Can We Stop Airline Terrorism?

Posted on December 31st, 2009 in Commentary by EngineerBoy
The Crotch Bomb

The Crotch Bomb

The Christmas Day Crotchbomber was simply the latest in a long, long string of airline terror attacks, including the Shoebomber, Lockerbie, 9/11, etc…the list goes on and on.  There is now talk of using full body scans as part of our increasingly intrusive and futile airport security procedures.

So the TSA makes us throw out our shampoo, but that does nothing to prevent continue threats to air travel.  Even full body scans won’t do much, particularly if the terrorists know about them.  What’s next, full body x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs to look for ingested, explosive-filled balloons?

The issue is that, given the nature and purpose of air travel, we simply do not have a technical solution to preventing airline terror attacks.  There are no security screens, scanners, sniffers, or profilers that can block every potential vector.  Everybody on the plane is wearing clothes, carrying bags, using electronics, eating food, holding books, etc, any or all of which could contain the tiny amount of explosives necessary to poke a hole in the thin, light skin of a jetliner.

And that, to me, is the crux of the issue.  We are flying around in what amounts to reinforced mylar tubes, and all that is needed to bring one of them down is a small explosion.  And punching a hole in the airframe is usually all that is necessary to cause the horrific death of every single passenger and crew member.

However, what if we were to design our aircraft to not be so vulnerable?  What if blowing a hole in the skin simple meant that a handful of people in the blast radius might be injured or killed, but the rest of the passengers survived?  Still a tragedy, but not the horrifying, fiery mass-murder that feeds the tidal wave of fear that the terrorists hope to create.

There are many ways to solve this, but the most feasible (to me) is the use of detachable passenger cabins with parachutes, which can be ejected in the event of an airborne incident and float to the ground/water below (presuming some type of flotation capability, as well).  Picture a jet that looks pretty much like today’s jets, but that the passenger compartment sort of snaps into place, perhaps even in multiple sections, making for lighter payloads and multiple pathways to survival.  This is not my original idea by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s something we need to consider.

Part of the issue is that the airline corporations don’t have any real motivation to do this.  It remains cheaper for them to settle lawsuits than to swap out their entire fleets of aircraft, so human lives are lost to the balance sheet.  This might be an area where the government has to step in, like they did with seatbelts, anti-lock brakes, and airbags.

It’s also possible to make the argument that terrorists would simply move on to

Sherlock Holmes (***)

Posted on December 29th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Bound by Logic

Bound by Logic

We walked into Sherlock Holmes with the baseline hope of being entertained, and we were not disappointed.  Director Guy Ritchie has created a period/action/mystery film, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson.  We could not recall a single other Guy Ritchie film that we’ve actually watched all the way through, as we typically find ourselves overwhelmed by the style but underwhelmed by the story, however in this case the film delivers on both counts.

The story revolves around a plot to return England to her glory days as the Empire, including re-absorbing the United States, weakened by the Civil War.  A secret society uses advanced (for the times) technologies in an attempt to give the appearance of supernatural powers, and to then rule by fear.  In a parallel thread, Watson is engaged to be married and is in the process of moving out of 221B Baker Street, much to the dismay of Holmes, who conspires to delay the passing of their close partnership.

Holmes and Watson, of course, work together to uncover the plot and foil the plotters, and the film ends with an obvious setup of the sequel, which will, of course, include matching wits with the infamous Professor Moriarty.

The style is a mash-up of authentic-looking old London combined with modern slow-mo, blow-up, near-super-hero-ish sensibilities.  This could have been a horrific combination, but Guy Ritchie keeps it all just enough in check so that things don’t spin into forehead-slapping territory.

Put it together and it was a solidly entertaining film, and I am looking forward to the sequel.  It wasn’t great or classic cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth, unlike with many (many, many) other big-budget, action-oriented movies.