A Philosopher's Blog

The Security Show

Posted in Law, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 28, 2012
English: A TSA officer screens a piece of luggage.

English: A TSA officer screens a piece of luggage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently flew home to Maine for my vacation, thus giving me my yearly exposure to the security procedures designed to save us from terror.

While I do not travel much, I do have the security process down. I put my watch and belt into my carry on (because, you know, belts presumably do bad things to the security hardware or out of concern that a passenger might hang himself out of frustration). I made sure that I had dark socks, because of the need to walk along the floor without shoes. Because, of course, some fool tried to put a bomb in his shoes one time. In a weird concession to age, people who are old enough can keep their shoes and light jackets on. I guess the logic is that people too old to work an iPad would not know how to bomb their shoes.

My ID was ready for the deep screening it goes through and, of course, as anyone knows, no terrorist would have a valid ID. I also had my laptop out because that presumably makes a big difference. My liquids (well, those outside of my body) were safely in the size limit and in the plastic bag. That way the screeners could glance at the bag and see that the containers were not labeled “high explosive” or “nitroglycerin.”

After that, I got my first ride in the full body scanner. It was rather like the scenes in the Fifth Element when the police make people stand and put their hands and feet on the yellow circles. Interestingly, the massively expensive scanner was baffled by my shorts-I had to be patted down anyway because the machine could not properly scan my pockets. As might be imagined, I was impressed to see my tax dollars being funneled to the corporation that makes these super expensive machines that can be apparently be defeated by a pair of $30 cargo shorts.

While they claim that the images don’t show any detail, I could see that the ladies (and some guys) gathered around the screen when I was going through. Yes, I have been working out ladies…and gentlemen.

After my stuff had been irradiated, I then put on my shoes, belt, watch and packed up my stuff so I could go and wait for my flight.

The flight back was basically the same, with one addition. While waiting, I saw some TSA folks roll up with their mobile testing stations. They waited around for about forty minutes until people were boarding and, for some reason, they pull people out of line as they were about the get on the plane rather than screening people while we are all waiting around. Presumably this way is more annoying and inconvenient. This is consistent with my hypothesis that much of the security procedures are the result of drunken wagers between government officials about how much bullshit Americans will put up with as long as they say “security” and “terror” enough.

As I was about to board, someone cut ahead of me and (of course) the TSA picked me for the special attention. As I watched people boarding ahead of me with their giant sized “carry-on” luggage I figured I’d have to check my properly sized carry on thanks to the TSA and the folks who think that anything they can carry (or wheel) counts as a carry on.

They explained the process to me and then rooted through my possessions looking for stuff I might have smuggled in between the time I was scanned and arrived at the gate. Interestingly, they were unarmed-so I am not sure what they would do if they found a real terrorist. Before I got the full body pat down I had the following conversation:

TSA Guy:”Do you have any sensitive areas?”
Me: “Just the usual ones.”

Then I got the full pat down, which was as degrading and as violating of my privacy and personal space as one would imagine. I do have sympathy for the TSA folks, of course. Just imagine spending your day caressing man-boobs and chubby thighs and you will probably feel for them, too.  Fortunately, I work out regularly, so the agent got to run his hands over some grade A man flesh. Or maybe grade A-, after all I am pushing towards 50 and I had been eating lobster, bacon and steak all week. Okay,so maybe B+. After determining that I did not have any items that might be used by a philosopher professor to destroy or seize the plane that was taking me to Atlanta, I was allowed to board and jam my carry on under the seat, thus ending that episode of security theater.



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Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 29, 2011
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21:  Republican presiden...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Cain is facing another potential crisis: Ginger White has come forth to apparently claim that she had a long lasting affair with Herman Cain. As might be imagined, this is not exactly good news for Cain’s lagging campaign.

Cain immediately denied the accusations, while noting that he did know the woman. His handling of the situation was better than his handling of previous accusations-thus showing that Cain has learned at least a bit about damage control. However, his lawyer released a rather odd statement which, as the pundits noted, does not seem to be the right sort of thing for a politician to issue for damage control. This shows that Cain needs to improve his organization and how it handles damage control-assuming that he is able to endure.

At this point, this is the classic “she says, he says” situation. Cain made an immediate and unequivocal denial which counts, to a degree, in his favor. After all, lying about an affair will generally do more political damage than admitting to an affair. Thus, a lie would not be very sensible and hence would (or should) be the less likely approach by Cain. Given Newt’s and Bill Clinton’s success, Cain should be aware that politicians who have affairs can do quite well.

That said, politicians have been known to lie about such things-even when the lie is far more damaging than the truth. Anthony Weiner is, of course, the most recent example of such an incident.  The statement Cain’s lawyer released also muddled things a bit-while the legalese seems to be aimed any saying that Cain did not have an affair, the overall impression is seems to create is more along the lines of  “if he had an affair, it is t the business of the media or the public.” This is hardly effective damage control and makes it seem like a set up for an admittance of wrongdoing. However, anyone who is familiar with legalese will point out that the statement is the sort of thing a lawyer would create even if his/her client did nothing at all. As such, the statement is hardly decisive evidence.

In regards to the woman, little is known about here. On the face of it, lying about this matter would seem to be a rather odd sort of thing-after all she is, as the pundits have noted, exposing herself to the full scrutiny of the media and laying her reputation on the line. Her accusation, if false, might even be considered slander or libel-given the damage such a charge could do to to Cain. As such, she would seem to have very good reasons not to make a false accusation.

However, one key point (as noted above) is that little is known about the woman, her credibility and her possible motivations. Until more information is known, the most rational thing to do is to suspend judgment on the claim against Cain.

If Cain is telling the truth, then he might be able to make a gain in the polls because of such a false attack. It would also give him some “armor” against ant future attacks of a similar nature.

If Cain is not telling the truth, then his campaign would probably be sunk. However, Bill Clinton was able to sludge with way through worse situations and hence there is a clear precedent for such political survival. Cain is, like Clinton, something of a charmer-but whether he is up to a Clinton level game is something that would have to be seen.

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Cheating Teachers

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 6, 2011
Illustration for Cheating

Image via Wikipedia

Back in the Bush era, Washington imposed standardized tests as a measure of success in public education. The Obama administration, presumably enthralled by the mystique of assessment (and the influence of the folks selling the tests), continued this policy.

Shortly after standardized tests became the major focus of education, I heard rumors of cheating through the educational grapevine. Unlike the usual sort of cheating, this was allegedly being done by teachers and school administrators. I did acquire some confirmation regarding the rumors and heard that some people were punished for their misdeeds.

Given this background information, I was not at all surprise when it was revealed that the Atlanta Public School system has allegedly been a hotbed of cheating. I do admit that the extent of the alleged cheating was a minor shock: 44 out of the 56 schools investigated were accused of harboring cheaters, 38 principles were accused, 178 teachers took the Fifth and 82 confessed to cheating on the tests (typically by replacing erroneous answers with the right ones). The cheating seems to have been systematic in nature, rather than just the work of a few bad apples.

Such dishonesty cannot be condoned, especially when it involves educators. We are supposed to teach and enforce principles of academic integrity and ethics. As such, for us to break them is a double offense. That said, I do understand why teachers and administrators would resort to cheating.

First, these standardized tests were imposed on the schools rather than being developed internally as an effective education tool. People generally react poorly to such impositions and are often naturally inclined to resist them (just ask the Tea Party folks).  Second, the state made the test results very important and linked them to such things as raises and funding. While this did cause teachers to switch from actually teaching to engaging in test preparation, it would also motivate people to cheat-especially given the fact that these standardized tests are of somewhat dubious merit in terms of assessing student ability and teacher effectiveness. Third, while the state imposed on the schools, little (or nothing) was done to provide more funding and support for education. In fact, many states have been busily cutting into teacher’s benefits and salaries while often linking job security to the test results. This has proven to be a recipe for disaster. Fourth, many educators (myself included) have serious and well founded doubts about the effectiveness and merits of the standardized tests that have become an obsession of the state. When people believe that something is bureaucratic bullshit, they tend to try to subvert it and get around it.

It should be noted that I am not justifying the cheaters’ actions, but providing an explanation as to why they might have believed it was acceptable to cheat. To accuse me of justifying these actions would be to fall victim to the fallacy of confusing an explanation with an excuse.

Those engaged in the cheating should, of course, face the consequences of their actions.  As educators, they are expected to act with integrity and honesty. However, this situation should also be taken as indicating that standardized testing in public schools needs to be reassessed. Unfortunately, the companies that sell the tests have a rather strong lobby, hence I suspect that nothing will be done to address this blight on education and hence the problems will continue.


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