Sacrificial Knives

This letter was written in response to SF Gate coulmnest Mark Morford's "notes & errata" article titled:

Deadly Tweezers On Airplanes
Of knives, airport security, and the death of many fine civil liberties

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist , Wednesday, November 7, 2001

URL: <>

Mr. Morford

In response to your column dated November 7, 2001, and titled "Deadly Tweezers On Airplanes Of knives, airport security, and the death of many fine civil liberties". I have a few thoughts.

Sacrificial Knives

As you note it's still not very difficult to get sharp objects onto the aircraft by accident. The new security stupidity at airports is probably still of little more physical effectiveness than past procedures. The real security increase is accomplished by the change in access to the cabin: if terrorists knock the pilots won't open the door. There are also a couple of changes to what might be called something like "psychological security procedures".

One change are the instructions sometimes now issued to passengers that if the aircraft comes under attack they should fight back. This permission to use force is a form of personal empowerment and has a definite psychological value. Another is what is happening at the security gate. The fact that there is such an invasion of the privacy of persons boarding the aircraft is what we might call a "tiki".

Let me explain. I spent some time working in the motion picture special effects industry and one interesting piece of behavior I learned about was the practice of keeping a little "tiki" shrine near one's computer monitor. When a shot being worked on was in trouble, or was at a critical stage, the person working on it would feed money to their tiki. I was a bit surprised to find how widespread this practice really was. I think there might be something like this practice being played out at the airports now. The sacrifice being made is to trade something valuable in the American psyche, in this case convenience, privacy, and to an extent freedom, for a successful airplane trip. Whether it's effective or not is another issue because the very idea of sacrifice during a time of crisis has its own psychological power quite apart from whether anything physical happens.

The result of these changes in procedure -- empowerment and sacrifice -- I think is intended to remind us that we are, at least in some sense, at war and that we are all involved. They remind us of the events of September 11 and the kind of forces we are up against. The problem with how they remind us though is that nobody seems to get it on a conscious level. I suggest that air travelers can make the best use of the sacrifice they are forced to make if they acknowledge it when they are making it. When you are in the security line think about why you are there, think about the deliberate sacrifice you are making or being forced to make. And when you get to the actual "magic portal" represented by the metal detector (etc.) say something like "Oh mighty tiki protect us on this journey and let us prevail against our foes." Not only will this boggle the security personnel it'll help lighten the load and put all the bother into better perspective.

So, you might ask, what do we do with all the money collected in all the tikis in the effects shop? When the movie is over we go out and spend the couple hundred dollars of tiki money on beer and such. So in that spirit I might ask what we might do with all the rooms full of sharp objects and the psyches full of accumulated inconvenience after this is all over.

David Woolsey
Berkeley, CA

The original article can be found on my website at

Page first created Wednesday, November 07, 2001
Page last modified Monday, November 12, 2001 1:10 PM
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