Saturday, October 07, 2006


TSA's "Alice in Wonderland" Semantics

I was enduring the ritual humiliation inflicted by the Transportation Security Administration at the San Francisco airport when I fell, like Alice in Wonderland, into a semantic rabbit-hole where the TSA used words in ways that made no sense.

As we were being herded through the inspection lines and approached the scanning machines, one of the TSA martinets instructed us to remove our shoes and any jackets or coats. I was wearing a sleeveless sweater vest ( like the ones here) and the woman in front of me was wearing flip-flops -- not the usual kind but some kind of high-style thong style where the flat part was held on by extremely thin strand of material (like the ones here). I said to her "those aren't shoes" and she smiled in agreement, but the TSA person standing nearby overheard us and said "yes they are -- if you're wearing them on your feet then they are shoes." I was thinking "if I wrapped my feet in clear plastic wrap, maybe that would count as shoes to these people" when the TSA guy interrupted my thoughts and told me I needed to take off my "jacket" and put it through the scanner.

Even a hothead like me knows that there is no way to win a debate with TSA workers because they follow rules by the book, but in my research and teaching I'm very sensitive to what words and categories mean (I've just spent six weeks talking about this in my Information Organization and Retrieval" course at UC Berkeley). I didn't think that the woman's flip flops were shoes and I didn't think that my sleeveless sweater vest was a jacket. But I was pushed over the edge by what happened next.

We all have heard about the alleged plot to blow up airplanes with liquid explosives. In response, the TSA for a time banned all liquids in carry-on bags, but after this hysterical overreaction caused lots of delays and problems, they revised the policy to allow limited amounts. Here's the policy as posted on the United Airlines web site:

Liquids, gels and/or aerosols are now permitted through security checkpoints. Items must fit in one clear, re-sealable quart or liter-sized plastic bag, in containers of 3oz/90ml or less. Examples include: shampoo, suntan lotion, creams, toothpaste, hair gel, hair spray, liquid cosmetics and other items of similar consistency.

I interpreted this to mean that I could take up to 3 ounces of any of these items and so I packed some toothpaste and shampoo in my carry-on bag. I looked at the toothpaste tube when I packed it, noticed that it said its capacity was 4.3 ounces, but since I had used almost all of it and I estimated that the remainder was less than ¼ the length of the full tube I was sure it was OK to take it.

But I'm sure you can predict what I happened next in the alternative semantic universe inhabited by the TSA. They studied my bag as it went through the scanner, and I then I had to endure the violation of my 4th amendment rights while they rummaged through my bag in public to find the offending toothpaste tube.

The TSA worker held up the tube and said "we have to confiscate this tube because it is more than 3 ounces." I said "but it is mostly empty -- is it now illegal to carry empty containers on airplanes?" His reply of course did not address the semantic absurdity of his statement because empty containers don't contain bomb-making ingredients, and keeping these ingredients off planes is the justification for the policy. All he said was "Do you want to talk to my supervisor?"

I muttered something about feeling like Alice in Wonderland and then said "keep the damn toothpaste."

-Bob Glushko

Robert, interesting tale and I have a similar experience through airport security with laptop "protection covers"...."is it in a bag or not"?

Anyway on semantics, I have been wondering what is the (current) difference of meaning between "pre-emptive" and "preventive" war, particularly given the current world situations.

Googling around, I found this article. In this article the Boston Term Member group of the Council on Foreign Relations summarised the following:

"The difference between preemptive war and preventive war is not a matter of semantics. Rather, it is a matter of timing that has implications for whether an act is justified or not."

MMmmmmm that meaning reminds me of changing data definitions over time and impact on software maintenance! Also, this emphasises that we may have agreed semantics yet we choose to adopt the relevant one for our own purposes in a context and at a time.
Speaking of the "war on terror", let's take a moment and look at some of the details of that horrible event, as ever since that day this country's foreign policy has been wrapped around it.

One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying "We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]". Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I've ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four "pilots" among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake "pilot" of the bunch, with someone who was there when he was attempting to fly a small airplane saying that Hanjour was so clumsy that he was unsure if he had driven a car before. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports after Mohammed Atta supposedly leaves two rental cars at two impossibly far-removed locations. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn't work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn't work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won't let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you "aren't supposed to think about". Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name ("Hi mom, this is Mark Bingham"), more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn't respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn't happen, not even close. Somehow these "hijackers" must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn't have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were "supposed to see". Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these "hijackers" wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces most no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn't even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying "We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down" attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers' magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be "Muslim hijackers" the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don't laugh) one of their passports was "found" a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously "surviving" the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also "survived" the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be "indestructable" like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn't bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Further making themselves look guilty, the Bush administration steadfastly refused for over a year to allow a commission to investigate 9/11 to even be formed, only agreeing to it on the conditions that they get to dictate its scope, meaning it was based on the false pretense of the "official story" being true with no other alternatives allowed to be considered, handpicked all its members making sure the ones picked had vested interests in the truth remaining buried, and with Bush and Cheney only "testifying" together, only for an hour, behind closed doors, with their attorneys present and with their "testimonies" not being recorded by tape or even written down in notes. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastic far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the "nineteen hijackers" is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to believe something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.

Debunking Popular Mechanics lies:
someone else debunking Popular Mechanics crap:
still more debunking Poopular Mechanics:
and still more debunking of Popular Mechanics:

Poopular Mechanics staff replaced just before laughable “debunking” article written:
another neo-con 9/11 hit piece explodes, is retracted:
Professor Steven Jones debunks the N.I.S.T. “report” as well as the F.E.M.A. one and the 9/11 commission "report":
N.I.S.T. scientist interviewed:
F.B.I. says no hard evidence linking Osama bin Laden to 9/11 which is why his wanted poster says nothing about 9/11:
Fire Engineering magazine says important questions about the Twin Tower “collapses” still need to be addressed:

Twin Towers’ construction certifiers say they should have easily withstood it:
USA Today interview with the last man out of the South Tower, pursued by a fireball:
Janitor who heard explosions and escaped has testimony ignored by 9/11 whitewash commission:
Janitor starts speaking out about it and his apartment is burglarized, laptop stolen:
Firefighters tell of multiple explosions:
Eyewitnesses tell of explosions:
Interview with another firefighter telling of explosions:
Firefighter saw “sparkles” (strobe lights on detonators?) before “collapse”:
Other eyewitnesses talk of seeing/hearing explosions:
Surviving eyewitnesses talk of multiple explosions there:
Cutter charge explosions clearly visible:
The pyroclastic wave (that dust cloud that a second before was concrete) and how it wouldn’t be possible without explosives:
Detailed description of the demolition of the Twin Towers:
Freefall rate of “collapses” math:
More about their freefall rate “collapses”:
Video footage of the controlled demolition of the Twin Towers:
Video footage of the controlled demolition of WTC # 7 building:
More of WTC # 7 controlled demolition:
Naudet brothers' video footage of the North Tower crash:
Photos of the Pentagon’s lawn (look at these and see if you can tell me with a straight face that a jumbo jet crashed there):!.htm
More photos of this amazing lawn at the Pentagon:!%20(9-11).htm
Very unconvincing fake “Osama” “confession” tape:
More about the fake “Osama” tape:
Fake “Mohammed Atta” “suicide” letter:
Commercial pilots disagree with “official” 9/11 myth:
More commercial jet pilots say “official” myth is impossible:
Impossibility of cell phone calls from United 93:
More about the impossible cell phone calls:
Experiment proves cell phone calls were NOT possible from anywhere near the altitude the “official” myth has them at:
Fake Barbara Olson phone call:
Where the hell was the Air Force?
More about the Air Force impotence question:
Sept. 10th 2001, Pentagon announces it is “missing” $2.3 trillion (now why do you think they picked THAT day to announce it? So it could be buried the next day by 9/11 news):
Unocal pipeline-through-Afghanistan plan:
Unocal pipeline-through-Afghanistan plan mentioned:
More on Unocal Afghan pipeline:
The attack on Afghanistan was planned in the summer of 2001, months before 9/11:
Pentagon deliberately misled 9/11 Commission:
Evidence destruction by authorities and cover-up:
9/11 whitewash Commission and NORAD day:
The incredible fish tales of the 9/11 Commission examined:
Jeb Bush declares state of emergency 4 days before 9/11 for Florida, saying it will help respond to terrorism:
Steel debris removal from Ground Zero, destruction of evidence:
Over two hundred incriminating bits of 9/11 evidence shown in the mainstream media:
Tracking the “hijackers”:
“Hijacker” patsies:
“Hijackers” receiving flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station:
Several accused "hijackers" still alive and well, wondering why they are accused:
Yet the F.B.I. insists that the people it claims were the "hijackers" really were the "hijackers":
No Arabs on Flight 77:
Thirty experts say “official” 9/11 myth impossible:
“Al Qaeda” website tracks back to Maryland:
Al Qaeda videos uploaded from U.S. government website:
Operation: Northwoods, a plan for a false-flag “terror” attack to be blamed on Castro to use it as a pretext for America to invade Cuba, thankfully not approved by Kennedy back in 1962 but was approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sent to his desk:
It occurred to me, obviously belatedly, that you of all people should understand why they handle liquid containers that way--because it's a clearcust procedure using information from a legal document: the bottle. (After all, it's illegal for the container to misrepresent the amount it holds.)

It's easy to say that a 4.3 ounce bottle that is one-quarter full has less than 3 ounces and that the security person should have been allowed to make the judgment call in your favor, but how what does the procedure specification say (and of course, they need to have a procedure specification) about when they should or shouldn't make the judgment call? You'll end up with some guy in front of you yelling that his 8 ounce, one-third full container that they won't let through was no fuller than the one-third full 8 ounce bottle of the guy that they just let through. Do you really want to be stuck behind this guy?

Allowing any judgment calls also reduces uniform treatment, which was a problem for the TSA. To keep the line moving, the most efficient procedure is to based the decision on the information that is legally required to be on the "document," i.e. the bottle, toothpaste tube, or whatever.
hey thanks Bob
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