Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chopping wood at the great pageant

I really like the term security theatre to describe the way in which public officials spare no expense or paranoid delusion when it comes to the issue of security. As though its $1 billion dollar moat-and-alligator approach to carving up downtown wasn't enough, the people in charge of security for the upcoming G20 summit have decided to cut down trees on sidewalks.

According to a National Post article, "The trees could be ripped out of the ground by demonstrators “and then you’ve got a huge bar,” said Constable Wendy Drummond, a spokeswoman for the Integrated Security Unit." It's pointed out by a conservation group that trees don't come down easily, at least not without an ax, at which point you have a bigger problem.

Of course, no one cares and it's futile to complain because it's better to be safe than sorry. The problem is that the process of determining security in groups is the opposite of how it should be. In a committee, typically ideas are proposed and then debated on their merits. In committees that decide security, ideas are proposed and then never debated nor reversed because no one wants to give the hint of being opposed to the catch-all of security. This is why we still have to take off our shoes and give up contact lens solution and bottles of orange juice at the airport.

Well-meaning often defend this sort of idiocy with a platitude along the lines of, "well, I'm glad they're doing something". Why is this wrong? Well, aside from the difference between doing something stupid instead of something useful, uncritical attitudes towards public officials never result in good things. This is how we end up torturing detainees in Afghanistan and Somalia, or sending them to Syria for an all-expenses paid trip.

Much of this security theatre is for the benefit of those involved. ESPN football columnist Gregg Easterbrook often notes the folly of football coaches or low-level politicians appearing with massive security details. Here we have high-level politicians, but the idea is the same. If no expense or paranoid overreaction is spared, then everyone involved feels more important, for the same reason that young boys feel important when they give themselves a club, a name and a treehouse.


joe positive said...

this is a lot like the way IT security is handled at my company.

oops, did I just say that? Sorry, sorry, please don't kill me...

Seadog said...

Fun G20 security fact: almost all of the city's police officers are being kept in a single hotel during, and in the days leading up to, the summit. And their firearms are being stored together in a single room.