Archive for the ‘Airport Security’ Category

The Benefits of…Lunch

Over the last decade American workers have increased their productivity by something like 16%. Most of us aren’t getting paid any more for all that increased output, but we can take pride in the fact that we show up early, stay late and skip lunch to get the work done.

Americans, by most accounts, consider themselves the hardest working people in the world. Well, maybe. But, at what cost and at what benefit?

On Thursday in Casteillina in Chianti, a delightful little place in the rocky Tuscan hills, a restaurant favored by the locals was packed at one o’clock in the afternoon. Many shops, even those catering to the always-in-a-hurry American tourists, closed for a couple of hours for the midday meal. (The tagliatelle in wild boar sauce was superb, by the way.) I doubt whether the local Chamber of Commerce measures productivity in Chianti, unless it’s a measure of grape production. And the grape harvest was underway with what appeared to be great precision, but with a certain sense of pace and an appreciation of just what could be done in a day, given the necessity of stopping for lunch.

Lunch in Chianti is a little like a slow, old fashioned family holiday dinner in the United States, but without the football game on the television in the other room. You can sit down for lunch at your leisure, but the cook will tell you when you eat. Mom never served the Thanksgiving turkey, after all, until SHE was ready. In Italy, lunch is a little glass of wine, a bit of bread, some conversation, a laugh and always some waiting. The soup or salad arrives and time stops. The spinning world slows down. Lunch is both a ritual and a restorative. Take your time, the Italians seem to say, life is too precious to rush. You have work to do, you say, or places to go and people to see – relax. All things in time. Have a little more wine. La dolce vita.

There is no ritual associated with the American lunch. Hit the food court near your office. Grab a sandwich and snarf it down at your desk, while checking the email and reading the Twitter feed. Relax? No way. Have a casual conversation with a co-worker? Hardly. Eat and run. Work, work, work. Life is too short to relax over lunch. You have 113 emails to get through before that meeting at one o’clock.

Many Americans traveling in Europe seem exasperated that they have to catch the waiter’s attention and ask for the bill at the end of the meal. We expect the dirty dishes to be removed immediately upon the last bite of food clearing the plate. In Italy the meal is all about the lingering. The espresso arrives. The waiter disappears. You talk and think and relax. A charming waiter gently corrected an American visitor who requested a cappuccino after lunch. Not a good idea, the waiter said. It will not help your digestion. Espresso is better. Indeed. So, too, is taking time to enjoy the espresso.

It is also better to have a little more time to consider that maybe – just maybe – the pace of modern life is just too hectic and demanding; unhealthy, in fact. Maybe we can slow down just a bit. Have a little more ritual in our lives. Relax while waiting for the waiter to return. Notice the charming family at the next table. Enjoy the setting of the ritual. Linger over the espresso.

Maybe we can take time to just – live. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll live longer and grow old enjoying the fact that few things in life should interfere with lunch.

 

 

Up In The Air

TSAThree Sensible Alternatives…Call Them TSA

I don’t fly, thank the Lord, as much as George Clooney’s character in the funny and engaging new film Up In The Air. Clooney’s road warrior – his name is Ryan Bingham in the movie – is on the quest to reach 10,000,000 miles in the air and earn even more special perks – the platinum ID card and visit with the Chief Pilot, for instance – that go with such numbers. The traveling Bingham brags that he spent only 42 days at home last year.

 

I’m no Ryan Bingham, but I traveled on average once every other week during 2009. In my world, that is good enough to get special treatment – well, early boarding – on Horizon Airlines. You gotta start somewhere.

 

Any frequent traveler will identify with the scene in Up In The Air where Clooney is explaining the travel ropes to a young novice. Don’t over pack. Never check luggage. Wear slip on shoes. Never get in the TSA line behind a couple with children or where the swarthy looking young men will be targets for “additional screening.”

 

All this movie truth seems particularly relevant in light of the latest breakdown in air security that allowed a would be bomber to board a Northwest Airlines flight in Europe and come close to causing havoc on a fully loaded airplane approaching Detroit. Now the all to familiar, post-terror incident cycle unrolls once again. Bring on the political outrage. Cue Dick Cheney. Order up an investigation. This just in: air security doesn’t work very well.

 

My only qualification for comment on any of this is travel experience. I observe. I wish TSA would, too. So, at the risk of getting placed on the dreaded list that causes my wife, Pat – she does look like a terrorist – to get “additional screening” whenever she travels, I offer up Three Sensible Alternatives. My own little TSA.
Screen for the most obvious threat. I know, I know, no racial profiling. I’m a card carrying member of the ACLU, but lets be clear: the terrorist threat against the United States of America is overwhelmingly centered in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Young men from these places tend to be the operatives. When a traveler matching this profile attempts to fly into the USA, maybe they should automatically get additional screening, including a very detailed personal interview. This is the Israeli model. It is not racial profiling. It is managing against the most obvious, demonstrated, repeated threat. A sensible alternative would be to concentrate more and more resources on the most obvious threats and spend less and less time at SeaTac Airport frisking the 89 year old woman in a wheel chair.

 

Observe behavior and ask questions. I have done my own little survey on this point. You can try it yourself. You know the drill. Present your photo ID and boarding pass at the TSA checkpoint and start observing how often the agent actually compares your ID to your face. I’d say it has happened to me about one time in 50 in the last year. The agents appear to be trained to make sure the name on the ID matches the name on the boarding pass. That’s good, as far as it goes. A sensible alternative would be to train them to actually look at the passengers and assess what they see. Same goes with the little clear plastic bags of toilet items that now must come out of your carry on luggage. Does anyone ever really look at what is in those bags? Not in my experience. My point is this: our security system will never get better until we train the screeners to be more aware of what and who may pose a threat. To do better, humans must be able to observe critically and ask probing questions. Well-trained police officers do this all the time. They question and observe. As a nation, we have long lacked “human intelligence” capabilities. In other words, our system assumes that observing and questioning is beyond the boundary of acceptable airport security. I think it is the key to a better system.

 

Finally, use the best technology. We know full body scanners work. Use them. Spend what is needed to get the TSA database to interact with the State Department’s list of foreign nationals holding American visas. Why haven’t we done this? Beats me. Must be politics. Or perhaps we could just outsource our security to the Israelis…or the Canadians. With a valid US passport in hand, clearing security in Ottawa for a return to the USA earlier this year was a professional and thorough process. Lots of questions. Lots of observing. Lots of technology. Gotta love the Canadians.

 

I wonder what the response will be to the latest terror threat? The shoe bomber caused us to remove our shoes. The next threat produced those little zip lock bags for toilet items. Considering the most recent would-be bomber was reportedly carrying explosives in his underwear, I can see where this is going. No more boxer shorts on international flights.

 

Now, I’m moving over to the line for additional screening. And, go see Up In The Air. Clooney is great.