Terrorists and bladders

Terrorists and bladders

First a rant — forgive me, I’m flying and can’t help myself but marvel at the magnificently low IQ of the people in charge of airport security.  Because the latest attempt to bring down an airplane involved starting a fire in the last hour of the flight, now we can’t get out of our seats during the last hour. When the attempt included a shoe, everyone’s shoes got checked. After the liquid plot, liquids. Always fighting the last “war,” no matter how ridiculous a category.

If anything, after 911 airport security should have been DECREASED, except for bomb sniffing dogs, as now passengers will mob and kill any hijacker on sight instead of obeying like sheep and waiting for the authorities to handle it, as they were taught to before.

stupid21911 made airplanes far safer–because of more aggressive passengers and because of reinforced cockpit doors, not for any other reason–and security should be relaxed accordingly. Instead, we get more rules. Rules that are supposed to be idiot-proof. But when the people making the rules are themselves idiots you have this wild synergy of idiots drafting what they imagine to be idiot-proof rules, and the whole thing spirals into absurdity, orange alerts, and passengers peeing their pants while keeping their hands in their laps, visible at all times. And we’ve created such a society of passive obedience, that the majority of the audience in all this security theatre nods their heads and patriotically understands the necessity of waiting four hours in security.

The irony is that what foils people like this guy, or the shoe bomber, is aggressive, independent stupid14thinking passengers. But the government/TSA reacts — always — by creating rules geared towards increasing the docility of passengers. It’s like a one-way ratchet.

Even from the perennial perspective of cowardice (“safety first!”) that has become a default for our society, it’s frustrating. For the pretense of lowering a risk of dying that is only one in four million passengers, we’re willing to double wait times, costing 300 million passenger hours (or 450 lifetimes) each year. I don’t have the numbers, but I’d be willing to bet a large sum of money that deaths from blood clots as a result of being unable to get up from your seat the last hour will be higher than one in four million passengers, let alone than the actual decrease in risk from enacting this rule (i.e., one asshole who burned his balls). And imagine if those 300 million hours per year were put into something useful — medical research, community service, whatever, how many more lives that would save.

For that matter, imagine if the money put into the whole war on terror were put somewhere efficient. Forget morality, freedom, etc. Even simple efficiency comes to the same conclusion: if $100 billion directed to security saves 4000 people, but $100 million directed to health careairmis10 saves 100,000 people, then simple cold, right-wing-style economics and rational thinking should say it’s more efficient to allocate the money to health care.

But sometimes one gets tired of railing against a tyranny that protects itself in large measure by marketing itself as nontyranny. It’s a subject that I get into arguments with my friends on both the Left and the Right. The Right seems to think that health care is tyranny but endless police powers make them free, an argument that I don’t understand at all. I don’t understand how they can see the enforcement/coercive power of the State as benign while seeming to be terrified by the additional option of government-provided health care. Or how their capitalist arguments in favour of efficiency can be squared with the cost-benefit numbers of military vs health care spending. As you unravel government, it seems to make more sense to unravel the inefficient bits first. And, as an anarchist/libertarian, I would add that it makes more sense to unravel those segments that are fundamentally anti-individualistic, which starts with the institutions that limit individual choice (police, etc), and leaves to the very end those that increase choice (health care, education, etc.)

toilet 7toilet 6And on the Left, I have friends convinced that Bush/Cheney engineered 911 in order to crown themselves kings, destroy democracy, as though their goal was to establish a tyranny — when what they fail to understand is that a tyranny becomes much less powerful once it’s seen as such. The strongest source of power in our tyranny is precisely the fact that the majority of its subjects don’t see it as such. By being selective, they can shut down any real threat to their power. I can speak and write as I want because I have no influence, no power at all, and by writing this I ensure that I never will. It would only be the most childish, unsophisticated of tyrannies that would attack people who are clearly no threat at all, simply out of paranoia or offense. Tyrannies like that mobilize their own enemies, and eventually fall. And nobody can accuse the military-industrial-multinational complex of being unsophisticated. Unfortunately, most of its critics on the Left are, and their use of poor argument tends to pull down the rest of us with it.toilet 5

So enough about tyranny. Let’s talk about bladders instead, since we’ll all be holding them for the last hour of the flight.

The TSA rules have made me wonder why we have bladders at all. Only placental mammals and bony fish have bladders. Yes, I can use my bladder for marking my territory, or to prevent myself from leaving a trail that predators can follow, to pee my namtoilet 10e in the snow and other evolutionary displays of social fitness. In a corporate high-rise office building setting, the ability to delay dribbling down one’s leg increases the odds of reproduction.

But how did we come to evolve them? The fish bladder is not homologous – fish tend to disperse of their ammonia through their gills, using their bladder for osmoregulation. That part still makes sense. But the vent in birds, the Malpighian tubules in insects, and the cloaca in reptiles, amphibians, marsupials, and monotremes combine all of the excretionary functions in one neat unit, and it works just fine. Why did we evolve first a separate urinary tract, and then a bladder?toilet 3

What makes the whole thing even more puzzling is that other than humans and trained pets, most mammals don’t use their bladders to hold in their urine. They dribble it out as soon as it comes in. (Which weighs against one of the main ad-hoc explanations of the bladder, that its purpose is to prevent us leaving a scent trail for predators.)

toilet 11Developing a whole organ takes some doing. Kidneys can reabsorb liquid, and generally make a lot of sense. Bladder, not so much.

The only thing that makes any sense at all for the bladder is that the bladder evolved as some aspect of osmoregulation in fish, was dropped by everyone other than mammals, and survived in mammals as peeing became an art form. Still, there’s a big gap there.

Obviously I don’t believe there is a nonevolutionary reason. That doesn’t mean anyone understands the evolutionary reason behind the bladder. In other words:
1. the adaptation was evolutionary (this is a statement of probability, as is all science, not “faith”)
2. nobody knows why it came about and survived long enough for peeing to become an art form / source of social status, etc.
3. once peeing became social, a whole new series of evolutionary reasons started to support fancy bladders.

toilet 8Anyway, evolutionary biologists seem to have no idea and consider urinary bladders one of the few remaining Great Mysteries. And mysteries are always fun. And it’s easier on the blood pressure to think about bladders rather than tyranny.toilet 13

Perhaps we can have a reality show, where everyone removes their bladder. Or has peeing contests. Or something equally distracting, to help us pass that last passive hour on the plane during which we hold our pee, keep our hands visible on our laps, and seek refuge in the TV in front of us. Temporary, of course. If the TSA manages to stick to this last-hour rule, then I wonder how long before the in-flight “entertainment” during the last hour of every flight becomes 100% commercials?

People who are uneducated, demoralized, distracted, and afraid are far easier to govern than those who are educated, unafraid, and engaged. And every shoe bomber, ball-burner, liquid mixer makes the job of those in power in our political system — the modern “fusion of state and corporate power” that Mussolini once defined as “fascism” — easier. Every one of those fanatic assholes shifts a bit of power from the people to the authorities.

Anyway, I’m just glad the guy didn’t try to set his pants on fire inside the toilet. If he had, the United States organs of state security would probably have banned all toilets from airplanes. Talk about demoralized and distracted.

1 comment to Terrorists and bladders

  • Another aspect of this stupidity: a man was just arrested in the UK for making a bomb-threat joke on Twitter after becoming frustrated with airline delays. His exact Tweet: “Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

    Enough to get him arrested, interrogated, and banned from the airport for life. A joke is enough to arrest you these days, as a sort of counterbalance to the fact the security apparatus can’t seem to stop even a Muslim fanatic whose own father turns him in, who is on a no-fly list, etc.

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