Monday, August 21, 2006

Tiptoeing around the obvious in airline screening

In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress rushed to mandate that 100% of checked airline baggage in the U.S. be screened for explosives. But the recently foiled plot to bring down 10 U.S.-bound airliners highlights what has remained a major concern in international aviation security: bombs carried into the cabin by passengers themselves.

The initial response this past week has been to sharply curtail the size and number of allowable carry-on items. But the inconvenience from keeping things like laptops and overnight bags out of the cabin is great enough that it could deter air travel and do long-term economic harm. Subjecting all of what used to pass for normal carry-on baggage to exhaustive searches has a similar effect, assuming it is even practical in the long run.

All of which means a return to any kind of normalcy in travel is going to require that airport security do a better job of separating high-risk passengers from unlikely threats. However, the fact that we may have come within a whisker of losing 3,000 lives over the Atlantic still isn't preventing political correctness from getting in the way of smarter security.

In Britain, a report in the Times of London this week that ethnic and religious background may become one allowable factor in screening decisions touched off preposterous cries that it would make a crime of "flying while Asian." Here in the U.S., Bush Administration officials seem afraid to even discuss the topic, despite the fact that President Bush himself has said that the threat comes primarily from "Islamic" terrorists.

So U.S. policy remains much the same as the one instituted after 9/11 by former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who refused to consider the use of religious or ethnic background as even minor factors in screening decisions. The result--with which all air travelers are well familiar--is a policy of random searches that focuses scarce screening resources as much on 8-year-old girls as on 22-year-old men with Pakistani passports. Mr. Mineta's department also undermined another important layer of security--the discretion of air crews themselves--by harassing a number of major carriers on civil-rights grounds after suspicious passengers were removed from flights.

Mr. Mineta is gone now. But on Fox News Sunday last week Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff defended this policy of random searches on grounds that "if we become too focused on a particular profile, we're likely to be dropping our guard precisely where the terrorists are going to be acting next." Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley made the same case to us this week. So did House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica of Florida.

We think they're attacking a straw man. Nobody is suggesting using ethnicity and religion as the only--or even the primary--factors in profiling possible terrorists. But it also makes no sense to take zero account of the fact that every suicide attack against U.S. aviation to date has been perpetrated by men of Muslim origin. While al Qaeda is no doubt seeking recruits who don't obviously display such characteristics, that doesn't mean we should ignore the likeliest candidates.

Mr. Hawley has improved things at TSA. His move last year to scrap the nail-clipper ban so that screeners could focus on real threats like bombs was welcome and important. So too has been the initiative to have more airport-security personnel paying attention to passengers who exhibit suspicious behavior. This is a technique that has worked for the Israelis.

On the other hand, Mr. Hawley goes too far when he asserts that "behavior will give you away regardless of what you look like." That's what cops like to say about lie detectors, too, but liars sometimes fool them. Worse, Mr. Hawley hides behind the screen of political correctness himself when he says that taking background into account would be somehow contrary to "American" and "Constitutional" values.

The law on this is settled, and in the other direction. On multiple occasions the federal courts have upheld programs that treat groups differently when a "compelling" public interest can be identified: affirmative action, minority set-asides, composition of Congressional districts, and the all-male draft have all met that legal test. Yet the same people who would allocate jobs, federal contracts and college admissions by race or ethnicity object to using them merely as one factor in deciding whom to inconvenience for a few minutes at an airline checkpoint. Surely aviation security is a far more compelling public interest than the allocation of federal set-asides.

For those who put civil liberties above all else, even the TSA's behavior observation technique is too much. In 2004 the ACLU sued the Massachusetts Port Authority and the Massachusetts state police after one of its employees was identified by a similar program in Boston, with a spokesman claiming there was "a significant prospect this security method is going to be applied in a discriminatory manner." Amid this sort of demagoguery, we can see why the Bush Administration would want to dodge a profiling debate.

But someone needs to explain that one point of a smarter profiling program is to forestall what would be far more onerous racial screening if terrorists succeed again. At stake here is also the future of public support for adequate antiterror measures. If Americans conclude that their inconvenience has less to do with terrorism than it does with political correctness, the Administration will find that it has that much less support for the overall war on terror.


Australian safety survey kills feminist distortions

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey has finally emerged and along with its appearance, the statistical myths of feminist's victimhood and women's class oppression - particularly those relating to claims of epidemic violence against women - have immediately vaporised. Their silence is deafening.

The survey reveals a picture of what any rational person should have assumed about life simply by observation of the world around them and their day to day existence in it. The survey reveals what most people should have known or should have suspected about the facts of social violence - it is men rather than women who have the most to fear regarding their personal safety. It further reveals that the perpetrators of violence, in all their ugly forms and diversity, are not just men, and that the domain of perpetrators includes a significant percentage of women.

There are few surprises in this survey other than it seems to have been conducted with appropriate propriety. A refreshing breath of fresh air given the lies and spin of so many preceding studies and surveys conducted on this subject. But before delving into some its facts and figures, there are a couple of points that should be clarified about the survey itself.

As surveys go, it seems to have been done responsibly. It has encompassed a sizeable sample of the population - 16,300 adults in total, about 0.1% of the Australian adult population - so its findings could be seen to be a reasonable reflection of what's really going on in Australia today. That's excellent. However, for some peculiar reason, over twice as many women were surveyed than men - 11,800 women compared to only 4,500 men.

Why? Aren't men's experiences of personal safety as valid as those of women? Did they expect that women's experiences of violence would be more valid, diverse or significant? Or was it simply a matter of funding as is implied in the survey's notes? Whatever the reason for it, and there is no fair or justifiable stance that could possibly be taken for this glaring discrepancy, the question remains, why were men relegated to being less than second class respondents?

Who will provide an answer? No one, you can bet, and you can go figure it for yourself, but perhaps we can hope this imbalance will be addressed in any further surveys where the sex of the respondents is relevant.

For now though, when digesting the results, it must be realised that the men's data should be seen to be less accurate than that of the women. In fact, in some cases, reflected in the ABS tables, the data for men is so shabby that annotations have been made indicating that the data are of dubious reliability. Given the importance and far reaching social implications of this survey, this exclusion of men's experiences is a travesty of their rights as taxpayers and citizens of the nation. Especially as it turns out that men are singly the most severely effected members of society where personal safety and violence are concerned.

This treatment of men is a clear statement by the John Howard Liberal government that they see Australian men as being second rate and less than half as important as the women of the nation. Yet, in the Liberal's defense, it must be argued that they are the first government in Australia to include men in such a survey - previous Labor governments simply didn't care about the safety of men and only ever conducted safety surveys for women. That development in itself is at least some consolation for Australian men and is a positive step forward.

The other glaring concern about the production of this ABS survey was the sexist exclusion of men as interviewers. 100% of the interviews were conducted by women. The survey does point out that male interviewers were available upon request for those respondents who may have been so inclined, however, it reports that all those interviewed accommodated the default female interviewers. It is therefore important to realise that the 100% use of female interviewers could possibly have led to an underreporting of spousal and partner violence of men by females due to personal embarrassment in front of women interviewers.

Despite these sexist anomalies however - in a national survey of this significance, one could have at least expected squeaky-clean adherence to equal-sex political correctness - the survey reveals for the first time much important information about personal safety and the victims and perpetrators of personal violence. A subject, which has long been obscured by the murky fog of feminist advocacy.

This survey has revealed some very important truths about social violence and has exposed feminist lies. The following statements, derived directly from the ABS survey, are just our initial findings and a fuller investigation by readers of the finer detail is encouraged. Unfortunately, the ABS has presented its findings in a way that may not be readily interpreted by men's rights advocates in the form they are used to seeing them, therefore we have represented them, expressed in a way with which our readers will be more familiar.

Our statements below compare the freshly published data to the often colloquially quoted rhetorical statistics of feminist propaganda and remember this, these are official Australian government research figures and not some trumped up biased university faculty's data or those of some politically biased independent non government organisation. Facts - the ABS survey has revealed that -

* Men are more than twice as likely as women to be the victims of violence and are being physically or sexually assaulted or threatened at the rate of up to 2 incidents per second

* Women are not the victims of family (domestic) violence as often as the quoted 1 in 4, nor even 1 in 8, nor even 1 in 10, but actually 1 in 100

* Women are not being raped every 26 seconds, nor even every 90 seconds, as feminists frequently claim, but are in fact experiencing sexual assault - not necessarily rape - including both reported and all unreported incidents, at a rate of less than 1 per 5 minutes. This is a rate 91% less than that which feminists have previously claimed

* The ratio of female to male family (domestic) violence victims in a home is not 99:1, nor 9:1, nor even 5:1, but is actually closer to 2:1

These statements above are all calculated from the ABS survey data without corruption. They are the figures. Of course there will be some deviation from the survey compared to real life figures, just as in all studies (read the fine print of the survey) but, remember, the data for women is more than twice as likely to be accurate as it is for men and the data for men may have been tainted by the use of default female interviewers, some of whom may even have been staunch feminists, possibly resulting in underreporting of men's experience of family violence as victims.


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