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05 May 2012

The Voice of Russia’s ghostly nude

No naked passengers on this flight
In one of its better examples of unintentional humour, the Voice of Russia published this week a report about the apparent relaxation of airport security which has been made possible by improved technology.
“Scanners,” the article tells us, “produce ghostly images which look like naked passengers.”
     Personally, I have never seen a naked airline passenger, even in what Voice of Russia calls “the zone of examination” at an airport. But I can imagine what some of them might look like, with a shudder of sympathy for the staff who have to peer all day at such bodies and try to guess which crevice in the rolls of fat might be large enough to conceal a lethal pair of tweezers, a Stanley knife or a little ball of Semtex.
     The article also tells us that the use of psychologists in airport security “zones” is “becoming more and more popular”. Nothing is said about how they are used, but my guess would be that they are there to keep the scanner operators sane.
     And that is not all. It is “no secret”, we are told with a conspiratorial wink, “that a complex security system, including the simultaneous use of electronic devices, people, sniffer dogs and other devices, is more effective.”
     The minor language point is that such a sentence assumes that people and sniffer dogs are non-electronic “devices”, which is neither polite nor accurate.
     The larger point relates to my previous post about the word “unique”. In the opening paragraph, the report says,
“Modern devices for revealing terrorist threat [it should be “a terrorist threat”, or “terrorist threats”] have become more perfect.”
     Perfection is a state of unimprovable quality. You can no more increase perfection than you can increase uniqueness. Something is either perfect (or unique) or it is not. Since improvement in most systems is continuous, we can safely assume that the systems, even at Russian airports, are not yet perfect—nor ever will be. Like the phrase “it is no secret”, the world “perfect” reveals a Soviet linguistic heritage at the Voice of Russia which does the post-Soviet country that the station is supposed to represent no favours.
     A fair copy of that sentence might be:
“Methods for detecting terrorist threats are improving continuously.”
     The only problem with putting it like that is that it becomes quite clear that it is just another statement of the obvious, and should therefore be cut out.

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