The cupcake that wouldn’t die

Would a cupcake by any other name taste just as sweet? Or be just as scary?

The TSA evidently thinks so. Instead of allowing the recent cupcake debacle story to die a quiet death, since it highlighted the agency’s lunacy, the TSA has decided to keep it in the public eye by publishing yet another blog post about.

The new post by Blogger Bob is, in fact, so surreal that at first you’re sure it must be a joke. It reads like a Monty Python sketch.

But no, gentle reader, the TSA doesn’t joke about Serious Dangers. And that potentially explosive cupcake was one scary threat.

Blogger Bob’s first ominous words hint at the horrors to come:

I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Then we have the irrefutable Historical Precedent, which shows the importance of confiscating the cupcake:

If you’re not familiar with it, we have a policy directly related to the UK liquid bomb plot of 2006 called 3-1-1 that  limits the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols you can bring in your carry-on luggage. Icing falls under the “gel” category.  As you can see from the picture, unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar.

Thick layer of icing — inside a jar, no less!  No, Bob, say it ain’t so!

I myself have been frightened at the airport by suspicious glops in many a moisturizer jar — the thick creamy swirls of Lancôme Absolue, the radiant specs and glints of Aveeno Total Soy Complex, the sinister smoothness of Maybelline Moisture Whip. Why, just look at that name — “whip”! It telegraphs its nefarious intent in writing (in case the Behavior Detection Officers missed it).

As Blogger Bob goes on to explain, cakes, pies, and even cupcakes are actually allowed as carry-ons, but in this case, the ever-alert TSA agent decided to use his or her “discretion” to confiscate it. Why? Who knows? That’s the point of discretion. Nobody has to tell you.

Every officer wants to finish their shift and go home with the peace of mind that they kept potential threats off of airplanes. They’re not thinking about whether their decisions will go viral on the internet – they’re thinking about keeping bombs off of planes. This incident may seem like a silly move to many of our critics, but when we can’t be exactly sure of what something is, every officer has the discretion to not allow it on the plane.  This is done purely for the safety of everyone traveling.

I guess no one told Blogger Bob that no bombs were brought onto planes on 9/11. Or that the last time a bomb was brought onto a plane in the U.S. that detonated and killed anyone was May 22, 1962, as I explained in this entry. That’s almost 50 years ago.

Instead, Blogger Bob engages in a classic bit of sophistry: bringing up failed plots from 1995 and from 2006. The operative word there is “failed.” Nobody got on planes with explosive shampoo, sunscreen, or cupcakes. And it is, as several chemists and security experts have pointed out, profoundly difficult to create liquid explosives on a plane.

But why let a few facts get in the way of a good story? It’s more fun to ramp up the fear factor. And if your employees get a yummy cupcake out of it to bring back to the break room, so much the better.

What really happens when the TSA finds explosives?

What happens when the TSA finds explosives on a passenger, as it recently did?

Because explosive materials come in a variety of shapes and forms, it’s almost impossible to identify it with the x-ray machine.

Explosives can look like a notebook, computer cord, a pack of sliced ham, and yes, even cupcakes.

The x-ray image itself is a computer-generated image in shades of grey that the software displays as shades of orange colors for organic materials; while inorganic materials such as metals, some plastics, a brick, and other chemicals are displayed as shades of green and blue.

A cowboy’s belt buckle or a loaded gun shown from its side will display as solid black, as x-rays are totally blocked off. A bag check and visual inspection are usually called for.

So what happens when a bag is stopped by the x-ray operator, or during a random check for a closer inspection?

A typical sequence of resolution will play as follows:

✔ After a visual inspection, the suspect bag will be swiped first along the handles and tested with the Explosive Threat Detection machine (ETD), an initial reading that may save an operator’s life, before he gets more nosy and the bag explodes on his face. Then the inner seams of the bag are swiped to look for any explosive residue, and finally, the suspected item is swiped and the swipe loaded again in the ETD machine for a final analysis. Explosive residue is known to last for several weeks on exposed areas, even on the handler’s hands after multiple washings.

✔ If the ETD machine alarms, as in the case of the North Carolina man, the supervisor is immediately called to conduct a second reading. Should the alarm persist, the supervisor then calls for the Bomb Appraiser Officers (BAO). A full body pat-down is then conducted on the passenger, a physical and an explosive test is conducted on all of his belongings, and an interview is initiated by the Behavior Detection Officers (BDO).

✔ If the BAO tests prove positive, law enforcement officers are called to the scene and the passenger is handcuffed. Having watched many such situations, I’ve seen that the passenger is usually determined to be a military man or a military contractor who has either come across explosive material or inadvertently forgotten a sample explosive in one of his bags or in his pocket.

The problem with this procedure is that it happens way too often, as many household chemicals, and most aftershaves, perfumes, and hand lotions trigger the same alarm.

(Photo: Andy Field /Flickr)

TSA conducts explosive demonstration at Myrtle Beach

Hey, ever wonder what happens when you blow stuff up? Fear not. The fulfillment of your special effects fantasy is just around the corner. Or on the beach, as the case may be.

The TSA has conducted an explosives demonstration at Myrtle Beach. Because what could be more fun than feeling the earth move under your feet and watching sand scatter at the same time?

Quoting from the article:

“To better understand the destruction explosives can cause, the TSA conducted a safety demonstration at Myrtle Beach International Airport Wednesday morning. It included the live detonation of explosives like C4 and dynamite, hidden inside common baggage, like a briefcase.”

There’s even a nifty video.

Who knew “the destruction explosives can cause”?

Someone named Nick Slater had this observation:

“If that’s on a plane, the plane is gone.”

Wow. Really? I wonder what would happen if “that” were at the security checkpoint itself, where hundreds of people are crammed together in one space?

Oh, I know — all those see-through plastic baggies would protect us.

No word on how much this little demonstration cost, but hey, folks, your tax dollars at work.