After Flight 253

After sifting through all the various dispatches following the attack on a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit, the difference between this and other actual or attempted acts of terrorism is now discernible. It is this:

This time we do not have a heightened sense of fear about terrorism. We have a heightened sense of anger at the reaction of Homeland Security forces.

Tom Bodett explains in a post today called “Underpants never strike twice.”


So now we’ll all sit with our hands folded neatly over our throbbing bladders like a bunch of school kids for the last hour of a flight for no good reason except to demonstrate with what precision the people in charge of our safety can recognize what it was they missed the first time. Speaking strictly for myself this does not make me feel safer. This makes me feel like the people we’re counting on to watch our backs have no idea what they’re doing, or where this thing is heading next.

The alleged bomber used PETN, the same substance another would-be bomber used when he tried to light his shoes. Can this stuff bring down a plane? The Guardian says 100 grams of it can destroy a car. But an expert speculates that even if it had fully detonated as the Airbus approached Detroit, “it might’ve been able to limp home.”

Here’s what 20 grams of PETN can do:

And 50 grams:

200 grams:

And 250 grams:

  • Momkat

    You don’t suppose we’ll have to remove our underpants now before boarding?

  • Mike

    Only if your underpants weigh more than 3 oz.

  • anotherbob

    I’ve never had a heightened fear of terrorism, precisely because the odds are, as statistics freak Nate Silver points out, that I’m far more likely to get struck by lightning than to be the victim of a terrorist attack.

    On the other hand, the odds of my suffering a burst bladder in flight have gone up precipitously…

  • John O.

    I suppose the airlines will use this as a new opportunity to peddle Depends in coach and the more sophisticated NASA variant in Business/First Class. /endsarcasm

  • Alison

    If only we took threats to life like drunk driving and suicide so seriously.

  • Heather

    Isn’t it sort of unreasonable to expect a heightened sense of fear about terrorism when the Threat Level has been at yellow or orange since 2002?

    And people complain about kids on flights NOW… Just wait ’til they can’t pee or be entertained for that last hour!

  • Al

    Americans seem relatively tolerant (though not entirely) of these ineffective inconveinces when they limited to airports. What will our level of tolerance be when terrorists figure out that there are targets other than airplanes like trains, bridges, schools, malls, theaters, parades, busy downtown streets and freeways…? Of course terrorists have already hit some of these targets, think McVeigh & Nichols, the DC snipers, etc. They haven’t been al-Quaida, so it doesn’t seem to matter as much. But what will happen when al-Quaida decides to study up on the tactics of our home-grown non-Muslim terrorists? Will we tolerate these ineffective so-called security measures in everyday life?