reviews for her Depression Quest game, I still don’t understand why people are so damned angry and hateful about it. And Anita Sarkeesian’s criticisms of gaming are the same things feminist critics of popular culture have been talking about for decades. Why is it so upsetting this time? Why threaten rape and murder? What is wrong with these people?

Whatever is wrong, it’s been that way for a while, as Sady Doyle points out. I can remember when tech blogger Kathy Sierra was being hounded over little more than being female and successful. It was ugly. And ever since, I’ve suspected that a lot of women on the internet get these kinds of threats, but most of them don’t talk about it much.

All of which brings me to the main point of this post: As a general rule, women in the public eye are not in serious danger from anonymous strangers who make these kinds of threats.

To get an idea of why I believe this, I’d like you to indulge me in a thought experiment: I’d like you to plan a murder. Imagine that you want to kill someone you don’t know very well. Perhaps some minor public figure, such as one of these women, or one of the people harassing them, or a journalist who said something that pissed you off, or an executive at a company that gave you poor service. How would you personally go about doing it? Ask yourself what your very first step would be. What would you do right now to start your murder plot in motion?

You might start by gathering information about your target. Where do they live? Do they have roommates? Where do they work? Do they have a car? Think about what information you need, and ask yourself how you would get it. Some of it is public information, but at some of it could only be found by surveilling your target. You’d have to learn about them without getting caught, and without leaving evidence behind such as witnesses, internet logs, or security videos that would help police identify you.

You might have to learn your target’s daily routine, and then try to figure out when and where would be best for the attack. Do you break into their home? If so, do you have the equipment you’d need? Do you have the training to use it? Do you know if they have an alarm system, a dog, or a gun in the nightstand? If you attack at their place of work, do you know how to get past building security? How to find their office? If you attack them while traveling to and from work, do you know their route? Do you have to intercept their car? Do you have to follow them on public transportation?

How are you going to do the deed? Do you have a weapon? Do you know where to get one? Do you know how to use it? How will you dispose of it afterwards? Are you going to wear a mask to hide your face, or will that attract too much attention? Are you going to dump the body somewhere, or will that mean too much time driving around with a body? Speaking of cars, do you use your own, which is easily traced to you, or do you take the risk of stealing one and then driving around in a stolen car? Do you even know how to steal a car?

Okay, that’s enough. We’re done planning the murder. I just wanted to go through that exercise to make a couple of points, the most important of which is that no part of the murder plan included a Twitter-based terror campaign to scare the target before we attacked. If you’re planning to actually murder someone, what would be the point of scaring them on Twitter? Won’t the murder be scary enough?

The threats are a waste of time, and worse, they risk tipping off the target, attracting the attention of the authorities, and encouraging greater attention to security. The killer who stalks his victim and issues increasingly frightening threats before his final attack is mostly a creation of fiction. In the real world, people who are going to commit rape and murder usually just go ahead and do it. They don’t bother making threats. The corollary is that people making threats probably aren’t actually planning to commit rape and murder.

(There’s a similar problem with vague bomb threats: “There’s a bomb in your building set to go off at noon!” Real bombers want to cause death and destruction, so why would they warn anyone? There are only a couple of plausible scenarios for a warning about a real bomb. One is that someone close to the bomber — possibly a confederate — has developed feelings of remorse. The other is that someone has discovered the bomb plot and opposes it. But in either of those cases, why not explain exactly where the bomb squad can find the bomb and tell them how to disarm it? And maybe say exactly who placed it and where to catch them? There’s almost no credible scenario for sending a vague anonymous warning about a real bomb.)

There are several reasons why people might make threats without following through on them. For one thing, they may simply not be evil enough. It’s one thing to say you want to kill someone, but it’s another thing to mean it. Almost everyone has at one time or another muttered some vague wish to kill someone who pissed them off — their boss, their spouse, someone they’re doing business with — and some of them have even said it out loud to the target of their anger, but almost nobody ever means it enough to actually do it. There’s a huge difference between angry words and real violence.

For some people, the threats are an end unto themselves. They’re a form of entertainment or a means of self-validation. Some folks get their kicks from mountain climbing or surfing, others play video games or enter poker tournaments. These people get off from threatening other people online. They’re not out to physically hurt anyone, they just like upsetting people. They’re trolls, doing what trolls do. Naturally, there are entire web communities built around this concept.

But even if they are angry or crazy enough to really want to rape or kill the women they’re threatening, that doesn’t mean they’re actually capable of doing it. Many of the people who make these threats are too ineffectual to carry them out. They have trouble enough achieving basic life goals, like living on their own, having a girlfriend, or holding down a job. Carrying out a violent attack against a public figure is way beyond anything they are capable of. It’s just another big plan they’re always talking about without doing anything.

As I tried to illustrate with my “let’s-plan-a-murder” thought experiment, attacking a public figure is kind of hard. It likely requires traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to the target’s location, surveillance, gathering supplies, creating the plan of attack, and committing the crime. None of that is easy, and the people making anonymous threats are unlikely to be willing to expend the time and money to actually do it. They also might not have the physical confidence to overpower a healthy young woman, they might not have access to weapons or know how to use them, and they probably lack the interpersonal skills to trick a target into letting them into their home or meeting them somewhere.

Violent attacks are also not without risk to the attacker, who could be injured during the attack or captured by police afterwards and imprisoned. Even people who who are willing to hurt people and capable of doing it might be reluctant to confront such consequences.

I remember after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the media got some mileage by interviewing young Muslim men in the Middle East who claimed to be planning attacks on the United States. Some of them even carried around photographs of their targets, such as the Sears Tower. Yet those attacks never happened. There’s a big difference between being a terrorist and wanting to be a terrorist.

Posturing is easy. Action is a lot harder. I mean, think about it: Making anonymous threats on the internet is probably the least effective thing you can do that your target would still know you were doing.

I’ve made the claim before that anonymous online threats are unlikely to result in actual attacks, and some people took it the wrong way, so to head off some confusion, here’s what I’m explicitly not saying:

  • I’m not denying the existence of violence against women.
  • I’m not accusing these women of faking the threats. It’s possible that some of them are — people have done it before to garner support — but I’m not talking about fake threats. I’m saying that even real threats against public figures rarely result in real violence.
  • I’m also not talking about any specific woman receiving threats. I don’t know what messages each of them has received, I don’t know their security situation, and I’m not a threat assessment professional. And even if I were, it’s unrealistic to claim there’s no danger at all. I’m just urging a realistic assessment of the threats.
  • I’m not dismissing the danger. This is not a naive position that assumes nothing bad ever happens in the world. I believe my statements about the danger are based on modern thinking about threat assessment.
  • I’m not trying to minimize or whitewash the behavior of the people making the threats. Even if they don’t rape or murder anyone, they’re still using threats of violence to try to intimidate and control their victims. They’re still causing harm, they’re still assholes, and they’re still criminals.
  • I’m not saying threats against women never lead to violence, just that anonymous threats against public figures rarely lead to violence. One of the key predictors of violence is intimacy: The better the victim knows the person issuing the threat, the more likely there will be violence. The most dangerous threats come from someone close to the victim — a spouse, a boyfriend, a coworker, a business partner — someone they know and who knows them.
  • I’m not blaming the women for panicking. They know more about their specific situation than I do, they may have consulted experts, and ultimately, it’s their decision to make. If they’d rather quit their jobs or move out of their homes, I’m not saying they’re wrong to do so. They don’t owe it to anyone to stand fast in the face of threats.

And to be clear, I’m not saying that anonymous threats against public figures never lead to violence, but it takes some special conditions, so it’s much less likely than we might guess at first thought.

Some recent examples of violence against women might seem prove there’s a high level of danger, but on closer examination, I think they prove my point.

In 2011, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was badly wounded during a brutal mass shooting attack by Jared Lee Loughner. As near as I can tell from reports, he only ever made vaguely threatening statements against public officials, none of them addressed specifically to Giffords, and all made in his own name.

Earlier this year, Elliott Rodger went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California, killing six people and wounding several others. According to a video he made before the incident, he was motivated by his hatred of women who had rejected him. He’s exactly the sort of person that we might imagine is behind the GamerGate-related threats. But Rodger’s behavior doesn’t fit that model. Three of the people he killed were his male roommates — people he was close to — and the rest of the people he shot at were apparently random strangers. There’s no evidence he ever sent them threats or any other communication. He did create the video and a 100,000-word “manifesto” which he sent to several people, but he sent those out under his own name, and not to any of the victims.

As I started writing this, word began to spread of the a murder of a woman in which the killer had posted pictures of the body on 4chan — a website with a lot of GamerGate-related activity. But as it turns out, the killer was her live-in boyfriend, not some stranger from the internet. As is often the case, it’s intimacy that makes for the most serious danger.

Once you start thinking in terms of the difference between threat behavior and attack behavior, you can sometimes see signs of it in the threats themselves. Consider this pair of tweets threatening Brianna Wu:

“Your mutilated corpse will be on the front page of Jezebel tomorrow and there isn’t jack shit you can do about it.”

“If you have any kids, they’re going to die too.”

So this person hasn’t even learned enough about his target to know if she’s got children, but he’s totally going to kill her tomorrow. Right…

There was another one I saw (although I can’t find it now) where the person making the threat was bragging about all the frightening ways he could attack his target, and he said something like “I have friends who can get me any weapon I want — assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, hunting knives, machetes –” In other words, he’s a badass who could hurt her with all kinds of weapons…but he doesn’t actually own any weapons and would have to get them from these people he supposedly knows. Right…

Some of these threatening messages are especially upsetting because they include details that are vivid, obscene, and horrifying — specific objects used on specific body parts in specific acts of violation and bloodshed — sometimes framed in terms of how friends or family members will discover the body. Our natural reaction is to recoil, and it’s easy to think that anyone with such detailed obsessions must be deranged and dangerous.

I think that’s half right. They may be deranged, but I don’t think they’re very dangerous. As I’ve said, dangerous people tend not to make anonymous threats. With that in mind, I think the gruesome details are a telltale sign of someone who knows they’re never going to carry out an attack. The threatening messages have to be as frightening as possible, because they need to do all the work. There’s nothing else coming.

Obviously, I can’t know any of this with absolute certainty, and I don’t claim to. I certainly can’t say anything with certainty about any particular woman who has received threats, nor can I be sure of much about any particular person making threats.

I want to tread carefully here because I don’t want to encourage a false sense of security. There are ways this could turn out to be very dangerous. There are ways that people who make threats could be pushed into violent acts, and even if the people making threats never attack anyone, their threats may create an atmosphere which encourages a more violent person to attack. Or parts of GamerGate could develop into a terrorism campaign in which acts of violence are used to make the threats more credible. I haven’t seen any signs of this I can point to, but if it’s an organized group, imagine something like the Ku Klux Klan. If it’s just one guy, think Unabomber.

That said, for all the reasons I’ve explained, I think it’s unlikely that these anonymous threats against women in the gaming community will result in actual violence. It’s important to keep in mind that we’re all still talking about the GamerGate threats, not the GamerGate attacks. So far, none of the women receiving threats has been physically assaulted.

That’s not to say that the threats themselves aren’t disturbing. It’s painful to read accounts by women who’ve received frightening threats and decided to move out of their own homes because they fear for their safety and the safety of their families. It angers me how much trouble the people making threats have caused with so little effort.

I mostly wrote this post because I’m fascinated by the subject of threat assessment in general, by the division between those who commit violent acts and those who threaten violent acts, and by some of the the counter-intuitive deductions we can make about people who make anonymous threats against public figures.

However, I also wrote this post in the hope that, in some small way, it will undermine the effectiveness of the fear campaign against these women and their allies. At the risk of mansplaining, if some women receiving GamerGate threats stumbles across this post, I’m not saying you have no reason to be afraid, but you almost certainly shouldn’t be as afraid as they want you to be.

George Bush is History’s Greatest Monster

George Bush is History’s Greatest Monster. No, not W — he’s another matter — I’m talking about his father.

I just finished using an auger to unclog a toilet for what must be the 200th time since we had to replace our old, reliable toilet with one of the low-flow models. We used to have good, working toilets in this country. Reliable toilets. Toilets that we could count on to flush the dump we took after a whole day of eating Mexican food, including the half-roll of toilet paper it took to wipe ourselves down. Now all we have are inadequate rage-inducing pieces of junk that can barely flush away a few pieces of tissue paper.

All thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 1992, signed by so-called small-government Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Yeah. Fuck that guy.

Joel’s Still Got It

Over at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield has a nice tribute to the late Joel Rosenberg — gun rights advocate, science fiction author, husband, father, and one-time Windypundit co-blogger. When Joel died, Scott wrote a simple eulogy, which was recently visited by an anonymous commenter calling himself “Bill”:

I’m glad this fat, POS is dead. Joel was a complete fucktard.
Rest in Hell you retarded, worthless fuckstick!


“Bill” reminds me of the pseudonymous “Albatross” who left a 500-word rant on a Greg Laden post about Joel explaining that he used to like Joel’s novels but threw them away after Joel insulted his wife, speculation about Joel’s penis size, and this charming tale:

This was VERY amusing to me when I sat behind him for a play in one of the Rarig Center’s theaters. I enjoyed the performance a lot more than I should have, imagining myself kicking him really hard in base of the skull, and then shouting “How’s the chambered round in your goddamned handgun working for you now, asshole?!” at his twitching corpse. Likewise slitting his throat with my pocketknife.

When I pointed out that Greg was mistaken and Albatross was crazy, he dropped in on me:

So don’t mistake cause and effect here. My violent fantasy was caused by Rosenberg’s violent attitudes. Had he been anything but an armed crazyperson with an arrogant sense of his own security, I could have enjoyed that play with no violent thoughts whatsoever.

Anyway, it would be easy to get angry about someone like “Bill” speaking so ill of Joel, but Scott manages to find a more positive reaction:

After giving some thought about what to do with this anonymous hater, this idiot coward who called himself “Bill,” I had an epiphany.  I couldn’t offer Joel a gravestone, or a vault, to stand as a monument to his life and the things in which he believed.  But this psycho who, even a year after Joel’s death, still hated him so much that he wrote this ignorant screed, provided something that I think Joel would have enjoyed and appreciated.

This is Joel’s monument.  That after all this time, he made such a great impact on the liars, the fools and the cowards that they can’t forget him. He still burns in their consciousness. Joel still owns them.  They will always be sniveling cowards, filled with rage toward Joel for his life being proof of their worthlessness.

I think Joel would be laughing about this, appreciating the fact that even in death, he matters more than they ever will.

Read the whole thing, including the comments from some other people who knew him.

Former TSA Head Admits the TSA Sucks

According to Kip Hawley the TSA’s airport security system is broken:

Airport security in America is broken. I should know. For 3½ years–from my confirmation in July 2005 to President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009–I served as the head of the Transportation Security Administration.

You know what Kip? Fuck you. You’re part of the problem. The very first words out of your mouth should be “I’m sorry.” Anything less is just not good enough.

You know the TSA. We’re the ones who make you take off your shoes before padding through a metal detector in your socks (hopefully without holes in them). We’re the ones who make you throw out your water bottles. We’re the ones who end up on the evening news when someone’s grandma gets patted down or a child’s toy gets confiscated as a security risk. If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably hate us.

I’ve flown once since 9/11. I still hate you. I hated you even before I flew. You know why I hated you, even though I hadn’t flown? Probably not. It’s because I have something called empathy for other people. I realize that’s a foreign concept for you, but you really should try it out.

Any effort to rebuild TSA and get airport security right in the U.S. has to start with two basic principles:

First, the TSA’s mission is to prevent a catastrophic attack on the transportation system, not to ensure that every single passenger can avoid harm while traveling. Much of the friction in the system today results from rules that are direct responses to how we were attacked on 9/11. But it’s simply no longer the case that killing a few people on board a plane could lead to a hijacking. Never again will a terrorist be able to breach the cockpit simply with a box cutter or a knife. The cockpit doors have been reinforced, and passengers, flight crews and air marshals would intervene.

We’ve been telling you this for YEARS, you dumb son of a bitch! Years!

Sigh. According to Hawley, it’s not all his fault, and I have to admit his explanation rings true:

I wanted to reduce the amount of time that officers spent searching for low-risk objects, but politics intervened at every turn. Lighters were untouchable, having been banned by an act of Congress. And despite the radically reduced risk that knives and box cutters presented in the post-9/11 world, allowing them back on board was considered too emotionally charged for the American public.

We did succeed in getting some items (small scissors, ice skates) off the list of prohibited items. And we had explosives experts retrain the entire work force in terrorist tradecraft and bomb-making. Most important, Charlie Allen, the chief of intelligence for the Department of Homeland Security, tied the TSA into the wider world of U.S. intelligence, arranging for our leadership to participate in the daily counterterrorism video conference chaired from the White House. With a constant stream of live threat reporting to start each day, I was done with playing defense.

Still, he’s kind of clueless:

Taking your shoes off for security is probably your least favorite part of flying these days. Mine, too.

Actually, most offensive part is when the TSA pricks look at us naked and touch us in places that strangers shouldn’t touch us. I realize that system came online after Hawley left the TSA, but it was going through procurement while he was in charge.

Eventually, he gets to a list of changes he proposes, most of which are pretty good:

What would a better system look like? If politicians gave the TSA some political cover, the agency could institute the following changes before the start of the summer travel season:

1. No more banned items: Aside from obvious weapons capable of fast, multiple killings–such as guns, toxins and explosive devices–it is time to end the TSA’s use of well-trained security officers as kindergarten teachers to millions of passengers a day…

2. Allow all liquids…

3. Give TSA officers more flexibility and rewards for initiative, and hold them accountable…

The TSA’s basic problem with accountability is that it is responsible for enforcing its own standards. That’s not very effective, especially since TSA employees have civil service protections that make them hard to fire. They aren’t law enforcement officers, so they don’t need to be government employees. The best way to hold airport security employees accountable is to lay off 90% of TSA employees and go back to the private security system we had before. Turn the remaining TSA officers into inspectors that hold the private system accountable.

4. Eliminate baggage fees: Much of the pain at TSA checkpoints these days can be attributed to passengers overstuffing their carry-on luggage to avoid baggage fees…

You could also try to make baggage handling safer and more efficient. Stop losing bags. Stop letting baggage handlers and TSA officers steal stuff. All that security, and someone can still walk off with anything you check. That’s why people carry stuff on.

To be effective, airport security needs to embrace flexibility and risk management–principles that it is difficult for both the bureaucracy and the public to accept. The public wants the airport experience to be predictable, hassle-free and airtight and for it to keep us 100% safe. But 100% safety is unattainable. Embracing a bit of risk could reduce the hassle of today’s airport experience while making us safer at the same time.

Again, some of us have been telling you that for years.

–Mr. Hawley is the author of “Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security,” to be published April 24 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Like we didn’t see that coming…

Security expert Bruce Schneier, who has been explaining the TSA’s errors for years, has posted his reaction, which is basically that Hawley has finally caught up to the rest of us. Also, Hawley was saying something completely different as recently as one month ago.

The Dangerous Fantasy of Attacking the Cops

Martin Luther King’s holiday seems to be as good a day as any to talk about how we should respond to police barbarism.

It’s no secret that a lot of people with libertarian leanings aren’t happy with the way the United States seems to be turning into a police state. As a reminder of the degree to which our cops have become militarized, check out the Cop or Soldier quiz at Radley Balko’s place. I did pretty good, so see if you can beat me:

Cop or Soldier?


Some folks in the blogosphere have been saying that the emerging police state won’t be stopped until the cops start getting hurt. Some have even suggested that it may be time for a violent uprising. I can understand where they’re coming from — it looks pretty bad to me too — but then I know that some people in every generation have been certain that America was about to plunge into tyranny, and they’ve always been wrong. I think it’s safe to assume that with a longer perspective, we’d see that our current time isn’t so bad either.

(Then again, American freedom is going to end eventually. Nothing lasts forever. I sure hope that future generations will not look back on mine and ask, “Why didn’t they shoot them while they still had the chance?”)

Recently, some people on Twitter have been lauding this video, posted under the title “Police Brutality – Handled the Way It Should Be”:

In the video, you can see some idiot run onto the field, and then then a bunch of uniformed security guards or cops tackle him and pin him down. So far, so good. But then the cop/guard on the right apparently starts to jab him with a nightstick. At which point people in the stadium rush the field to attack the cops.

I can’t fault the sentiment. Although violence as a response to violence often isn’t the wisest approach, there’s certainly nothing morally wrong with using violence to stop violence. Resisting arrest is wrong. Defending yourself or others against police brutality is not.


Watch the video carefully. The cop/guard on the right jabs the guy on the ground a few times. The other cop/guard yells at him. Then the mob attacks, and it looks like the yelling cop takes a beating. As for the cop who was jabbing the guy on the ground…he abandoned his buddies to the crowd and got away without a scratch.

This, in a nutshell, is one of the problems with trying to defeat the police state by violence. It never seems to work out the way it’s supposed to. It’s too easy to hurt the innocent, and too hard to make sure only the guilty are punished. And the kinds of people who attack or kill cops are not the kinds of people you want on your side. Back around the Days of Rage, the Weathermen killed a cop, but they didn’t target a particularly bad one, just whoever was standing there when the bomb went off. The Symbionese Liberation Army claimed to be leaders of a black revolution, but they ended up killing a black school superintendent and a mother of four.

Fantasies of vengeance are commonplace and often make for entertaining fiction, but in real life, violent reprisals are rarely instigated by people who value freedom and respect human life. In the movies, we get a mysterious stranger in a Guy Fawkes mask who speaks eloquently of liberty, outwits the authorities, and strikes at the heart of a brutal state by blowing up empty buildings. In real life, we get Timothy McVeigh using a bomb in a truck to kill children.

I Find a Flaw in Apple’s New iPhone 4S

I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about the iPhone 4S. I’ve had my iPhone 3S for a couple of years now, and although it’s been pretty cool, it was beginning to show its age. Some of the newer apps are a bit sluggish on my less-than-leading-edge hardware, and my phone doesn’t have the iPhone 4’s WiFi hotspot feature, which I’d find pretty useful. By the time my contract ran out this summer, the tech rumor mill was saying Apple would have a new phone out in October, so I decided to wait.

I’m not normally an early adopter of anything, so when Apple made their announcement on Wednesday, I thought about it for a few days before deciding I was going to buy the new phone. Finally, this weekend, I took the plunge and visited the Apple online store, and promptly stumbled on a defect that even the design wizards at Apple were unable to eliminate. In the otherwise elegant and powerful iPhone, I had discovered a glaring problem. A fly in the ointment. A monkey in the wrench.

The problem, simply put, is that you can’t use an iPhone as a mobile phone without having to involve a mobile phone company. Apple’s iPhone may be one of the design and technology sensations of the modern world, but they depend for their functionality on one of the most despised industries in the modern world. It’s like buying a Lamborghini Murcielago supercar and discovering that you’re only allowed to drive it on gravel roads.

(Mobile carriers aren’t as bad as they used to be. When I first started using one, I remember I wanted to change some feature and when I called the company, they told me that the change would require a $35 “programming fee.” Their network computers could follow me all over the country and stream audio to my phone in real time, but changing a field in the database was so difficult that I’d have to pay for it.)

The new iPhone works with any one of three carriers: AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. I used to have Verizon before I switched to AT&T for my iPhone, and I’d love to go back — they were great to work with and I had good connectivity — but they use CDMA technology which (for reasons beyond my comprehension) doesn’t allow users to talk and surf the web at the same time. That could be a problem if I’m going to be tethered and online for hours at a time.

As for Sprint, well…let’s just say I have a history with those fuckers.

So that means I’m stuck with my current carrier, AT&T.

Picking out the iPhone at the Apple site was easy, and even linking the purchase to my AT&T account seemed to work just fine. The problem came when I tried to arrange shipping. You see, I have a rental box at a nearby UPS Store. Everything I buy online gets sent to that address so I don’t have to choose between staying home all day or having the package left in the hallway where anyone can steal it.

It turns out that this offends AT&T. Even though I had the UPS box listed as my default shipping address for the Apple store, the ordering system wouldn’t let me ship the phone to the UPS box, and a chat with Apple support confirmed that AT&T would only allow them to ship the phone to the billing address on my mobile account. It didn’t even matter that this was the exact same address to which they had successfully shipped the iPhone I was currently using.

I suppose there’s some security rationalization for this, but it’s not much security, since all I had to do was visit the AT&T site to change my billing address to the rental box and then go through the purchasing process again. I’ll change it back after I get the phone, so my bills arrive at home again. It was a useless and annoying waste of my time.

I realize this is not a huge problem, but I thought it deserved attention — perhaps some sort of prize for Special Achievement in Bad Customer Service. I mean, think about it: AT&T has figured out a way to screw with me that (a) is completely gratuitous, (b) hits me before I even have the product in my hands, (c) affects a product I’m actually buying from someone else, and (d) only really hurts their returning customers.

It’s a pity the folks at Apple have to work with losers like this.