The Fish That Threatened Pittsburgh

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The following tale from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, passed along by reader Sandy Smith, is the latest in a growing litany of odd encounters with the Transportation Security Administration. Our story thus far: The author, a college student flying home to Pittsburgh from NYC for the holidays, has arrived at LaGuardia airport:

I wasn't prepared, however, for the TSA to stop me right at the entrance, proclaiming that no small pets, including fish, were permitted through security. I had, however, just received the blessing of the ticket agents at US Airways and pre-assured MJ's travels with Pittsburgh International Airport security weeks before our travel date. I tried to explain this to the screener who stood between me and the gates, but she would have none of it.

I was led back to the US Airways ticket counter, stocking-footed and alone, where the agents reasserted that they did not see a problem for me to have a fish on board, properly packaged in plastic fish bag and secured with a rubber band as MJ was. But the TSA supervisor was called over, and he berated me profusely. He exclaimed that in no way, under no circumstances, was a small fish allowed to pass through security, regardless of what the ticket agents said.

Does the fish get flushed in the name of national security? To find out, go to here.

Incidentally, the February issue of Reason–on newsstands now!–has a great cover story titled "'Dominate. Intimidate. Control.'"–The sorry record of the Transportation Security Administration." If you subscribed, you'd have read it by now.

NEXT: Why Orange You Grateful?

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  1. Pete-

    I agree that it sounds pretty silly to get all worked up and go to such lengths to protect a single fish.

    So let’s take her story and replace the word “fish” with “private property that poses no threat to other people.” We now have a story of government agents trying to confiscate a piece of privately owned property that posed no threat to other people.

    Now, you could criticize her for resisting, saying it’s taking up time that could be used to find real threats. But that gives the government way too much leeway. Any time they do something that has no basis in law and doesn’t make people any safer, the person who cries foul can be accused of distracting the government from its more important duties of defending life, liberty, and property. It’s a bait and switch.

    I applaud her.

  2. Sebastian, Thoreau: I’ve been compelled to say much the same thing to the TSA zombies. If I can successfully hijack a plane with a damn pair of SCISSORS, then you have a much bigger problem than me and my scissors.

    As for everybody who says the author was “bolting through security like a lunatic” or whatever – are we reading the same article? I see “We loaded our things onto the belt before the X-ray machine and walked through. Once past the scanner, Trey and I grabbed our things and ran for the gates…” and “Trey gave the TSA agents one last cold, steely gaze. We turned and walked away.” and “We departed the people-mover, and ran one final time to the bathroom…” Nothing about running through checkpoints and causing a panic. Try arguing with the actual words and not with the voices in your head, OK? Personally, I think that petty tyrants who are full of themselves /deserve/ to be fucked with, but I’m just one of those not-even-crypto anarchists.

  3. Slippery-
    She’s defending her property. There’s nothing wrong with what she did. She found out from the airline that she could take the fish on board. She bought the ticket. Then the gov’t came in and interfered in something that was a peaceful exchange of money for service. Of course, she’s going to have a fit.

  4. While I don’t admit understanding an emotional attachment to a beta, I wouldn’t begrudge someone who did making a stink about not being able to take it on board when there’s no regulation against it. Also remember:

    and pre-assured MJ’s travels with Pittsburgh International Airport security weeks before our travel date.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong, dramatic, or narcissistic about demanding that the government obey the friggin law and treat citizens with basic respect. If that had happened to me, I probably would have been pissed off enough to drive down to Washington and demand to see my congressman just on the general principle of it all. We don’t do ourselves any favor if we just accept this stuff like passive sheep.

  5. I realize I’ve picked the wrong fight with the wrong crowd. Resistance is futile. I might as well

    I concede that lumbering bureaucracies do dumb things, and that they only way of keeping their excesses in check is fighting back. On the other hand, there’s a difference between a balanced reaction and an unbalanced one.

    Thoreau, you can gin this up into a grand stand against tyranny and oppression and confiscation of private property, but my house is private property and my tweezers are private property, and in the real world the punishment should fit the crime. I might object and then write a letter to TSA if it happened to me, but I would not choose to smuggle it through anyway and harass employees who, mistaken though they may be, are trying to do their jobs.

  6. Pete, since it’s been established that there was no law or regulation that prohibited carrying a live fish on to the plane, the only people who wasted the TSA employees’ time were the TSA employees themselves. If she’d deliberately brought the fish for the purpose of provoking a confrontation with them, then I would agree you might have a fin to swim on.

  7. Even though the TSA employees were silly and wrong, I still think choosing to ignore and disobey them, mock and sneer at them, is the immature way of handling the situation. As I said, a tetra or goby would be a whole other thing.

    😉

    I’m tired. I’m speaking to the crowd that wants to privatize sidewalks so of course I will lose this debate.

    Happy New Year, beta fish jihadists, drive safely and steer clear of Jean Bart because when he gets drunk he will taunt you mercilessly.

  8. Since they’re on a guided track and you can’t crash them into highrise office buildings, there wouldn’t have to be so much security.

    Presumbaly, although I imagine it would still be unacceptable to you and to most other people to only blow up the people on the train.

  9. Pete is just a troll… Had this been the TSA demanding that his child give up his/her favorite toy, or the TSA demanding that he give up a personal piece of property of his own that held similar emotional and physical value to him as this fish to the girl who wrote the story he would have been up in arms just as much, judging from his posts and comments historicly, he would proly make a bigger scene then this girl did. Now the question of him admiting it, of course not, he has to be the big man, emotions, what are emotions, this is about terrorisim damnit.

    What saddens me is, I talk to Slippery Petes all the time, its the Slippery Petes in the world that allowed the Nazis to take over germany, the Pol Pots to ravage Cambodia, the Stalins to come into power in the Soviet Union, the Saddams to rise to power in the Middle east, and the Bush administration to rise into power unchecked in America.

  10. Out of fairness I have to mention that the Osama ‘Fin’ Laden comment is in the article.

    My take on it is this: if we keep having the TSA mainly concerned with stupid things like fish and gold-plated toenail clippers, then people will begin, like the author did, to evade them. And the rest of us will accept it, because it clearly doesn’t represent a threat to security.

    So what happens when somebody is seen stuffing what looks like something harmless into an orifice to get it past security and nobody says anything because they assume it’s just TSA being stupid? This kind of contempt for security is going to reduce citizen cooperation, and make things less safe. Why piss off several million potential volunteers who all otherwise have a vested interest in helping you do your job every day?

  11. Sandy hits a very good point. When the law is limited to protecting life, liberty, and property, and doing so in an intelligent manner that respects the liberties of the citizens to the greatest extent possible people tend to have more respect for the law. When the law either oversteps its bounds or loses its remaining brain cells people tend to have less respect for the law.

    As long as airport security is a joke that forces us to stand there in our socks and hand over our pet fish and fingernail clippers to an agent with all the courtesy of a DMV employee, airport security will lose respect. For now a lot of people may still be willing to put up with it, but the longer we go without a major terrorist attack, the more people will question it.

    Ironically, a failure of airport security (e.g. some guy getting his boxcutter through and trying to hijack a plane) will only enhance people’s respect for airport security. More ironic is the fact that the thug with the boxcutter will probably be stopped by ordinary citizens on the plane, yet the government will be where people will look for help.

    This is not to say that we should let them bring their boxcutters on board, just that maybe we need a more intelligent approach to identifying hazardous objects.

  12. Meanwhile, an airplane lands at JFK who had a dead guy in the wheel well for nearly a week.

    Good to know that a dead guy can play flying Dutchman while the TSA ensures no live fish escape.

  13. I haven?t read such a heart warming holiday story since ?The Gift of the Magi?; but it has a strange twist. Rather than giving up a prized possession, the young gentleman, using pluck and determination, keep the young lady whole by out-foxing government hirelings. I guess that this couple is the Robin Hood and Maid Marianne of our time. I?ll leave it to the readers, this merry band, to determine who is the Sheriff of Nottingham.

    Let?s keep this story in the news. The TSA should be ridiculed on the late night comedy shows. Don?t get me wrong, all work is honorable work and I sure that many employees of the TSA believe that they are providing a necessary service. However, the goons that demanded the execution of X-ray (nee MJ) were jerks and deserve a double dose of satire and ridicule. Those self important employees of the TSA with their arbitrary and capricious decisions are likely to have some issues with their own self worth; ridicule seems like the appropriate remedy.

    I plan to write my Congressman to have these jerks disciplined but that will not be enough. Try to get this story into the media. A few words from Leno might snap these fools back to reality. The best of course would be to hear the sentence ?They killed X-ray, the bastards? on South Park.

  14. The problem with the security is virtually anything can be a weapon that can kill. Anyone who doesn’t believe that needs to spend some time in a prison. A sharpened toothbrush end fits in a pocket and won’t set off a metal detector. There are knives out there made of ceramic too.

    This is no reason to have no security. If you’re going to disarm everyone for a flight you have to do it as best you can, but that should be reduced to objects that present a clear danger and are clearly meant to be a weapon.

  15. The writer left out a critical detail that makes the entire incident justified: her fish carried an almanac!

  16. Wow. I dare to comment on getting a fish through TSA, and I’m a Nazi. Noted. Thanks for the feedback there.

  17. No Pete, nobody called you a nazi, its funny people like you only read and hear what you want to hear. What was said is, the attitude of people like you ALLOWED people like the nazis, Pol Pot, Saddam, etc. to come into power simply because of blind obediance to the powers that be without using your own head for half a second.

    Please, read what is written, not what the voices in your head say is written.

  18. My only point was that there was a better way of protesting the actions of the TSA, which I already agreed was silly and unwarranted. It will do no good, it delays and distracts other passengers, and it suggests that the young lady in question was more concerned about her rights than the rights of others.

    Tying me in any way at all to Nazis is like me calling you a Nazi because you both wear combovers.

    Just so ya know, I’ve studied the Soviet gulag system from Moscow and St Petersburg, and have read more books about the rise of totalitarianism in a few of the places you mentioned. I’m also involved in human rights work specifically focusing on political repression. I’m doing my doctorate research in poli-sci on the question of whether institutions, individuals, or cultures are most helpful in preventing totalitarian and authoritarian regimes from coming into power (among other things).

    My point is not that I’m any smarter or better educated than you, because I have no way of know. My point is that your comments were ignorant and hurtful. You are making assumptions based on your misreading of a few comments of mine. I see the world differently from you, and in your eyes the only possible explanation for that is that I’m tolerant of evil, or am evil myself.

    Ever hear the phrase reductio ad hitlerum? It’s the lowest form of debate, typically thrown out by the weakest minds. I hope for your sake you’re not one of them, because you’re way off base. If you’re going to call somebody a Nazi (or say that he’s the kind of person who would tolerate Nazism – a distinction without a difference), you better have a good reason or you’ll just look like a boorish fool.

  19. Pete: Are YOU familiar with the old saying:

    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.

    -Pastor Martin Niem?ller

    Im sure as a poly-sci student you are. The spirit of the words should be the spirit of all who defend freedom. While you and I may not agree on the way this particular protest was carried out by these 2 students, your words

    “That’s life. Tough shit. I read that article. My impression of the author was that she was simply a pathetic narcissist who was happy to harass and lie to TSA employees, cause a huge commotion, run through security (no doubt panicking other passengers), and generally act as if she were the center of the universe, all to save the life of one stupid fish.”

    Seem to completely contradict the statement that you just wrote. Now, I will concede that your first reaction might not have been the true person you are and in hindsight you dont agree with what you first wrote, but those were your words.

    Regardless of your feelings about a fish, the issue is beyond the fish, any rational thinking person can see that. The issue here is the abuse of power by employees of the TSA, this is not the first incident to occur but one of many many violations of US citizens by the TSA. Protection of life, liberty and private property are fundemental principles of the Constitution and are rights protected and embraced by the citizens of our great country.

    As a citizen its your civic duty to pick up the torch and be a champion to all people who are violated regardless of your feelings for the property involved. Remember, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life, your right to say it” If the citizenry fail in this civic duty, then its just as Martin Niem?ller stated, there will be noone left to defend you when they come. I appologise if I hit a nerve, but I will stand behind my comment, apathy and disregard for your fellow citizen IS what lead to the rise of power by the groups mentioned.

  20. When evaluating my undergraduate students who express an interest in attending graduate schools, one of the main things I (and most of my peers) take into consideration is judgment, which stems from maturity.

    My friend, it’s quite easy to draw parallels between ANY abuse of power and Nazis. It takes no effort at all, in fact, do find some connection between Nazis and anything else in the world you find distasteful. The difference between a mature thinker and an immature one is judgment.

    “Abuse” by the TSA is no more similar to Nazism than a Boy Scout badge is to a Star of David armband. Sure, anybody can see that both are forms of abuse, inasmuch as ALL abuse by anybody is at root related. But I could say the same thing about you – your refusal to post under your own identity and to use variations of mine is similar to Stalin’s secret police, for example. Now, is that an illuminating observation? No. Does that tell you anything you don’t already know? No. Such a comment is nothing other than an attempt at verbal intimidation and character assassination. It is not even a form of debate.

    As I’ve posted over and over, TSA abuse, like any abuse, is bad. But in this case it was very minor, I found the response to be outlandish, and I said so. That’s it.

    To the extent that I can figure out what your last post is supposed to mean, you seem to be honing in on freedom of speech (since when is this a first amendment issue?!) and…well…”First they came after the beta fish, then they came after Jews, and pretty soon they’ll come after you, Slippery Pete.”

    If you had more mature judgment and didn’t immediately begin by hurling absurd Pol Pot grenades at me, I suspect your only point would be that it’s never safe to ignore small insults to our rights and dignity, because then nothing will stop them from turning into large abuses. If you had said this, I’d have agreed with you and reiterated my earlier suggesting that the person in question register her complaint on the spot, follow up with a letter or call to TSA administrators, etc. She should NOT cause a scene, refuse to obey a TSA order (civil disobedience is not called for here), break out in fake crying fits, etc.

    People who break out the Hitler comments in debates are never taken seriously by serious people. And people with judgment do not assume that minor bureaucratic snafus pave the way for genocide.

  21. OK, since anything can be turned into a weapon (as prisons have proven), I suggest that air travel be conducted in the same manner as space travel in the Alien movies with Sigourney Weaver: Upon boarding the plane and taking out seats, we’ll all be put into a deep sleep and reawakened when we reach our destination.

    I call it the “Anesthesiologists Full Employment Act.”

  22. For f**ks sake can we get this right for once. The terrorists on 9/11 took over those planes with BOMB THREATS!!!!!! They stood up, held up some kind of electronic device and said “there’s a bomb on board and we’re going to set if off unless you do what we say”. There is no security system that can ever be devised that would stop someone from doing this again.

  23. mojo mojo-

    You’re wrong. My deep sleep security measures would prevent the terrorists from using fake bombs to control passengers. We’d all be under the direct control of a government anesthesiologist.

    And if you can’t trust a doctor hired by the national security apparatus, whom can you trust?

  24. Pete, not to resort to the tactics of your troll, I will submit that any time a post about ‘minor’ abuses by people in power is submitted to this blog, your comments always seem to rush to the defense of the abuse.

    I would also submit that the person involved here DID do just as you suggest. She had a supervisor called to the scene, was escorted back to the ticket counter where she was told the same information she acted on originaly and was still refused.

    If this did not call for civil disobediance, then I would ask, what action does call for civil disobediance? Or is it your opinion that civil disobediance has no place in our current society?

    Its easy to dismiss her as a crazy person, but people dont exactly act in a rational manner when emotions are involved. Unless you truly feel that the death of her fish was the proper action. A grivance submitted to the TSA would not bring that life back, regardless of how ‘minor’ of a life it is.

    Also, imediately discrediting anyone who brings up nazisim or the rise of power by those how abuse it is also not a valid form of debate, its just an easy way of controling the debate by making up your own rules. Learning from history is the only way to avoid repeating it, the trolls point about apathy contributing to the rise of abusers of power is a valid observation, and has relevance to this topic.

    Are the TSA or the Bush Administration nazis? NO, should the populace question thier authority, absolutely. Should the populace be wary of the rise of power by those that would abuse it, absolutely. I would also go so far as to say the populace should question the motives of anyone who would blindly defend all abuses of power, which I think your troll has done to you. Maybe in a immature fashion, but humans are not always rational, or mature….

  25. Where did I suggest that all abuses of power should be submitted to?

    What makes you think my “defense” of the TSA is blind? (In fact, as I’ve stated at least four times, I’m NOT defending the TSA – I’m saying that the woman’s reaction to their action was way over the line).

    And what other abuses have I defended?

    Finally, as I specifically stated, I do not oppose all references to Nazis (this debate is getting stale REALLY fast). I said if you’re going to do it, you should have a basis in fact for doing so or you won’t be taken seriously. Not letting a fish board an aircraft does not rise to the level of Nazism.

  26. Pete, you seem to have mistaken me for your troll, but I have a few moments so Ill entertain myself for a moment.

    Your previous comments to this thread have been that the girl in the story acted out of line and endangered other passengers. You further continue by stating that she should have been a good pasifist, let them take her fish and be a good little girl. If thats not suggesting that she submit to an abuse of power, then what is it? How exactly should one act when they are asked to destroy property?

    I think this can all boil down to the fact that you do not think her fish was an important piece of property. So lets replace fish with something else, say portable DVD player, or rare collection of Beatles albums, or the keys to her Porshe, how about an autographed picture of G.W. Bush, tickets to the Grammys, a locket given to her by her grandmother…. we could make an endless list of materials that, like the fish, are perfectly acceptable items to carry abord an aircraft. Would you say that the government has the right to see any of these properties destroyed on the whim of ONE authority? Remember, when dealing with the TSA at an airport you have only two choices, obey any order given or not make it to your destination. Given these choices, its the responsability of the TSA employee to insure that his/her orders are fully lawfull, without treading on the rights of citizens. Historicly, at least from my experiance reading AP news/blogs/editorials, complaints to the TSA about abuses at airports are met with woefully inadiquate response from TSA authorities, so I have little faith in the remedies you have proposed.

  27. I cannot figure out what your argument with me is. You seem to think I’m defending the TSA’s actions. For the fifth time now, I’m not. I’m simply saying that the woman, as you say, acted out.

    I did not say she should be a pacifist. You can scroll up and see what I said.

    When you figure out what it is you want to debate, you let me know. Ok?

  28. Even without a fish, I don’t think the distance from NYC to Pittsburgh is long enough to make TSA humilation worthwhile. If you don’t have a car, there’s still Greyhound, Amtrak, and rental cars (even under age 25).

  29. Either this story is not true, or the screener was directly ignoring TSA rules. From the TSA website:

    “Security procedures do not prohibit you from bringing a pet on your flight. You should contact your airline or travel agent, however, before arriving at the airport to determine your airline’s policy on traveling with pets…You may walk your animal through the metal detector with you…Your animal will NEVER be placed through an X-ray machine.” [emphasis in original]

    This would, of course, not be the first instance of TSA agents deciding that they will not be constrained by TSA rules.

  30. agreed alton — police states use rules as a tool of convenience, and where they are not convenient they are ignored or arbitrarily changed on the spot. and increasingly, it seems to me that i am living in a police state.

  31. mak nas:

    It’s an arbitrary police state, with rules arbitrarily applied, which is even worse.

  32. digamma: You sir are correct. My frequent business traveling father has logged 20,000 miles in 2003 for client visits around the midwest headquartered from Chicago. He grew tired of the standard 5 hour ordeal to fly from Chicago to St. Louis, Minneapolis, Milwaukee or Cincinatti so instead he just drives there.

    Christmas gifts were easy for him this year as I just bought some of his wishlist books in audio format.

  33. Let me see if I understand Pete: If a government official refuses to let you carry a piece of private property that hurts nobody, and there’s no law backing up his actions, then it is wrong to smuggle that private property past him even if you’re violating no law and hurting nobody.

    This isn’t even civil disobedience, because no law was broken. But what she did was wrong because she defied an authority figure.

    Got it.

  34. We need real high speed intercity train service, like they have in France and Japan. Since they’re on a guided track and you can’t crash them into highrise office buildings, there wouldn’t have to be so much security. Since they go right into downtown, eliminating the trip from the airport, they can even be faster.

    NE Corridor. Great Lakes. West Coast. Trans-Texas. Southeast.

  35. Joe: I’ve had that discussion with a lot of midwesterners about a railway that would connect the midwest. A Minneapolic-Milwaukee-Chicago-St.Louis-Memphis-Dallas/Texas line would be ideal. The NY Metropolitian/DC line that I believe is the busiest in the states would be the model. California also could be another ideal scenario for this to connect San Diego to Seattle.

    Such a project would be very costly as Japan and France pay billions to lay the track for magnetic rails. Almost all of it is subsidized by taxpayers. Amtrak is also heavily subsidized, but no where near the levels of the billions the Japanese and French levy.

  36. True, but air and highway travel are subsidized as well. It’s just a matter of priorities. I am specifically arguing for shifting funding, not just adding on.

  37. A high speed train would be ideal in the midwest, the east coast, and parts of the south. As for the west coast, unless that train is humming, I don’t see the point for it to go from SD to Seattle. Maybe SD to Phoenix, LA, and Las Vegas. I remember flying to SF from SD, you got in the air, they gave you a coke, and then you landed.
    Let’s not forget that St.Paul was the home james j. hill, the RR tycoon who did everything without gov’t subsidies. Who knows if that is possible now.

    The drives through WI, IN, OH, are particularly treacherous with the amount of cops. If you’re going any distance and you get a ticket, you might as well have flown.

  38. Funny she renamed the fish X-Ray, since that’s just where that evil, freedom-endangering piscine terrorist will be sent once the proper authorities get wind of this story.

  39. The really sad part was 9/11 wasn’t even really a failure of security as much as it was a failure of doctrine. The doctrine that we should be passive in the face of a terrorist takeover of an airplane (a doctrine which was changed by the passengers aboard flight 93, not through some change in a government bureaucracy).

    The even sadder part is that the security actually worked pretty well. They didn’t hijack the planes with guns, knives, or fish. They did it with box cutters. This was the best they could get on the plane? If you think about it, there’s really no way to defend against this level of threat, unless we want to strip search every passenger before boarding an airplane.

    The best thing to do is forget all this fascist airport security, go back to the way things were, arm the pilots, and stop training them to be passive.

  40. I can see the TSA training video being made now:

    “Some fish, such as the scorpion fish, and puffers such as fugu, have poisonous skins. A potential hijacker might attempt to take a passenger or crewmember hostage, and threaten to place the fish in contact with his captive’s skin, or force him or her to swallow it.”

    Anything can be a weapon, right..?

    Kevin

  41. I feel compelled to note that the email reader Sandy Smith sent us about this bore the headline “Osama Fin Laden.” I wouldn’t want that joke to go to waste.

    What happens next, when the irradiated fish grows into a city-devouring behemoth? You won’t be laughing at the overcautious TSA then, will you?

  42. Not to perturb the crypto-anarchists who value ideological purity over air safety, but this was obviously a case where either a new rule (no pets) turned out to be imperfectly crafted, or where some TSA supervisor had her facts wrong.

    That’s life. Tough shit. I read that article. My impression of the author was that she was simply a pathetic narcissist who was happy to harass and lie to TSA employees, cause a huge commotion, run through security (no doubt panicking other passengers), and generally act as if she were the center of the universe, all to save the life of one stupid fish.

    And stupid that fish is (my best Yoda voice) – betas have the personality of algae.

    Yeah, she should have been allowed to take her fish with her. Big fucking deal – people get tripped up in dumb rules all the time. That’s no excuse to act like an infant about it. There are far more important things to worry about. I’m appalled.

  43. How is she acting like an infant? Though, it’s hard for me to understand crying over a fish. I have fish, and they are just furniture that move.

    This isn’t really about fish though. It’s about abuse of power, and gross interference with people’s right to travel. What security rationale is there for not allowing her fish to pass? There doesn’t seem to be any regulation prohibiting fish in carry on luggage.

    Pointing out the insanity and excesses of government is absolutely a necessary step on the road to curbing those excesses. Crying over spilled fish or not, she’s doing us a service by writing about this and bringing it to the attention of the public.

  44. This story is obviously false. If she had actually tried to get the fish through security she would have been caught. My government employees NEVER make mistakes, they NEVER miss contraband, and they NEVER misunderstand the rules. After all, they work for the governmet.

  45. I really don’t see the point of airport security looking for anything other than bombs, guns, large knives, and other obvious weapons. Nobody will ever succeed in hijacking a plane with scissors, nail clippers, etc. Or at least they won’t succeed in the post 9-11 era.

    Pre 9/11 it was rational for passengers to be passive. Your odds of survival increased substantially if you just let the terrorists bide their time, issue some demands, and eventually land in Cuba to release you. It wasn’t weakness on our part, or some ingrained passivity inculcated by the government, it was simply the most rational course of action. Those who resisted were killed, those who didn’t were usually kept as hostages and eventually released.

    However, as people learned on 9/11, terrorists had new ideas. On the first 3 flights people lacked sufficient information about the new rules, or at least they didn’t get the info until it was too late to act. But on the 4th flight they knew that the rules of the game had changed, and they fought back. They died, but they saved a lot of other lives by keeping the terrorists from reaching their destination.

    A few months later, a thug tried to detonate his sneakers, and the passengers literally fell on him like a ton of bricks. Problem solved.

    But we can’t reduce the amount of security at the airport. Security isn’t there to keep us safe, it’s there to make it look like something is being done, never mind that the number of guards is greater than we need and the quality is lower than we need.

  46. Wouldn’t you rather keep John Ashcroft busy arresting fish rather than covering up nude artwork?

    I have no idea what the rules are, but any rule you devise, at its very edges, becomes absurd. There’s a rule that you can’t run red lights. But at 4am in the middle of the desert, you run them anyway because at that place and time, it’s absurd. Yet you can hardly write rules and laws that allow for every exception or absurdity.

    In those cases, you just have to do what you do and hope that if you get caught, the cops or TSA agents exercise some basic judgment.

    In this case, it appears they didn’t. Well, that’s just real tough. As I said – BFD. You got unlucky. Deal with it. That’s one of the unfortunate side effects of living in civilization.

    The way NOT to deal with it is to harass agents who should be busy inspecting baggage for bombs, enacting some giant psycho-drama, concealing the fish and then bolting through security like a lunatic.

    Look, your average tetra has ten times the personality of a beta. Maybe even a small catfish or, if saltwater’s your thing, perhaps a goby. But a beta?

    Here’s what betas do: Nothing. They sit perfectly still in little mini-me fish tanks, and do nothing. They do not turn. They do not adjust altitude. They do not blink. They do not look around. They float in one spot, unless they spot another beta, in which case they attack and fight to the death. This is not a fish worth getting upset about.

  47. Thoreau –

    Somebody call Jean Bart, for he is about to get what he’s always wanted: I was wrong.

    Maybe there’s a no-pets rule. Maybe there’s not. Either way, that should be the business only of the airline.

    It shouldn’t be the business of the TSA. They should only be after bombs and knives.

    That said, the person in question is still a narcissistic little drama queen who needs to be knocked down a few pegs.

  48. No one seems to have noticed that the other name for a Betta is Siamese Fighting Fish. The TSA was obviously legitimately concerned that a trained fighter was about to be placed on board.

    Oh, and Slippery Pete is a troll.

  49. I quit flying because the TSA screeners look and act a little bit too much like folks who work at McDonalds.

    I mayin fact be one of those “narcissistic pricks” but I don’t fly anymore because I got screened at BWI by some moron who threw my digital camera around then dropped it then didn’t apologize. He also hadn’t asked if he could open my bag which may well be legal but the fact is a little bit of decent treatment would be nice. I have to be honest. I’m 24 years old. I have lived in this country my entire life. I expect to be treated at the bare minimum with a modicum of courtesy or at least competent indifferance. Furthermore I don’t want morons doing my security.

    I even called the TSA press liason about the interaction. She said they get less training than folks at McDonalds. I drove three days this winter to go to Colorado and I will take the train back (a two day trip.) Eventually I will write a letter to SouthWest and Frontier (the only airlines I used to fly) explaining why they have lost my business. I doubt it will make a change with all the dipshits parroting the “any hassle is worth it so long as we get good security.”

    The furthest West I go is Colorado and maybe occasionally Nevada, the drive is a small price to pay to keep a little integrity.

  50. Personally, I think it’s hilarious (and ethically and morally correct) that she was able to smuggle the fish past the know nothing idiots pretending to be security inspectors. (by the way, I have nothing against the job, only those that demonstrate, as these did, that they are fundamentally incapable of (or psychologically unsuited to) doing that job).

    George above is correct. The TSA employees involved *should* be ridiculed by the media in the harshest and broadest manner possible. And for valid reasons, apart from the amusement value.

    First, obviously, there is no communication between the various parts of the security apparatus. One department or person cleared, in advance, the allowance of pet transfer, and yet the baby ninja wannabes at the checkpoint were either uninformed of or willfully antithetical to the permission given. A security apparatus that cannot meaningfully communicate within its own ranks is almost as bad as no apparatus at all.

    Second, the snivelling little checkpoint potentates were either ignorant of the rules that they operate under or they willfully disregarded those rules. A security apparatus that allows such ignorance or dismissive behaviour is corrupt, and fundamentally ineffective in the overall scheme of things.

    Unless this kind of behaviour is nipped in the bud, the effectiveness of security at the checkpoints will eventually be undermined, as the general populace will abandon any remaining trust in the process.

  51. G’s comment (that he prefers driving and taking trains) raises an interesting question:

    If Amtrak were privatized and hence had to actually worry about attracting customers, would they sponsor Al Qaeda attacks on airports and airplanes? Think about it: Airport security is (for now, at least) much more of a hassle than railroad security. (Although if the Homeland Security version of Carnivore reads this, Tom Ridge may get the idea of doing unto trains what he did unto planes.) Not to mention that a lot of people are afraid of flying, both because of crashes (though they’re much less frequent on a per capita basis than car crashes) and because of terrorism (even though you’re more likely to be attacked by an ordinary thug on your way to the airport).

    If a couple more attacks increase both the fear factor and hassle factor of air travel, Amtrak could be a profitable venture finally.

  52. > MJ is a … fish… a solace to me in New York,
    a city that can make you feel so small and alone…. In my research,
    I had learned that running a fish through an X-ray
    would be like a human getting radiation
    without wearing the protective lead cloak.
    At this point, though, we had no choice… Maybe it was God, maybe it was the corduroy,
    but someone wanted my fish to live. Lara … is studying musical theater

  53. The fish story has a light and humorous twist.

    Here is a TSA story which doesn’t:

    http://www.livejournal.com/users/abz6598/312060.html

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