I will not fear

In the wake of the 9/11 attack, folk singer John Flynn wrote a powerful, moving song called I Will Not Fear. You can watch him sing it at the Philadelphia Folk Festival.

The last verse goes:

And in this land of the free, in this home of the brave,
The voice of human courage cries, “I will not be a slave
To the ones in shadow who’d see freedom disappear.”
Won’t you send a message right now: Say, “I will not fear!”

Stirring words: “I will not be a slave to the ones in shadow who’d see freedom disappear.”

12 years ago, the ones attacking our freedom lived in the shadows of caves halfway around the world. Their weapons were jet liners. They sought to destroy buildings.

Today the ones attacking our freedom skulk in the shadows of brightly lit corridors in Maryland and Utah. Their weapons are secret orders from secret courts implementing secret interpretations of secret laws. They seek to destroy the Constitution.

The 9/11 attack arrived with massive explosions visible to all. The current attack was carefully hidden until exposed by a patriot whose freedom — and perhaps whose life — is now in jeopardy.

In 1787, upon emerging from the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What type of government have you given us?” “A republic,” said Ben, “if you can keep it.”

I will not be a slave. I will not fear.


Six impossible things before breakfast

Lawyers call it alternative pleading:

You say my dog bit you? Well…

  • I don’t own a dog.
  • And he doesn’t bite.
  • And you kicked him first.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because you’ve been hearing it non-stop from Washington for the last week:

  • There is no massive secret NSA surveillance program.
  • And everyone has known all about it for years; it’s no big deal.
  • And revealing it would be a major threat to national security.

See also cognitive dissonance.


Oh, say, can you see?

A conversation this morning on Twitter. From the mouths of babes:


Next: NSA cameras in all rooms of all homes streaming to government database that’s only accessed by warrant. Only gets the bad guys, right?


Can I tell you, after the Newtown shootings this is exactly what my 10-yo nephew suggested?! The plan of a scared child.


Indeed, the home of the brave has become the home of the scared children.


Burning the digital village to save it

The AllAfrica news aggregator brings a doubly unfortunate report from Kenya. First, the Kenya Communications Commission “will not back down from plans” to monitor e-mail and other Internet traffic. More disturbing is the rationale:

“The war on terror has compelled the world to intrude into personal privacy. There is a very thin line between privacy and security.”

The angry high-pitched whir you’re hearing is Ben Franklin spinning in his grave:

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

If Franklin were here he’d put his warning in today’s terms: Every encroachment on liberty and privacy — from TSA gropings in New York to monitored e-mail in Nairobi — is a victory for the terrorists. It’s our free and open society that’s the true target of the extremists, and fear-mongering purveyors of censorship and surveillance are simply playing into their hands.

Beyond security from terrorism, the Kenyan regulators further justify their counterproductive policy on economic grounds, “to reap the benefits of the Internet and information resources”. Here we have a stunning display of either hypocrisy or ignorance. The benefits of the Internet derive from the unfiltered and open flow of information among billions of connected communicators. Subjecting Internet traffic to government supervision is a far more dangerous attack on “the benefits of the Internet” than any virus or worm. The quote that best captures this policy post-dates Franklin by 250 years: “We had to destroy the village to save it.”

Unfortunately, such ill-conceived policies are not limited to Kenya. Governments around the world are rushing to trade vital freedom for illusory security, the power of openness for the comfort of control. Citizens of those governments would do well to remember yet another quote:

“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”


Who are you going to believe, the TSA or your lying eyes?

I stumbled upon the blog TSA News because of an intriguingly titled post called “The purpose of TSA is what it does“. The title is based on Anthony Stafford Beer‘s POSIWID concept: The purpose of a system is what it does. Beers (1926-2002) worked in operations research and management science, but what he really did was design and analyze systems. POSIWID should resonate with anyone who’s written a computer program or put a business process in place. Whether you call them side effects or unintended consequences, what a system does tells you more about its true nature than intentions or expectations, plans or designs.

With this background in mind, TSA News reviews the all-too-familiar litany of what TSA does, and concludes its purpose is:

To label four-year-old girls suspects and give them nightmares; to organize travelers into long lines in which they must wait; to create and examine nude images of travelers; to rub the genitalia of each patdown selectee four times through his or her clothing; to create a Pavlovian response that links baggage X-ray machines to removing one’s shoes; to spend extraordinary sums of money beyond what travelers pay for their own humiliation; to ensure compliance with rules whose purpose is opaque; to trigger traumatic memories in sexual assault survivors; to provide employment for anyone willing to put their hands down the pants of strangers; to employ large numbers of people whose jobs are to shout orders at travelers or ensure that people only traverse doorways in one direction; and so on.

To be fair, we must state that the purpose of TSA also includes removing guns, knives, tools, purses with gun insignias, four-inch GI Joe guns, light sabers, suspicious cupcakes, and large bottles of shampoo or water from the bags of travelers. The TSA certainly does do a lot of this.

In summary:

The purpose of the TSA is to virtually strip-search and sexually humiliate the flying public, every single day. That is what the TSA does.

TSA News also points out what TSA does not do. In particular, it does not capture terrorists. Not a single one. And it does not confiscate weapons from passengers intending to destroy or hijack their flight. On the other hand, TSA does apprehend and detain passengers who complain too strenuously or too nakedly about being groped. And they do detect about half of the contraband inadvertently carried by innocent passengers. We know those passengers were innocent because they weren’t charged as terrorists. Coincidentally, the half of the contraband not detected by the TSA was also in the possession of non-terrorists.

Now, as the blog notes, the argument might be made that the purpose of TSA is to deter attacks on planes, and how do we know it’s not doing that? The blogger says the idea strains his credulity:

There’s a cadre of violent extremists in the U.S. who have been sitting on their hands doing nothing for a decade because of the TSA its defenders would like you to believe. Yet these extremists apparently have no interest in attacking unprotected targets like schools, malls, ports, liquefied natural gas plants, sports events, buses, subways, or the unsecured areas of airport terminals. If you believe that, I know a great bridge with a low asking price you may be interested in.

We can’t talk about TSA’s operation and purpose without referring to Kip Hawley‘s article that appeared a few weeks ago in The Wall Street Journal. Hawley was head of the TSA for 3½ years, and so when he writes “Why Airport Security Is Broken — And How To Fix It“, he commands some attention. His well-reasoned 5-part program:

  1. No more banned items
  2. Allow all liquids
  3. Give TSA officers more flexibility and rewards for initiative, and hold them accountable
  4. Eliminate baggage fees
  5. Randomize security

His article is worth a read; his ideas are worth a try.