Plastic knives and Alanis Morissette

I’ve flown first class exactly twice in the last five years. The first time was right after 9/11. At the time I was struck by how ludicrous it is that they provided metal forks and spoons, but plastic knives. The idea was that terrorists would take over the plane using metal table knives (perhaps in combination with the nail clippers they snuck past security). Yesterday I flew first class again (because Dubner complained so loudly to our publisher about the hardships of flying cross-country they told him he could fly first class, so they felt obligated to upgrade me too). Still plastic knives. Not that I care about metal vs plastic utensils, because I don’t at all. It is just such a classic example of how in the interest of looking like you are doing something, crazy rules get put into place, and then persist.

Dubner and I are taping the Tavis Smiley show today. Alanis Morissette is the other guest. Maybe I can get her to sign my new iPOD.


Steve: Alanis Morissette is the other guest. Maybe I can get her to sign my new iPOD.

DF: I like it. Less of the phony self-deprecation. Less of the homoerotic banter with Dubner. Now you sound like a teenage girl.

Very nice. And hey - it's pretty darn clever of you to point out how silly some of the regulations at airports are! Not as clever as Dubner's dirty socks joke, but pretty close!

You steves ROCK!


Here is an interesting little exercise that might explain things a bit. Take one of those ceramic knife-sharpeners that you should never ever use on a real kitchen knife and run a butter knife through the sharpener for several minutes. Now try the same thing with a fork or spoon. The knife has a "blade" that is thin and works for this task, most forks and spoons are too fat to have any hope of getting an edge (you might have some luck sharpening the handle, but not the "business end" of the implement.)

Beside, who is really going to be concerned if you threaten them with a spoon? A knife, even a dull one, is more threatening...

Jonathan Schwartz


Some of their posts are mostly fluff and some are substantive. Some they put a lot of thought into and some they probably just dash off because they are busy and they know people want to see some kind of update. Why do you have a problem with that? By the way, being sarcastic and being clever/insightful are not the same thing.



I have never understood this either. I mean if everybody had a metal knife how threatening would the hijackers be anyway? I think we focus way too much on the attempts to take over a plane. I think we all know what would happen if somebody tried that again. The same thing that happened in Pennsylvania on 9/11.

America should be much more concerned, IMHO, about something like 7/7 in London or someone shipping something on a boat into one of our major harbors.



The Federal government of the United States makes pathological, stupid decisions that threaten the well-being of the entire planet. The plastic vs. metal knife issue is a tiny sliver of the pathological legislation known as "Zee Homeland Security." This gestapo/keystone kops -ish legislation is the tiniest tip of the iceberg of Sam's stupidity that includes:

a. taking off shoes on account of that shoe bomber

b. NASA inspecting videos of Discovery for debris since debris was the demise of Challenger, EVEN THOUGH the more serious risk to the current mission involves fuel sensors, etc.

c. etc. ad nauseum.

It's like we're all on the upper deck of the Titanic and he water is up to our chins. And stevie-squared is (are?) playing splishy splashy.


Memphis Steve

Who is Alanis Morissette? Is she Jessica Simpson's younger sister or something like that?

Sorry, I was just being mean.

Any time the government or other corporate beauracracies make decisions on vital matters such as these they always seem to come up with the most assinine ideas. I guess in prisons across the United States the inmates have to use plastic knives? So naturally the logic of prison transfers perfectly to passengers on an airliner. Maybe they figured you'd take a metal knife into the fully-equipped metal shop locted at the back of every plane and grind it down until it was nice and sharp? Or perhaps their lawyers came up with the idea? 3 years of law school seems to qualify a person to make almost any decision in this country. I don't know what that is, but somehow it seems like a bad idea to me.

Jonathan Schwartz

By the way, the concept that "in the interest of looking like you are doing something, crazy rules get put into place, and then persist" applies to the child safety seat laws so not just a fluff post afterall.


Don't worry, I'm sure that their next post will solve all the world's problems.



I wouldn't bet on it - these guys have an infinite capacity for navel-gazing.

Navelnomics? Trivianomics? Nadanomics?


I believe navel contemplation is called omphaloskepsis. There, I finally got to use that word.

John Cross

Isn't it ironic (don't you think?) that Levitt's rant was about knives vs. forks?


...err I meant to say knives vs. spoons (you know, from the Alanis song. But now that I'm correcting myself and explaining the joke it kind of kills the mojo. Dang.)

Gunnar peterson

This concept of taking away knives but (until recently) allowing matches and such is called "security theater" by leading security expert Bruce Schneier. Security theater makes people assume they are safer without actually improving the state of security.

"Security is only as strong as its weakest link; three locks on the front door do little good if the back door is open. Likewise, the air transportation system is only as secure as the country's most insecure airport, because once someone passes through security at one location, they don't have to do so at another. Los Angeles International Airport is planning a redesign partly for security reasons, but the weakest-link principle posits that a terrorist could simply drive to San Diego and catch a commuter flight to LAX."

Full essay on "America's Flimsy Fortress" at:


The random bag and backpack searches which began last week on the New York subway are another example of "cosmetic" security precautions, intended to provide a measure of reassurance to the nervous riding public but with little or no practical effect. A bomber who encounters police officers conducting random searches can simply go to another station, only a small percentage of the system's 400+ stations having random searches at any particular time, or just wait a while. If he's a suicide bomber, he can take his chances and hope that his bag isn't one of the small number selected for search, adn if he is selected he can detonate the bomb right then and there. A bomb explosion in the crowded confines of a typical station entrance can be just as deadly as if it occurred on a train, and as an added benefit the bomber will be able to kill several police officers.


I've had two moments flying in which I've seriously wondered what they're trying to accomplish in the name of security. The first occurred on flight to France soon after 9/11. They served a delicious meal with plastic utensils, but neglected to consider if giving a potential terrorist like me a glass bottle of wine. Have they never seen a bar fight in an old west movie?

The second was a little more fun. I was leaving Tahiti with a Tahitian lance, an old wood-carved weapon. As I carried my authentic 4 foot tool of war through the security checkpoint, they tried to explain to some poor German woman that she couldn't take her 3 inch nail file onto the plane.

I guess everyone has their own definition of safety.


Anonymous said: "Here is an interesting little exercise that might explain things a bit. Take one of those ceramic knife-sharpeners that you should never ever use on a real kitchen knife and run a butter knife through the sharpener for several minutes."

Here's an interesting excercise. Stab yourself with a fork. Please.

If you were to make a great big list of things likely to kill people, where would butterknife terrorism rank?


I'm pretty sure it was the Columbia, not the Challenger, that exploded because of debris. By the way, are you a dried-up, bitter, old hag in real life, or do you just play one on blogs that you dislike so much that you post continually?


Dear anonymous,

Sorry for my faux pas re: Columbia.

Feynman O-ring = Challenger
Foam Oh no! = Columbia

I think i can keep straight NASAs names for their phallic projectiles now.

I'm puzzled why you find my hobby of making fun of the steves to be evidence for the hypothesis that I am dried-up, bitter and old. Jousting in the blogosphere is a young man's sport, no?

Thanks for the chance to opine once more.


P.S. What does it mean to be "dried up?"

Princess Leia

Hmmm... You Steves are not too out of touch in California.

I overthink my crochet hook every time going through security. Might be worth it to invest in a bamboo set. And don't bother carrying on any knitting these days. I already have wooden needles for when I need to.

Too old now to know what Alanis might have sung... Should I continue bothering to save the planet or can I just sell-out in peace??? ;-)


I have serious doubts about the kind of attack that happened on 9/11 happening again. I'm an able bodied 23 year old, and if on a plane that was hijacked I think I would throw myself at them in any intelligent way I could. (my laptop could put a serious dent in sombodies skull). Keep the number of Muslim males between the ages of 16 and 50 below 5 and I doubt any group will have the manpower to overtake an entire plane of passangers who all know what fate awaits them.
like that plane that went down in Penn. in under an hour civilian response went from 'let's see what they want' to 'f - this we're taking the mother down.' America is nothing if not dynamic. I say we go old west style and give every non-felon the ability to carry concealed weapons. If nothing else it would make a more polite society.(jk)