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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 28th, 2006 - 02:07:32

The Goo Bombers
By Hal O�Boyle
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 28, 2006, 00:29

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Remember Richard Reid? He is the British fruitcake who, in 2001, tried to blow up a plane with explosives he had installed in one of his high-top sneakers. You�d think someone clever enough to design a shoe bomb would have known that you can�t detonate plastic explosive with a match. I guess there�s not much opportunity to work the bugs out of suicide bombings.

Suspicious passengers wrestled the Shoe Bomber to the floor, sedated him and, at least in theory, saved the plane and their own lives. They also saved Reid, who achieved terrorist immortality. The passengers also clearly showed why a repeat of 9/11 will be impossible.

I�ve noticed that whether a hijacker succeeds or fails, the attempt is commemorated with new rituals at airports everywhere. It�s a wacky form of immortality, like being sainted in the Church of Perpetual Paranoia.

Although passengers will never again allow a plane to be hijacked with a box cutter, the successful attacks of 9/11 gave us the ritual sacrifice of pen knives, hat pins, nail clippers and tweezers. Reid�s shoe bomb added Footwear Removal to the boarding ceremony. I forget why lighters and matches were banned. Maybe that was St. Richard�s work, too.

And now, a suspiciously timed busted plot in Britain has barred liquids, pastes and gels from the temple, even though no liquid explosives ever made it to an airport. Authorities made a successful preemptive strike against the Goo Bombers, but you would think it was the bombers who succeeded.

Goo Bomber security rituals spread across the world in a flash. They are more elaborate and bizarre than ever. Mothers must drink their own milk. Sanitary supplies, wallets and ID must be carried in ceremonial baggies.

Goo Bomber ritual is more monastic, too: security now requires boredom and discomfort, no books, no phones, no games, no toothpaste, no deodorant, no KY Jelly. Passengers arriving in the Land of the Free will be testy and gamey, but safe from exploding fluids.

The new Goo rules also have what may be dangerous underwear loopholes. Five grams of lip gloss is too perilous for carry-on but gel-filled bras, with as much as a half pound of form-enhancing goop in each cup, will fly unmolested.

We can expect more hysteria as well. A flight from London made a fighter-escorted emergency landing when a claustrophobic 60-year-old woman became excited. The AP account breathlessly reported that the woman had of a book of matches and a bottle of hand lotion. �Grim tools;� thought I, �the implements of evil.�

The idea that passengers would submit to the depraved designs of a grandmother armed with tweezers and a tube of Vaseline is insulting to every traveler alive. Picture the scene at the cockpit door, �Get back, sonny boy, I�ve got styling mousse and I�m not afraid to use it.� Is there a random selection of passengers anywhere who would allow granny to succeed?

Mature women should get an automatic exemption from the search-everyone-for-terror-weapons ritual. These are our wives, mothers, aunts and sisters. They�ve raised our children, nurtured our grandchildren, and inspire us with their wisdom and grace. In return we suggest they are mass murderers. At the risk of appearing a hopeless chauvinist, I�ll suggest our womenfolk deserve more respect. Besides, when the chips are down, a couple of grown men should be able to get the tweezers away from any one of them.

Movie magic aside, making a binary liquid bomb is way harder than making a good martini, and could probably not be done in the can of a 757. But the authorities and the media act as if it were as easy as pouring milk on your cereal.

I cringe to think of the security measures that would follow the discovery, or heaven help us, detonation of a real binary liquid bomb. Imagine ingredient A and ingredient B in opposite sides of a pair of gel-filled falsies. Suddenly we�d all be flying topless. And it is surely only a matter of time until some clever nutcase figures out how to make explosive cloth. Having to fly naked should reduce crowding quite a bit at our busiest airports.

At this writing, there appears to be no limit to what air travelers will put up with to hedge the already astronomically small chance of dying in a hijacked airplane. I read a post on the web recently by someone who said he would gladly crawl on his hands and knees if it would make his flight safe. Obviously he is not alone. But I would like to propose that there should be alternatives for those not as eager to undergo pointless ritual humiliation.

Almost no one would crawl on their hands and knees to reduce their risk of drowning in a bucket. Not many would submit to a full body search before every meal to reduce chances of death by food poisoning. Yet you are far more likely to suffer either of those fates than to be killed by a terrorist.

If airlines offered voluntary, lower security flights where grannies, moms, kids and geezers were allowed to board without performing all the security rituals, it could save millions of dollars in resources and millions of hours of wasted time. I�m sure there would be no shortage of volunteers for low stupidity security.

Hal O�Boyle writes from barrio Jesus in Costa Rica. His articles are archived, some with pictures and links to dubious web information, at He answers email at

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