Saturday, March 10, 2007

(Molotov) cocktail party?

This week at the Artsgarden, we had a visit from the Department of Homeland Security and the fire marshal. I wasn't there, but the maintenance guys who always tag along with the fire marshal told me all about it. The DHS guy wanted us to make a change. Ready for this? Here goes.

We have big, heavy metal benches around the Artsgarden, including some near the tops of the balcony stairs. The Homeland Security guy said we had to remove those benches; he said that someone could move them to barricade the stairs, then stand on the balcony throwing Molotov cocktails into the crowd below. This wasn't a suggestion, it's a requirement.

A few things to note about this. First, the fire marshal is maybe the only person in government service with no oversight. There is literally no process I'm aware of to challenge his judgment. Homeland Security is another matter; if he wants to require that you do something, that involves paperwork and can (at least theoretically) be challenged in court. But if he makes a "recommendation", and the fire marshal is the one to tell you about it, it's absolute. Sneaky, ethically borderline, and probably completely legal.

Second, is this really the kind of thing that the DHS is concerned with? I can't believe that they're devoting effort to this kind of recommendations. Aren't there ports they could be securing or airline passengers they can be pissing off? More importantly, it's a pretty dumb recommendation. It works under the incredibly flawed assumption that they can protect us from lunatics who want to kill a few people in a very specific place. It might be a scary thought for some people, but there is no systemic way to protect people from random shootings or other acts of unfocused violence. Moving benches and wrapping good sniping locations in barbed wire won't make any difference.

I can think of two explanations for Homeland Security concerning themselves with such things, and neither is very reassuring. The first is that they actually believe they can prevent intentional violence by bottling up every possible avenue of attack. I would hope that people higher up the chain of command would know better -- but with this administration, I'm making no assumptions. The second possibility is that they know what they're doing won't make any difference, but they're doing it anyway. Either they're playing the political game of looking busy, or they're going through the motions just to give people a false sense of security. Neither of these two options helps me sleep any better.


David said...

What if you just bolted the benches in place? I know I'm just an uninformed civilian, so that's obviously a stupid idea.

Jeff Mountjoy said...

Personally, I wasn't worried about someone moving them anyway; they weigh over 300 pounds and don't drag well. And I think if it wasn't the benches, they would've found something else to complain about....