cancer / Government / security

How many people will the “Underwear Bomber” kill”?

I have been carrying on a discussion about the TSA with my friend on Facebook and though I would continue it here on my own blog.  On Facebook, I have been primarily joking about the TSA body scans.  Using humor about this kind of thing is just a coping mechanism.  Because, I feel so angry and outraged by the continuing stupidity of how our government  dealing with the real threat of terrorism or frankly any serious threat to our safety and well being.  I just read a excellent op ed in the New York Times that expresses many of my thoughts on this topic and wanted to share it with you.  I and I want to add a bit more to the topic of Scanning.

I invited you to listen to a discussion about body scanners that recently played on Science Friday with David J. Brenner, of the Center for Radiological Research.  What you will learn is that the TSA employees two kinds of scanners.  One is the Millimeter Wave Scanner and the other is the Backscatter X Ray.  It appears that the Millimeter Wave Scanner is safe.  But the Backscatter X Ray is another matter.   We all know that x-rays can be harmful.  That is why people like X-Ray technicians  where bages that are sensitive to the amount of x rays they are receiving.   You can read a bit about the risks of x-rays here.    The TSA argues that the amount of radiation that is received is considerably less than the additional radiation that one will receive just by flying.  The the TSA’s data like much of the data our government produces, is questionable.  But here is the issue, radiation even small amounts can cause cancer.  It is a probably issue which may be hard for many people to understand.  X rays are like Hamas sending unguided missiles into Israel.  Most of the time they just land on some dirt somewhere but every once in while they find a house, car or even a person.  The more sent the greater the chance of hitting something. So while the chances of any one individual getting cancer from a body scan at the airport is very small the chances of someone being hit is very high.  I don’t really know that they increase changes are but lets say that having a whole body scan give one a risk of cancer that is one in million.  Then if a million people are scanned, the chances of someone getting radiation  one.  So there are a billion scans there would be a 1000 incidents of cancer (this may be much higher or lower in my example in reality). There is a reasonable chance that more people will die from the scanners than would die if a plan blew up.   Check out this link.

So why does the TSA continue to use the Backscatter E Ray when they could use a the Millimeter Wave Scanner?  I don’t know but I bet we would not be happy with the answer (think lobbyists)

Umar Rarouk Adbulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, can sit in jail while the TSA does his work for them.   Al-Qaeda in Yemen can feel very proud that they could get the American Government to spend 100s  of million dollars per year on scanners, waste untold time of passengers for a process that probably does not make us one bit safer.

2 thoughts on “How many people will the “Underwear Bomber” kill”?

  1. Avram, just imagine what it is like to have two artificial knees. Every time I fly, with one exception, I receive a full pat-down and thorough hand scan with great scrutiny of my carry-on. It is as if to say that a 65 year old white man with advanced degenerative arthritis is a new-found terror threat. I’ve never understood their reasoning and am now beyond anger and frustration. I’ve reached some zen-like acceptance and go through the absurdity of it all thinking only of my destination and those days before the terrorists triumphed.


  2. Avram, particularly disheartening to me is that Americans tolerate this stupidity. I think it’s a situation where in our democracy the majority are apathetic and the worst are full of passionate intensity to paraphrase Yeats.

    Times like this I believe warrants revisiting Lani Guinier’s theory that a simple majority shouldn’t be allowed to terrorize a minority, particularly if the majority is comprised of the plain stupid.

    Fact is we need far fewer TSA employees (maybe zero) who should be far better qualified, more intelligent, better educated with far better judgment able to discern real threats.

    I have had my best experiences with the LaGuardia crew however I can’t limit my air travel to this airport.

    Perhaps we should change the drug-testing requirements for applicants of law enforcement positions where each candidate must prove evidence of prior drug use. Perhaps this would introduce some imagination to the field.


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