National Opt-Out Day

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Items on security, security theater, a proper climate of caution, and an excessive climate of fear:

1) A very powerful column by Salon's Patrick Smith, in his "Ask the Pilot" series, explaining why media, politicians, and the public have collectively magnified potential terrorists' powers, by treating attacks on airliners as the worst imaginable threat to the nation. The column  begins with surprising historical perspective. You'll be glad to have read it. Smith goes systematically through most of the justifications that have been advanced for airport-based security theater and lays out how extreme our reactions have become.

2) On the general climate of excess fearfulness, Fabius Maximus has an angry, trenchant article, here, about the media and internet (over) reaction to the purported missile contrail seen earlier this week in Southern California. Summary:

>>It's a serious weakness for America, since panic and fear are contagious. Someone with a bomb in his shoe, someone sending a few bombs in printer cartridges -- no matter how small the threat, each provokes extreme reactions. Large expenditures of funds, inconvenience to millions of people, loss of civil rights. On a larger scale, pointless foreign wars (WMD in Iraq!), torture of prisoners, and now Presidential orders to assassinate US citizens...It's hardly the behavior of a confident superpower.<<

For more on the "missile" launch, see AVweb, here.

3) Jeffrey Goldberg has given one perspective on the TSA "intimate pat-down" procedures that are the alternative to new "enhanced imaging" machines. A group of scientists from UCSF has offered their own reasons for concern. (PDF here; main issue is extra radiation risk.) So has the Libertarian Party of America, here. Just today I heard about "National Opt-Out Day" -- the proposal that on Nov 24, perhaps the busiest travel day of the year, passengers "opt out" of the new imaging systems and ask for the pat-down instead. Details here; images from the new scanners below, and here.

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4) Go read Patrick Smith's column again. And, below, while this isn't really "serious," and has been previously publicized, why not (something similar is here):

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UPDATE: A reader disagrees with the suggestion for Opt-Out day.

>>Not sure causing super-massive delays on the busiest travel day of the year will have the desired effect. Frustrated, flight-missing passengers may be more angry with protestors than with TSA, and the whole thing might backfire. Maybe just weekly opt-outs on, say Wednesdays, would work so people would start scheduling around them and upsetting the larger infrastructure. That might bring the airlines (who might have more clout) down against the situation with greater force, no?<<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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