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Monday, September 11, 2006

Stuff that keeps me up nights

Now that shampoo and contact lens solution have been declared potentially hazardous materials and banned from commercial flights traveling between most civilized destinations, most of us are sitting around wondering what's next. 

They've taken our manicure sets (not that I have one, mind you... ehem), and anything remotely pointy we might have once placed in our carry-ons.  They've cowed an entire world of travelers into wearing clogs and loafers in anticipations of having to remove footwear multiple times during each leg of travel.  And every trip brings us closer to being strippers, entailing ever more revealing removal of outer clothing.

But let's be honest among ourselves, shall we?  It's really all just closing the barn door after the latest set of cows have escaped.

Here's the money quote from a commercial airline pilot named Patrick Smith from a recent Jerusalem Post essay about airline security:

"The precise shape, form and substance of those [banned] items is irrelevant. We are not fighting materials; we are fighting the imagination and cleverness of the would-be saboteur."

When I read that I wanted to find this guy and give hum a big, back-slapping (hetero) hug.  I mean, does anyone out there think for a second that he's wrong?  Do any of you imagine there is some as-yet-undeveloped screening process that will bring us back to the days where one can arrive 15 minutes before a flight and do an O.J.-style sprint for the gate?

Here... allow me disabuse you of any illusions you might still hold in that direction:

At present, airport security is not actively screening for a substance so corrosive and fast-acting that a few drops tossed anywhere on or within an airplane would be more than sufficient to cause the aircraft to break up from massive structural failure within an hour or two.  Not only that, but those few drops could be safely secreted inside a ballpoint pen... or stored inside an even more mundane object; a thermometer.

I'm talking about something casually referred to as quicksilver... but which is actually an element about three-quarters of the way down on the periodic table: Mercury.

Mercury is one of only two elements that remains liquid at room temperature (bonus points for anyone who can identify the other one), and is used in a variety of perfectly benign scientific measuring devices such as thermometers and barometers.  Most household thermometers today no longer use mercury because of its potential toxicity, but finding an old mercury thermometer is within the capability of pretty much anyone on the planet.

Most of us have become wary of Mercury because of news reports about what even trace amounts in our food chain can do to us.  But what we fail to realize is that even a a few drops of the stuff can turn a thick piece of aluminum quite literally to dust within minutes.

Here's how it works (Source: Popular Science):

"When iron rusts, it forms iron oxide—a reddish, powdery substance that quickly flakes off to expose fresh metal, which immediately begins to rust, and so on until your muffler falls off.

But when aluminum rusts, it forms aluminum oxide, an entirely different animal. In crystal form, aluminum oxide is called corundum, sapphire or ruby (depending on the color), and it is among the hardest substances known. If you wanted to design a strong, scratch-proof coating to put on a metal, few things other than diamond would be better than aluminum oxide.

By rusting, aluminum is forming a protective coating that’s chemically identical to sapphire—transparent, impervious to air and many chemicals, and able to protect the surface from further rusting: As soon as a microscopically thin layer has formed, the rusting stops. (“Anodized” aluminum has been treated with acid and electricity to force it to grow an extra-thick layer of rust, because the more you have on the surface, the stronger and more scratch-resistant it is.)

But this illusion can be shattered with aluminum’s archenemy, mercury.

Applied to aluminum’s surface, mercury will infiltrate the metal and disrupt its protective coating, allowing it to “rust” (in the more destructive sense) continuously by preventing a new layer of oxide from forming. The aluminum I-beam below rusted half away in a few hours, something that would have taken an iron beam years."

Photograph: Jeff Sciortino   © Popular Science

Now think for a moment about the last time you took a commercial flight.  As you walked down the jet-way and stepped onto the plane you were treated to a brief, unobstructed view of the plane's doorway (hatch), as well as a fair amount of the aluminum skin surrounding it.  How difficult would it have been to squirt a few drops of Mercury unobserved?   Not very, I'd wager.

For that matter, how hard would it be to inject a few drops of Mercury into a gap in the floor or paneling inside a commercial aircraft during a long flight?

Before anyone starts screaming "Why are you giving the terrorists ideas???", let me assure you that this information is neither new nor obscure.  In fact, unless you are licensed by a national meteorological bureau to transport a barometer, it is already completely illegal to bring Mercury in any form onto a plane.

What keeps me up at night is the fact that the minimum wage automatons at airports throughout the world are simply not looking for it.  They are busy looking for shampoo, contact lens solution... and opportunities to pat down little old ladies from Peoria. 

Not only that, but since only a few well-placed drops of Mercury are sufficient to destroy an entire commercial airliner, there is really no search that will be thorough enough to stop someone determined to smuggle it on-board.

I don't imagine we'll be able to get rid of metal detectors, X-ray machines or bomb-sniffing dogs anytime soon.  But I think the world must finally take a step back and take a hard look at (i.e. profile) who wants to do us harm... not what they might use to harm us.  The real weapon is not a thing a person might smuggle on-board a commercial flight... it is the person doing the smuggling.

This is the sort of stuff that keeps me up nights.


Posted by David Bogner on September 11, 2006 | Permalink


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You've really thought this through, ah? :D

Posted by: fiLi | Sep 11, 2006 9:16:06 AM

it's me again...i forgot to add...have a great day...let the games begin...stay safe

Posted by: marallyn | Sep 11, 2006 9:29:41 AM

dear david...thanks for a great blog once again...i looked it up...gallium? right?...never mind checking the shampoo and worrying about mercury...or the little lady at the newark airport with her red crescent pin who made me take off my shoes...here is an email that i got from little green footballs...and i quote:
Saudis Sending 15,000 Students to US to "Stem Unrest"
Saudis Sending 15,000 Students to US to "Stem Unrest"

From Little Green Footballs

The Saudi government has approved its largest scholarship program in history.

They're planning to send 15,000 young students, indoctrinated to despise infidels by the Wahhabi educational system, to the United States: Huge Hike in Number of Scholarships. (Hat tip: Sabra.)

KING Abdullah, who is also the chairman of the Higher Education Council, has approved a program to allocate 15,000 scholarships for study in the US and 3,000 in some Asian countries.

Announcing this here Monday, Minister of Higher Education Dr Khalid Al-Anqari said this is the largest scholarship program by the government so far.

The program will include doctorate, master's, fellowship and bachelor degrees, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) report.

US college administrators are overjoyed at this windfall: U.S. Schools Compete for Saudi Students.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Thousands of students from Saudi Arabia are enrolling on college campuses across the United States this semester under a new educational exchange program brokered by President Bush and Saudi King Abdullah.

The program will quintuple the number of Saudi students and scholars here by the academic year's end. And big, public universities from Florida to the Kansas plains are in a fierce competition for their tuition dollars.

The kingdom's royal family - which is paying full scholarships for most of the 15,000 students - says the program will help stem unrest at home by schooling the country's brightest in the American tradition. The U.S. State Department sees the exchange as a way to build ties with future Saudi leaders and young scholars at a time of unsteady relations with the Muslim world."
---are we nuts? how much do you want to be that no one checked their grades unless they graduated cum laude from their local terrorist school...15,000 men and women in their twenties...with student visas...boggles your mind no?...stay safe

Posted by: marallyn | Sep 11, 2006 9:33:44 AM

re: Liquid elementes: Bromide. Come on, give us a challenge ;)

Although, if I recall my chem correctly, bromide won't be a liquid for too long in some plac es. I'm too lazy to look it up now, but IIRC, the melting point of bromide is just -10C or so, and the boiling point is somewhere around 50-60C.

Cold and hot, respectively, but not _that_ outrageous. Mercury, on the other hand, stays liquid down to something like -40C, and doesn't boil until about 400C, I think.

I'll refrain from commenting on the actual threat mercury poses for now until I can think a little more about it, but at first glance, I don't think this is a serious concern. The amount of mercury that could be applied successfully would probably be limitted to tens of grams, at most, and would really poses a threat only to the outer skin of a plane. While serious, this would not affect the structural integrity of the aircraft, nor would it cause a movie style decompression.

Posted by: Mike Miller | Sep 11, 2006 9:36:12 AM

Marallyn -- good point about gallium. Mercury and bromide are the only two elements that are liquid at everyone's room temperature, but gallium (as well as cesium and the extremely rare francium) also melt at around 25-30C.

You can actually melt gallium in your hand, though I wouldn't try it with cesium (it tends to explode rather violently when it comes in contact with water), and francium is one of the rarest (the rarest?) of all the naturally occurim elements.

Posted by: Mike Miller | Sep 11, 2006 9:43:09 AM

Don't underestimate those little old ladies from Peoria. They can be quite wily...ultimately, if terrorists want to cause us harm, they will find a way. Keep Arabs off our planes and the terrorists will recruit non-Arabs. Not to be too pessimistic, but what really can be done?

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 11, 2006 10:00:19 AM

One old ‘Israeli method’ that seems to work is not trusting anyone, call it racial profiling or the 24th protocol of the elders of Zion but treating all travelers as potential threats and utilizing monitored airport staff fully, exhausts most options…

Good to have you back David.

Posted by: pk | Sep 11, 2006 10:02:08 AM

Personally the things that keep me up at night are of the brewer liquid genre, but that is just me.

Sometimes you get what you pay for. Minimum wage drones are not my idea of security agents, but until they make me king I have to live them.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 11, 2006 10:16:49 AM

Sandmonkey had an interesting point a few days (weeks?) ago: Islam is not an Arab religion. Islam is a world religion with practitioners that cross all ethnic and national boundaries. Screening for "Middle Eastern looking people" will not solve the problem, because the terrorists will just find some blond blue-eyed Muslim willing to do the dirty work.

The Israeli system -- which trusts nobody (as pk pointed out) -- also gives the "little old ladies from Peoria" a thorough check. They don't really practice "racial profiling" as much as Psychology 101. They watch the way you walk and talk; they look at where you've been (by checking passports) and who you're with; they *talk* to you -- sometimes asking the same things over and over.......

Until the rest of the world catches on, we're going to be living with more useless hassles at the airports and less actual safety in the air.

Posted by: wogo | Sep 11, 2006 10:48:58 AM

fiLi... It comes off sounding a bit obsessed, doesn't it? :-)

marallyn... What I want to know is how they are getting their student visas approved?! What are the people in the state department thinking?

Mike... Well done with the other element. No more callers, we have a winner! :-) As to your take on what a small vial of mercury might do to an airplane, I have to disagree with you. If it is applied to any structural member of even the closing mechanism of the hatch... and, well, I wouldn't want to be on that flight. Mercury paste is also something that could prolong and increase the contact between the Mercury and the Aluminum.

Mcaryeh... Did I mention Arabs? I simply said that people are the worrisome part of the equation, not the weapons they might bring on the plane. We need to start looking closely at who is travelling, what their past travel patterns look like and other factors that have been proved to provide a fairly good profile of high risk passengers. Basically, if you paid for your ticket with cash, flew three times to Yemen last year, bought a one-way ticket or any of a host of other red flag indicators... leave a little extra time.

pk... I agree. At this point everyone begins as a suspect. However there are some very easy, proven ways to separate the wolves from the sheep.

Jack... I think that all airport security people should be required to have had at least one relative or friend injured or killed in a terrorist attack. It should be an actual iron-clad prerequisite!

WOgo... Read my reply to several other commenters. I am not suggesting anything of the kind in this post. I am simply saying that the people are the key to travel safety... not their possessions.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 11, 2006 12:43:35 PM

Some airports in the US are testing the Israeli method of screening.

Oh and I'm glad you didn't do this post back in April and May when my son flew to Indiana and back.

Posted by: seawitch | Sep 11, 2006 1:38:32 PM

My comment should have said Muslims instead of Arabs; that I said the latter in place of the former, I would like to blame on having posted my comment at 3 in the morning, but really you did not imply either. The jump was my own. Because of 9/11, my association has always been terrorists as Arabs or Muslims, but that is not the case. I did not consciously intend to stereotype an entire people or religion, and I am sorry for it. Must be careful there. Anyway, while I agree with your point of focusing on the who over the what, I still believe if terrorists want to inflict harm, ultimately they will find a way. Profiling can only go so far...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 11, 2006 1:51:53 PM

re: your reply to Jack regarding the criteria for airport security - I was just talking about this last night while watching the 9/11 documentary about the firefighters at the WTC - they should get these guys to do security screenings - if they weren't already doing one of the more important jobs on this planet - seeing the firefighters still active five years later, along with newer recruits, many of whom lost fathers and brothers as firefighters on that day, shows you a select group who still have the "fire in their eyes."

Posted by: Nati | Sep 11, 2006 3:19:16 PM

Great post, David.

The West has been confused about the enemy from the beginning. That's the terrible thing about calling it a "War on Terror". Terror is a tactic, not an enemy. You can no more have a war on terror than a war on land mines or ketuysha rockets or a war on carry-on shampoo. We have to start calling it a "War on Islamofascism" or "Islamic extremism". That's what we're fighting, and if their methods change, the enemy will not.

Nice to have you back.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Sep 11, 2006 4:28:06 PM

Keeps me awake at night as well: I occasionally ingest substances to calm me down. (Which incidentally, British Airways wouldn't let me carry on when I flew last week... If there'd been a noted recipe for explosives knocking around involving Rescue Remedy, I might have been more understanding when they made me dispose of a brand new bottle.)

Whoever and whatever we're profiling for, agree with MCA and others that it is only a temporary measure- putting a pladelet on the barn, to use your metaphor. As you rightly surmise, the cows- and the terrorists- will find a way to get around that too.

Posted by: PP | Sep 11, 2006 4:34:23 PM

My old college roommate and I are trying to figure out if we can rendezvous in Europe without either of us flying.....anyone know if the Haifa ferry still goes to Italy?

But seriously, I read that column also and was thrilled at what the writer said---I would've loved to see the WSJ pick it up for their editorial page. And BTW, that's exactly why my mishpacha pays more to fly El Al....

Posted by: aliyah06 | Sep 11, 2006 5:17:49 PM

... and now *I* have something to keep me up at night as well. Oy.

Hmm, I agree with the point of your post... which is why on my El Al flight earlier this year, I felt much safer than... well, almost anywhere else. But in the end, there's only so much worrying you can do, as an individual. (My personal obsession is some type of easy-to-smuggle disease).

Posted by: Irina | Sep 11, 2006 5:40:45 PM

Over at my place, I've some different thoughts on how aluminium and mercury can keep you up at night.

Posted by: The Observer | Sep 11, 2006 7:08:23 PM

well ...clearly the only way I will ever get on a plane again is if all the passengers are naked. (no handbags either).
go ahead ...picture that.

Posted by: weese | Sep 11, 2006 7:09:22 PM

The truth is to a degree as you mentioned trying to find the items that can potentially be used in a terrorist attack is looking for a needle in haystack. the easiest way to find a needle then is to use a stron magnet. Profiling is that magnet!

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Sep 11, 2006 7:50:03 PM

The point of all of this is, we'd better start thinking like El Al when it comes to screening air travelers. Their security people are experts in sizing up individuals and testing their reactions to uncomfortable questions. It's the reactions, even more than the answers, that they're looking for.

It's the people, not the things.

But we, in Politically-Correctland (part of the Republic of Minimum WageScreenia) haven't yet figured this out.

BTW, the other element that is liquid at room temperature is bromine, a nonmetallic halogen.

Gallium is a metal that, like mercury, can be liquid at moderate temperatures; however, its melting point (29.8°C, 85.6°F) is too warm to be called "room temperature."

Posted by: Elisson | Sep 11, 2006 8:18:26 PM

You know.. I'm not so sure that Israelis don't profile. In 2003, I traveled to Israel with a MO man. In 2004, I went with a dark-skinned Indian woman (wearing modern dress). You would not believe the difference. She was pulled aside the moment she stepped off the plane (along with every other dark skinned individual on that flight). They almost didn't let her back into the country after our day trip to Petra. It was absurd. I still think that Israeli security is MUCH better than American security, but I no longer believe they don't profile.

Posted by: Ahuva | Sep 11, 2006 8:26:11 PM


While I share your contempt for much of the newfangled "security" measures on airlines, I think you need to back your assertion that "a few drops (of mercury) tossed anywhere on or within an airplane would be more than sufficient to cause the aircraft to break up from massive structural failure within an hour or two"

The popular science article you quoted had sabateurs smearing mercury paste on the airplane; a fairly crude and expensive sabotage job that, quite frankly, sounds apocryphal to me (if a trained commando could get close enough to a plane to smear mercury on a critical component, he could use a hammer and screwdriver to do the job much better, methinks).

The aluminum beam in the photo hardly looks "half-rusted away" (the amount of dust generated is irrelevant; what's the remaining structural integrity of the beam?), and there's no indication as to just how much mercury was added.

I doubt that the hatch closing mechanism is made of aluminum, so your point in the comments is similarly somewhat weak.

A broken mercury thermometer or manometer on an airplane would probably cause headaches (both physically to people breathing the vapor, and to those doing the cleanup (the field group in my lab does several mercury spill cleanups each year, and it's a huge pain, since mercury gets EVERYWHERE), and *might* require that a plane undergo extensive repair over time, but I just don't see it as an extremely quick-acting reagent.

Posted by: efrex | Sep 11, 2006 8:40:57 PM

You can't profile everyone, with the volume of passengers in the U.S.os A. It can only be done with a small number of travelers, as in Israel.
When I flew through Belgium they only interrogated travelers going to areas of concern (U.S., Israel, Africa) That could work.
The most obvious solution, though there is always a new twist on evading security, is to ban all travel on items. It might be inconvenient, but the safety is certainly improved immeasurably.
The mercury is just one of hundreds of easy ways to bring down a plane. Let's face it , an airplane is a thin tube of metal pumped full of pressurized oxygen and jet fuel.
Have a nice day....

Posted by: Jersey Boy | Sep 11, 2006 11:19:00 PM

Very timely post, considering I fly to Israel tomorrow. I'm not too worried about terrorists blowing up the plane or pouring mercury in the hatch - if it happens, Gd forbid, at least my death will be quick.

It would be nice if the airports screened for mercury and other elements though. But with the exception of El Al, which actually does screen people based on their behaviour and background, most airlines seem to be one or two steps behind on security ... but geniuses at figuring out new ways to torment us.

Anyways, I'm rambling. Take care and I hope you don't have to fly anywhere soon.

Posted by: Chantyshira | Sep 11, 2006 11:32:51 PM

Goodness. I just read this - and it's 23:30. Thanks, David.

And to think that this stuff (mercury) is in my tuna!

A couple of schools in NC were shut down last year b/c kids were playing with this stuff. Oh - and you remember those annoying tennis shoes that flashed when ppl walked? They originally had mercury switches - as the mercury rolled with the movement of the shoe, it would complete the circuit. (I hope other ppl haven't made these comments already b/c I was too lazy to read them all.)

Posted by: John | Sep 11, 2006 11:35:43 PM

(29.8°C, 85.6°F) is too warm to be called "room temperature."

I see someone hasn't visited Ramat Bet Shemesh lately!

Actually, Jerusalem isn't that much better... and quite frankly, I prefer the little bit of extra heat. It makes it socially acceptable to run the AC all day ;)

Whenever I'm in Efrat, people think I'm crazy b/c I don't really bother with heat (before I was married w/ little kids, that was true in the gush even in the winter), but I wanted to turn the AC on as soon as it got to 23C or so inside.

Posted by: Mike Miller | Sep 11, 2006 11:38:50 PM

ahhhhhhhh david the $64,000 question...what do you think? money money money that's how...amazing when you think that tody all those saudis flew into the twin towers...chelm we live in chelm...stay safe

Posted by: marallyn | Sep 12, 2006 12:20:30 AM

*grins* I see someone else has already done my nitpicking for me on the element issue.

As for the matter of airline security, I've always found this kind of thing incredibly silly. A number of security experts have come out with the same conclusion. There is no way to make sure a passenger could not bring down a plane. Even worse, to take over a plane, a group of terrorists wouldn't even need any weapons. If sufficiently well-trained in weaponless forms of combat, the terrorists could easily overwhelm the flight crew, and enforce order by a few selective murders.

To be honest, if I wanted to bring down a plane I wouldn't bother with being a passenger, or with mercury silliness. I would go about it through one of two methods: First, I would attempt to get one of my co-conspirators (or myself) hired as ground crew at an airport. I'm sure there are plenty of American terrorist sympathizers with clean records who could easily get the job.

If that didn't work, I would go with the fairly simple expedient of a surface-to-air missile. Those are not as tough to obtain as one thinks, and transporting one into the US is child's play given our lax border security. The only difficulties would be cost, and possible exposure due to the launching site needing to be close to the airport.

The way to establish reasonably good (though of course not airtight) security on board a plane is not to counter every possible known threat, but to thoroughly screen individuals for potential threats.

I have been doing a lot of domestic flying lately - generally through D.C.-area airports and major hubs (O'Hare, Dallas)... so the security is generally as tight as the TSA manages. And yet... I can board a plane with next to no contact with a human. I show my I.D. (without saying a word other than 'thank you') to one TSA agent, smile at the TSA agent manning the metal detector, and say a brief 'have a nice day' to the airline employee taking boarding passes. I don't even have to answer that stupid 'did you pack your bag yourself' question when I check bags. The entire process of air travel - from buying the ticket to taking off - can be done without a single word to anyone.

*steeples fingers* Another security expert (this person dealing with computer security) once told me that the way to secure data or belongings was to use a combination of three attributes about yourself:

1) What you have (e.g. keys)
2) What you know (e.g. passwords)
3) What you are (e.g. retinal scans, biometrics, genetics, etc.)

Obviously, he reasoned, people can always obtain what you have, and they can figure out what you know, but we haven't yet managed to mimic what you are. Thus, a good security system will check for all three, but will place the most emphasis on what you are.

I think this concept can be reversed for airport security. Currently, airports check what you have - weapons, suspicious materials, etc. Obviously this should not be done away with entirely (ie, we should still screen baggage for obvious explosives, weapons, etc... generally to catch the insane rather than the terrorists). They also require you to have two things: identification, and some financial connection between you and your ticket (ie, credit card, boarding pass, etc.). We need to broaden our definition of security, though:

First, we need to assess what you know. Currently, there are a few bits of this at the more secure locations ('do you know your confirmation number', 'checking' your address or phone number, etc.), but it can always be expanded. Someone born in the U.S. (according to their passport) should probably be able to recite a good chunk of the first verse of the Star Spangled Banner, or come up with some obvious sports or cultural trivia... even language idioms. A careful questioner/observer should be able to pick up on this. It's not foolproof (as it is only negative proof), but it helps tags suspicious individuals for further analysis.

Secondly, better security needs to look at what you are. Where were you born? What are your mannerisms? Does your physiology betray nervousness or fear, and do you seem to be lying? Do you have a slight accent? How do you act upon interaction with security personnel?

Obviously, this gets into questions of profiling, which I'll leave alone for now (I doubt that much of treppenwitz's readership will complain). Also obviously, these suggestions require a somewhat extensive security interview with each passenger (or at least with a large random sampling of passengers). It's expensive, but I'd much prefer to invest in trained security interviewers rather than another exceedingly expensive gizmo to sniff out some obscure form of explosive.

Let's be honest with ourselves - I waltz through security without talking to anyone, and could easily be a cold-blooded terrorist bent on destruction (and who says I'm not? My unassuming, mild engineer exterior is just an elaborate front)... and protecting a plane from weapons brought on by passengers will hardly protect it from being brought down or hijacked. The way to develop better passenger-based security is to evaluate them upon all three axes - possessions, knowledge, and being.


Posted by: matlabfreak | Sep 12, 2006 1:00:37 AM

American Liberals are what keep me up at night. 1/2 of our entire society lives in extreme denial. We have raised up a generation of fools. Cometh now the whirlwind.

Posted by: Scott | Sep 12, 2006 2:18:10 AM

i could so go off on this as well...

Posted by: mercurial scribe | Sep 12, 2006 9:25:28 AM

Seawitch... Glad my nightmares didn't interfere with your family's travel plans. ;-)

mcaryeh... It may only go so far... but we have to figure out how to make the best use of our limited screening resources.

Nati... It really boils down to motivation. 9 bucks an hour doesn't motivate someone to screen very carefully... or very intelligently. Having a friend or family member die in an attack makes you WANT to find the SOB and drag him/her away in cuffs. That's why I used the example I did.

Doctor Bean... Good to be back. Thank you for making me laugh on Friday. I didn't turn on the computer but Zahava read it to me from the next room. You're a prince.

PP... I have my own 'Rescue Remedy' when I fly (not the patented brand you use). It's called three shots of bourbon and a little sign around my neck telling the flight attendants not to wake me until wheels down.

Aliayh06... Unfortunately one of the hits we took in the recent war is that Israeli intel and security are now seen as fallible, giving the rest of the world more reason to keep doing things the wrong way.

Irina... At least your biggest fear has already come true, albeit in an unintentional way. Nearly every ti9me I fly I get sick because the airlines try to save money by recirculating/filtering the air less off frequently during the flight. The result is that all the people on the plane share their germs with each other. Yuck!

The Observer... Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing. Years ago I took a tour of the Palomar observatory in southern CA and got the whole lecture about how long the enormous glass reflector took to grind and transport. While we were there the guide told us about other mirrors used in telescopes and the rotating tub of Mercury really caught my imagination. I always wondered how they could keep it turning so smoothly and consistently that the angle of convexity remained unchanged.

Weese, um, I hate to tell you this... but even a naked passenger still has one obvious place to hide a thermometer. :-)

Jewish Blogmeister... No argument from me.

Elisson... ElAl may be ahead of most players in the business... but they still are bound by the laws in the countries to which the airline flies. They also can't control what happens what happens outside the security zone (or in line waiting to enter it) which I predict will be the next place we get targeted by terrorists. BTW, I knew you'd know the extra credit answer. :-)

Ahuva... Of course they profile. They just begin from a much more suspicious starting point.

Efrex... The method you suggests requires a lot of noise and exertion. A very small amount of Mercury can be silently applied to strategic areas of an aircraft shortly before take-off or even from the inside while in flight. On a long transatlantic flight there is plenty of time for the corrosion to take place. at very least a massive depressurization of the cabin over water is likely.

Jersey Boy... Mercury doesn't need to be in a carry-on. A vial would fit quite nicely in a pen.

Chantyshira... Sorry about that. I hope it didn't stress you out before your trip. PLEASE be in touch when you get here.

John... Nope, you were the first. :-) Hope you got some sleep.

Mike Miller... What is this AC of which you speak? :-)

marallyn... It sure feels that way, doesn't it?

matlabfreak... Very nicely done. What a shame that you will now be on all the Federal and INTERPOL watch-lists as a result of this comment. :-)

Scott... Oy.

mercurial scribe... Don't hold back. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 12, 2006 5:04:21 PM

So if I steal your patent next time, do I have to pay you?!

Posted by: PP | Sep 12, 2006 7:34:58 PM

How did I know you would say that David...ooo the thought of it!

Posted by: weese | Sep 12, 2006 9:45:29 PM

As the next director of the Department of Homeland Security (aka "MiniPax"), my airline security plan consists of eliminating all "modern" screening, screeners, etc., and reinvesting that money in firearms, and then issuing all passengers on every flight a sidearm.

Thanks again for stimulating prose; I'm setting up yet another link to Your Place.

Pretty witty for a brass player! :o)

Posted by: Wrymouth | Sep 13, 2006 8:20:53 AM

Thanks! Now I am wondering if I will ever board an airliner again.

Gad! Too many threats! Yeesh!

Posted by: benning | Sep 15, 2006 1:07:57 AM

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