Sabotage and safety

The American Secret Service last week managed to kill an unarmed, 34-year-old single mom that had a one-year-old in the car. She may also have been deranged. Immediate reports from the government claimed a heightened state of tension from the U.S. Navy Shipyard shootings about two weeks earlier.

Has it come to this? I recall about 20 years ago Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his wife, Aline, escaped injury when deranged separatist André Dallaire, armed with a knife, broke into 24 Sussex Drive. Aline locked the bedroom door, and Chrétien allegedly held a stone carving in readiness. Dallaire sat outside the bedroom and waited while the RCMP guard in charge had to return to his post because he initially forgot the key. Nobody got shot.

My memory is pretty good, and I recall things before the internet. Take terrorism, for example. Terrorism is a newly made-up definition on a newly made-up word. Back when terrorism was being invented, the terrorists told us what they intended. They knew they could never come up against a civilized country and win militarily, so they wanted to spread “terror” by attacking civilian targets from nowhere and causing people to fear. The hope, they said, was to topple civilization by disrupting transportation and commerce so badly that we would spend ourselves out of existence trying to defend against the indefensible.

Why not? It worked against kings and kingdoms in the past.

Let’s stretch this one out there a bit… As a disclaimer, I am not a “gun nut.” However, I have edited outdoor publications and written columns on edible mushrooms, birds, fishing and, yes, hunting. When I was in graduate school, a professor knew I had connections in the outdoor business, and HE was a gun nut.

In fact, he had a disabled German paratrooper’s helmet pistol. It was a bitty thing, about two inches long, and the slide had been made of graphite and was broken. He asked whether I knew a smith. I did, so I made the mandatory safety checks and put it in my pocket. Sounds weird today, eh? The word that describes that is anachronism. Chronos is Greek for time, so an anachronism is an event taken out of time. Back then, it was nothing.

But it gets worse. I had to take a friend to pick up her husband at the airport. We were having fun talking, and I forgot the gun as I followed her through the metal detector. Unfortunately, the metal detector worked about the same instant I remembered why it should work. The attendant asked me if I had anything in my pockets, and I said, “You know, you better call the supervisor. This is going to take some explaining.”

Because of anachronism, you will not believe this next part, but I explained, showed him the gun, he did the mandatory checks and handed it back and told me never to do that again. I did not, and I recommend you follow that example. Do not take a pistol to the airport. You could get shot.

Why did the guy believe me? For one thing, I was not a hijacker, and, unlike modern attendants, he could see that.

Long before terrorists, a gang of eight German saboteurs landed in the U.S. from a U-boat. Although they were not terrorists, they acted like terrorists. They did not have military uniforms or insignia, did not restrict themselves to military targets and did not separate themselves from the civilian populations. That is a long way to say they did not have any protections under the Geneva Conventions. Their mission was “to infiltrate the United States and destroy industrial plants, bridges, railroads, waterworks, and Jewish-owned department stores.” The Nazis hoped the sabotage teams would be able to slip into America at the rate of one or two every six weeks. However, two of the first eight ratted out the other six, the two were imprisoned and the six were hanged.

That was the end of that program.

In Canada, Werner Janowski was landed by another U-boat, captured within three hours and was hired by the (then-British) government. In neither case was the infiltration used as an excuse to extend the airport queues to three hours, record my communications, scrutinize my grandchildren’s education savings plans or shoot deranged women in black cars.

While we cannot argue against safety in today’s political environment, it seems there is an abundance of expensive overreaction to fear, especially in commerce. My favourite economist, Walter Williams, says everything is economic: when the cost outweighs the benefit, the activity stops, much like a saboteur program with zero sabotage and a 75 percent mortality rate.

In the case of costs of compliance on industry it seems the costs should be passed to the perpetrators.

P.S. The paratrooper pistol was unrepairable. I took it back to school and gave it to the professor.

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In the September/October issue of Wood Industry, we incorrectly reported that C.R. Onsrud joined the boycott of the IWF show in 2010. C.R. Onsrud did not miss the 2010 IWF show in 2010, but rather the 2009 AWFS show in Las Vegas.

Many of you will be attending the WMS show in Mississauga, Ont., later this month. If you do, be sure to stop by the Wood Industry booth No. 5023 and register to win a FREE, expense-paid trip to the Italian trade show Xylexpo next spring. Two free trips will be drawn at the Acimall booth No. 5539. In addition, you may sign up on-line here.


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