Security lines at the Denver airport.
I posted a couple of months ago on the hassle MD and I went through to fly out of Denver. There were giant piles of all kinds of shampoos, liquid soaps, drinking water, shaving cream, deodorants and all the other stuff that we worry will blow planes out of the sky. Yet despite the guardians of our safety never missing a bottle of aftershave, in a test over 90 percent of actual bomb material made it through without a hitch.

Undercover agents were able to slip bombs and IEDs past the Transport Security Agency checkpoint at Denver airport 90 percent of the time. Last time I was in Denver, the eagle-eyed agent was able to spot and confiscate my toothpaste, and of course, my suitcase arrived damaged, contents filthy, having been pawed at by a TSA goon and then improperly closed. These eagle-eyed guardians of freedom are so obsessed with making sure that we’re all sharing our foot-funguses with each other on while our shoes go through the X-ray machine that they can’t actually find actual bombs.

Really makes me want to put up with all the hassle without a fuss.


  1. It’s overcompensation. Ever since the U.S. was caught with their proverbial pants down so spectacularly that September morning now they have to be “tough on terrorism.” So while “security” confiscates deodorant and hair spray at airports, anyone can walk onto the New York City subway or the DC Metro with a backpack full of plutonium and make life very interesting very quickly.
    Yeah, but why train these goons to cleverly detect and relieve the 99.99 percent of us who don’t pose a threat of our toiletries while allowing 90 plus percent of those with bombs through?  If these dolts had caught all the faux terrorists going through with the bombs, then I would figure the inconvenience of the hassle to the rest of us would be worth it.  But it isn’t because all the hassle is just that: a hassle.  As evidenced by the Denver report, they don’t get the bombers, just the rest of us. 

  2. I followed the BoingBoing link and then checked out the people who post there, one of whom is John Battelle. His searchblog has a link to this Google topic ”
    How do you know you’re getting the best care possible?
    It’s a little off track for your post, but I am wondering if you saw this very interesting post by Google’s VP Adam Bosworth and what your comments might be.
    Here’s a quote:
    “At Google, we have tried, as I said in an earlier post, to enlist the help of the health community to help us know which links contain medically reliable information, sift these reliable links so that they tend to show up relatively earlier in the search results, and then let you decide which groups in the health community you trust.”
    Personally, I love searching for information on topics and sifting through it to come up with my own assessment. That’s how I found out about the low carb approach, your book Protein Power, and the very scary issues surrounding the various modern so-called preventive drugs like statins.
    That’s in spite of SEO manipulation and Google’s AdWords, etc. But what’s next?
    Hi Barbara–
    Thanks for the link.  I read the article and in answer to the question: am I getting the best standard of medical care? The answer starts out:
    There is, actually, a lot of information out there about generally accepted medical guidelines for care. For most diseases, the medical literature lists the medically agreed-upon standard of treatment, rules to follow, and guidelines for which tests to administer and the best course of treatment…
    The medically agreed-upon standard of care is a low-fat, high-complex-carbohydrate diet and statin drugs for everything.  Is this what most people want?  This is what they get it they go to their own physicians in most cases.  I would think the internet would be the place to look up alternatives, not simply get the same information because that’s what’s at the head of the Google search list because Google has enlisted the help of the same dolts (mainstream docs) to help them (Google) stratify the list.

  3. I saw some research a year or two back that looked at transportation screeners and normal people. The study looked at pattern recognition. The screeners (and the normal people) were able to identify everyday items on xrays, but consistently failed to find the bombs, guns, or other terroristic materials.
    The finding was, I believe, that frequency is a necessary component for searching to produce good results. It’s a brain thing, not a federal employee thing.
    Recommendation (because I’m about solutions, not plain griping): More frequent training of fed screeners including simulation including frequent guns, bombs, IEDs and other terrorist paraphernalia.
    Recommendation 2: Work on machine screening vs. human screening. Why not do a low grade MRI of all bags and teach a computer to find the gun, bomb, whatever? A computer doesn’t have the problems with memory and frequency that people do.
    Currently their training must consist primarily of lessons in how to ferret out toothpaste and shaving creme because they’re pretty good at that. One wonders why they weren’t trained to sniff out bombs. IEDs, etc. instead.

  4. I went through the DIA security in late January. The TSA employees disassembled my billfold because it had a metal clip that they thought looked like a knife on the x-rays. It took three of them (and 5 minutes) to validate that it was just a small money clip and not a danger to national security. All the while, I thought that I could easily strapped a large plastic-handled ceramic-bladed knife to my back and walked through the metal detector with no problems.

  5. I went through the security line at DIA last November. It was late in the evening as we were taking the red-eye to Boston so there weren’t all that many people in line. The guy at the screening station asked me if I had any toiletries in my bags. I said no because I had packed everything so he waved me through. But, it turns out I lied. Going through the line at Logan on our way back, my tiny bottle of hand sanitizer was confiscated from my purse. It was in a little zippered see-through mesh bag that I keep items like wet-wipes, etc. in but since it wasn’t in the regulation zip-lock baggie, it had to go. The same with my almost empty tiny tube of hand cream also in my purse. Since these items are always in there, I didn’t think of them as being toiletries. Thank goodness those TSA folks were there to save my fellow passengers from my tiny bottles of hand sanitizer and lotion floating freely around my purse unfettered by a plastic baggie.
    God only knows how many people walked through with bombs while they were rifling through your bag looking for hand cream. 

  6. Sir totally off topic and something i remembered i wanted to ask you years ago, afore this was set up.
    In your PP book you list foods effects on gluc and insulin.
    You listed protein and it having same effect on both (2 crosses as i recall)
    Somewhere else in the book you said the books/yr protocol was of course about keeping the gluce slightly ahead of the ins secretion.
    But upon first read i could never understand how this would be the case if prot stim’d gluc and ins in seemingly very similar amounts..unless it was a printing error and the gluc side shouls have had 3 crosses !
    Infact the high protein/low carb comparison has 2 crosses for ins and 1 for gluc adding further mystery.
    I hope i understand about excess protein however can you see where it would lead thickos such as i astray ?
    Hi Simon–
    Dietary protein stimulates the release of both insulin and glucagon.  Why?  Because protein all by itself raises insulin levels.  If protein only stimulated the release of insulin, every time we ate protein by itself we would become hypoglycemic as the insulin would knock down our blood sugar levels.  Fortunately, dietary protein stimulates the release of glucagon as well.  The glucagon increases the blood sugar by the amount that insulin would reduce it, keeping the blood sugar where it should be.  (Glucagon also tees the protein up for gluconeogenesis, the process that can convert protein to glucose if needed.)
    Carbs all by themselves stimulate the release of insulin only.  So if you eat pure carbs, your insulin goes up to get rid of the blood sugar increase from absorption of those carbs.
    So, if you consume a high-protein, low-carb diet, your going to get insulin + glucagon from the protein and a little insulin from the carb.  You will end up with a little more insulin than glucagon after the meal because (assuming your blood sugar was normal before the meal) the insulin is required to normalize the blood sugar increase that is created by the small amount of carb in the low-carb diet.
    After the immediate effects of the meal are over, then insulin falls and glucagon rises since the gluconeogenesis required to maintain a normal glucose level is driven by glucagon.

    I think the confusion arises because I was referring to the insulin/glucagon ratio over the entire day whereas the little ++s in my chart were indicators of what happened immediately after a given meal.
    On a high-protein, low-carb diet you would have a little more insulin than glucagon after meals, but more glucagon than insulin throughout most of the day.
    Clear as mud?

  7. Hah! Just wait until the next time you fly back from London-Heathrow. My husband just returned fuming and declaring he will avoid Heathrow whenever possible now, perhaps even flying to Paris and take the Chunnel to London instead. We’ll see if he’s all smoke on that threat; he goes to or through London at least 4-7 times per year, but I can understand why he is so irritated. He hates to check bags to Heathrow; they lose something every time we check bags at, to, or through Heathrow.
    Heathrow has instituted a one carry-on item (bag) per passenger policy including purses! Everything was backed up because everyone was stuffing their smaller bags and purses into their second bag.
    So his theory is that they are making it hard to carry on a small overnighter bag so that everyone will check them instead. Then the weight limits on checked bags will be lowered (if they haven’t already!). Then they will be able to collect excess baggage fees. In other words, it isn’t for security at all (what is secure about people transferring their backpack contents to their coat pockets?) but it is the prelude to revenue-enhancing baggage fees. The EU and US will probably be right behind.
    Hi Anna–
    Thanks for the heads up.  We’re flying into and out of Heathrow in a few months.  Your comment will save us some severe aggravation.

  8. Mike, for a doctor who reads research, well, I’m not even gonna go there.
    You wrote: “Currently their training must consist primarily of lessons in how to ferret out toothpaste and shaving creme because they’re pretty good at that. One wonders why they weren’t trained to sniff out bombs. IEDs, etc. instead.”
    It’s basically non-responsive. The flaw isn’t in the content of the training. Your government may be retarded, but they’re not that developmentally challenged.
    The flaw is in the human mind. People bringing bomb parts through DIA is, even you would admit, highly rare. The odds of any particular screener ever seeing a real IED in the field are so low as to be statistically undifferentiated from zero. Proverbial needle in a haystack. So, even if it is unusual, people’s ability to recognize it is much lower than their ability to recognize something they see every day.
    DIA was a PITA security before fluids became bad. My DIA nightmare happened in Feb 2005, way before fluids were verbotten.
    Mike, as someone who thinks you are a pretty sharp guy, I have to say that this (and the previous post about DIA) are really grumpy old man complaints, rather than anything insightful, new or nuanced. It’s disappointing, largely because you do so much better on a regular basis.
    No, Max, I disagree with you.  I don’t think I am being non-responsive, nor a grumpy old man.  The TSA people should be trained to look for bombs.  If they screw up it should be in over diagnosing a bomb or bomb materials, not in missing the occasional tube of toothpaste.
    Let me give you an example from my world.  I have never seen a case of meningitis, which is a severe, often fatal infection of the fluid around the brain and spine.  Whenever I see (or saw, I guess, since I’m not in a primary care practice any longer) a kid with a headache and fever, I ALWAYS checked for signs of meningitis since the consequences are so dire for the patient if I misdiagnose.  Using your logic, as applied to the TSA people, I should have used extraordinary caution in checking these patients over carefully to try to differentiate the specific harmless virus causing their fevers and headaches  hand not worry about meningitis because it’s somethingad never seen. 
    The TSA people are paid to protect us from terrorist attack.  The fact that most of them have never seen a bomb or parts of a bomb is a piss-poor excuse for their missing 90 percent of them that go through.  Either our money is wasted in hiring these people in the first place or our money is wasted in the training program we put them through.  Or, as I suspect the case really is, our money is wasted in both.
    What we should do, in my opinion, is put the security service out to bid.  When some private firm comes through, we then have the TSA constantly trying to breech security with agents trying to carry on bombs, knives, guns, etc.  If the security people screw up, they lose the contract and someone else gets it.  The training would be better, the quality of people hired would be better, and the whole enterprise would cost the taxpayers far less than it does now.

  9. Clearly, I’m not being clear.
    I don’t suppose you ever watch mystery diagnosis on Discovery or Discovery Health? My wife loves it, I feel it’s fun but undermines confidence in the medical community. On the show, they have these heartrending stories of people with difficult diagnoses who wander the medical wilderness in search of treatment for what ails them.
    Now, occasionally, someone will have something reasonably common that was maybe a little weird (there was a PCOS woman who took 3 years to get a diagnosis because she was missing a symptom or something). But usually, it’s something rarish. And the ER docs, who, through the crucible of being ER docs (despite training back when they were in med school) have trouble recognizing something unusual in the context of an ER filled with GSW, broken limbs, and whatever else comes into your average ER regularly. These people then go home with some treatment and their symptoms go away or come back, and back in the ER they go, on a circuit until they hit the Google, find a specialist, then it’s mostly happy.
    My point is, the current training no doubt includes bomb recognition, or some version of it. The problem probably lies in the frequency of training and lack of opportunities to actually spot a bomb.
    If I were on the stick there (instead of my agency where I do some policy analysis), the people would get monthly simulation training, with a lot of guns, bombs, IED, knives, etc. You do it on the line where they work, possibly as part of their work. The idea is to make the rare less rare, so their synaptic recognition of bombs, et al, will be primed.
    Lastly, no contractors in TSA right now. I believe it was deemed as something core to government effectiveness, and not available to outsource. Your finding is a pretty good argument for contracting. Except that the contractors allowed 9/11. The CivServs only failed a test.
    I think, ultimately, we agree that they need a better form of training than they currently receive.
    Last thing: On mystery diagnosis, they had a girl with bacterial meningitis. She went in to the ER with it (and into induced comas) three times before they figured out how she was getting bacteria into her brain case. Go fig.
    Hi Max–
    We do both agree.  The TSA agents need better training. And I think they need a different, post 9/11 focus.

    I hope you’re not implying that 9/11 would NOT have happened had we had CivServ employees manning security at a time when a 9/11 type disaster wasn’t even contemplated.
    In my opinion, for what it’s worth, we don’t need to go through all the BS we’re going through in security because since 9/11 times have changed.  Prior to then everyone was told that if their plane were hijacked to remain calm and not to antagonize the hijackers.  Let them take the plane wherever they wanted to take it.  Those days are gone.  No one is going to sit there docilely and let a bunch of people hijack a plane with box cutters.  It won’t happen.  Yet, the TSA (and whoever their advisors are) are operating as if we are in pre 9/11 days.

  10. Definitely don’t think CivServ employees would have beat 9/11. A vigilant government, maybe. But that’s far and wide.
    So, I am in a formal program in the fed government. I’m def not career civil service material. Too much drive or something. At any rate, I was assigned a mentor, who was a great guy. He left to go work at TSA (he’s in safety and health for TSA employees, not on the frontline in the war against bottled water). Whenever I tell anyone in government this, they are amazed that someone would actually go to Homeland in general or TSA specifically. Apparently, it’s nightmare disorganization there, the kind you would expect if you had to put 14 existing small agencies together into a new bureaucracy, were hampered by political concerns and bizarre agendas, and all of your senior managers had the IQ of your average Rhesus Monkey. That’s before you even get to the agenda, which seems far from what it should be. Why don’t I feel safer knowing that there’s a semi-coordinated agency looking after the security of the homeland?
    Hi Max–
    I can tell you that my TSA experiences today were with the far left hand tail of the Rhesus monkey bell-shaped curve for intelligence.

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