Thursday, August 24, 2006

Ruminations from Abroad

My family and I just got back from a couple weeks’ holiday in London and Ireland. Here are a few random musings:

1. If you’ve never visited Ireland, go. It’s an absolutely lovely country filled with friendly, just plain nice folks. You’ll also be impressed with the huge impact that Ireland has had on the U.S.; some of the most common surnames and prominent American historical figures spring from Ireland.
2. Ireland is the fastest growing economy in the European Union. Here’s why: It lowered taxes, thus spurring foreign investment and home-grown entrepreurship. It embraced globalization, freely employing talent, technology and partnerships from other European members and from other sectors of the planet. It upped the investment in education, and now the ratio of highly educated young people to retiring pensioners is a healthy one. Maybe there are some clues here for nations and for individual companies.
3. London is, as always, a fabulous city to visit. Unfortunately, after a lovely visit, my family happened to be in Heathrow airport one day after the dramatic terrorist arrests. Not a place you want to be. Controlled but mass chaos. When we flew to Dublin from London that day, the only things we could take on board were our travel documents, wallets and prescribed medicines. Everything else had to be checked in. A couple weeks later, we flew back home via Frankfurt Germany. Less draconian than Heathrow, but still, long queues, no liquids, no gels-- and a handsearch through every carryon item and a thorough screening/frisking of each passenger’s body.

So here’s my politically incorrect thought as I saw my 9 year old son and my 80 year old mother go through this lengthy process. Statistically, the overwhelming majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists, but thus far, 100% of the terrorists or would-be terrorists have been young Muslim men. Doesn’t disciplined scientific profiling-- as simply one proactive police tool in a surveillance toolbox-- become a reasonable, sane response to these data? Conversely, are we all prepared to endure steadily increasing hardship and anxieties at airports, and a resultant weakening of industries and economies, because we don’t want to confront hard data, because we don’t want to offend anyone? And by the way, good police work is a must (kudos to Scotland Yard), but each time we add another “no-no” to our list of terrorist possibilities (box cutters, shoe heels, liquids, etc.), we’re reacting to a prior event while the bad guys move on to the next big thing. If we continue with the irrational premise that everyone in an airport is equally likely to cause mass destruction, then, logically, we’ll eventually reach the point that the only people who’ll fly are one of two types: those who have multiple hours to enjoy in airport queues, or, those who bring no luggage and are willing to sit in a plane in their underwear. Neither scenario is particularly attractive.


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