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    No Stone Unturned

    Robert M. Thorson

    October 5 2006

    When is a rock not a rock? When you pass through airport security. Then it becomes a potential weapon, one capable of bringing an airplane down.

    I'm mad. I can think of a better way to combat terrorism than taking mineral specimens away from geologists traveling to their conferences. I suggest we get U.S. forces out of Iraq, where our blundering entry and lingering occupation are inflaming anti-American sentiment throughout the world.

    There are two versions of what happened to my specimen at Bradley International Airport, Hartford. In the first version, I was completely at fault. Out of ignorance, I broke some unwritten rule. Then, in the name of homeland security, the Transportation Security Administration took my rock away.

    In the second version, the federal government is at fault for not listing mineral specimens as prohibited items and for creating a climate so fearful of terrorism that it's compromising our economic efficiency, personal freedom and instinct to trust one another.

    I was traveling to Hood River, Ore., to attend the annual meeting of the Stone Foundation, an international organization of architects, sculptors, stonemasons, geologists, engravers and engineers united by their love of stone.

    To enhance my speech, I nestled one of my favorite specimens between my underwear and shirts in a carry-on bag because I never check luggage on business trips. My banded chunk of the Hebron Gneiss (pronounced "nice") resembled a broken slice of layer cake composed of licorice and cream cheese.

    In retrospect, I suppose I could have put the grapefruit-sized specimen inside my sock, swung it around my head like a mace, charged the cabin and attempted to hijack the flight. This, of course, never occurred to me until the zealous inspector declared my rock a "dual-use" item.

    "What, pray tell, is a dual-use item?" I asked. I'm afraid I chucked just a little, causing her to glare, withhold a satisfactory answer and call her supervisor. He hefted my rock, scrutinized it for a moment, and agreed that my specimen was indeed a dual-use item, meaning a potential low-tech weapon. During those uneasy moments when I thought I would be detained, I wondered if a doctor's stethoscope would also be declared a dual-use item, since it could be used to strangle a pilot.

    The inspectors did give me the option of returning to the ticket counter to check my specimen as baggage. However, having waited more than half an hour for my security clearance, I decided that I didn't have enough time. "Can I claim the rock when I return?" I asked. Their answer, a resounding "no," forced me to choose between possibly missing my flight, and abandoning my rock forever.

    I capitulated, surrendering it to that great unmarked graveyard where confiscated items will spend eternity. If rocks had feelings, my beautiful specimen would have been crying as it was hauled away.

    My gneiss was not without sentimental value. It has been my traveling companion for three years, and a touchstone for thousands of people who have attended my talks. And though my rock is gone for good, what worries me is that some analyst - perplexed by the usual nature of my dual-use object - will write a report to be sent up the bureaucratic food chain.

    Who knows? Perhaps your tax dollars will be used by an internal think tank of agency hire-ups to ponder why on earth a geologist would travel with a rock. Who knows? Perhaps the government will wiretap my phone or check my library records to see whether I have checked out a Koran or a book about stone-age warfare.

    I'm a middle-aged, balding, blond and blue-eyed Scandinavian-American. If the gauntlet of untrusting looks at airport security intimidates me, then how much worse would it be for an Arab American? Would the threshold weight for rock confiscation be lower?

    After my conference, I brought back a specimen of rhyolitic ignimbrite (welded volcanic ash) to mitigate the loss of my nice gneiss. This time, I took no chances. I put it in my carry-on bag and checked it as luggage to ensure that my new rock would make it home, which it did.

    What's next for airport screening? My dual-use laptop?

    Robert M. Thorson is a professor of geology at the University of Connecticut and a member of The Courant's Place Board of Contributors. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected].
    rofl, is airport security getting a little too paranoid? The ban on liquids they say is too protect us, but according to a good toxicoligist that I know the easiest way for a terrorist to cause havoc would be to infect himself.

    Cmon, a rock?
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    I still think the measures are a good thing, because they prevent terrorist orchestras from going on tour.
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    Sorry a terrorist could "infect" himself with two different liquids hoping that in his body they combine and explode?

    Are you f***ing out of your mind?

    A rock can be used as an assault weapon and, frankly, isn't required in hand luggage.
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    He was referring to the terrorist infecting him/herself with a deadly contagious disease.
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    (Original post by The_Bear)
    Sorry a terrorist could "infect" himself with two different liquids hoping that in his body they combine and explode?

    Are you f***ing out of your mind?

    A rock can be used as an assault weapon and, frankly, isn't required in hand luggage.
    Nefarious is right... think 3 terrorists, 1 live with a fast acting disease, and the other 2 with the antidote inside them. Perfect way to easily and safely take control of a plane.
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    As a geologist, rocks have been confined to the hold for years now - a long time before 9/11 and all that rubbish - its just logical.
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    (Original post by Nefarious)
    He was referring to the terrorist infecting him/herself with a deadly contagious disease.
    I know, I was mixing the liquid bombs and the "infection" together for comedic effect.

    He means something like Mission Impossible 2.
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    (Original post by samba)
    rofl, is airport security getting a little too paranoid? The ban on liquids they say is too protect us, but according to a good toxicoligist that I know the easiest way for a terrorist to cause havoc would be to infect himself.

    Cmon, a rock?
    Put two average men in a room, have them fight, but give one a rock. Odds are the one with the rock walks out.

    20 bucks says if I walk up behind you with the intent to kill you, and I have a rock in my hand, I'm going to get the job done a hell of a lot faster than had I not had it. It's not that crazy. A rock is just as dangerous as a small club.
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    (Original post by Rusty33)
    A rock is just as dangerous as a small club.
    I don't know, if the club was like The Ultimate Ninja Club you'd probably win. Even if there werent many of you.
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    The mind boggles over the potential number of 'things' that could constitute a 'dual-use' item - I can't think of any exceptions - but then I do have a fertile imagination! :rolleyes:
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    (Original post by yawn)
    The mind boggles over the potential number of 'things' that could constitute a 'dual-use' item - I can't think of any exceptions - but then I do have a fertile imagination! :rolleyes:
    :rofl: I'd love it if someone took over a plane by bludgeoning the pistol armed Sky Marshall with a 12 inch vibrating **** :rofl: Ala Lock Stock.
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    ...

    the guy couldve just checked his rock as luggage. seems pretty reasonable to me. he was just intent on being contrary so he'd an "amusing" sarcastic article to write.
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    (Original post by TKR)
    ...

    the guy couldve just checked his rock as luggage. seems pretty reasonable to me. he was just intent on being contrary so he'd an "amusing" sarcastic article to write.
    The whole point was that the guy explained that when he was on business trips (which this one was) he never checked in luggage.

    Read the OP again.
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    Yes - remember, on internal flights there's not nearly as much waiting round and stuff as international, so putting it in luggage actually does add a fair old chunk of time to both ends of the journey.
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    (Original post by DanGrover)
    :rofl: I'd love it if someone took over a plane by bludgeoning the pistol armed Sky Marshall with a 12 inch vibrating **** :rofl: Ala Lock Stock.
    In Vicky Pollard mode; OMG, I can't believe you just said that! :eek:
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    (Original post by DanGrover)
    :rofl: I'd love it if someone took over a plane by bludgeoning the pistol armed Sky Marshall with a 12 inch vibrating **** :rofl: Ala Lock Stock.
    "Nobody move!...or the Marshall gets it"
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    (Original post by yawn)
    The whole point was that the guy explained that when he was on business trips (which this one was) he never checked in luggage.

    Read the OP again.
    I wonder if that excuse would work for a travelling arms dealer....
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    (Original post by a fire in the sky)
    I wonder if that excuse would work for a travelling arms dealer....
    I'm sure there are already recognised procedures in place for 'arms dealers'.

    My cousin owns a gun shop and the restrictions placed on him regarding movement of guns are very strict. He would lose his livelihood if he breached them.
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    anything can be used as a weapon. a shirt can be used to strangle the pilot, an apple to suffocate him, a rock the knock him unconscious. the thuth is anything is a "dual-use" item, but they sop you from taking the most risky ones.
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    Necromancy is frowned upon on TSR.
 
 
 
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