[metal mania]

When Jenny and I went to see Madeleine Albright recently, we had to pass through metal detectors to get into the auditorium. Considering the security atmosphere after 9/11, and considering that we were going to see the former Secretary of State, a little security was hardly surprising.

But here’s the thing. I walked through the metal detector. It beeped. And nothing happened.

In the lobby of the Korean Mission there is now a metal detector that does the same trick. You walk through it, and inevitably it beeps. Does this lead the security guard in his booth to stir from his taxing work of chatting on his cell phone? Not at all! And it isn’t just that I’m an employee and so above suspicion. No one is stopped. The metal detector is there simply to beep at anyone who comes into the building with a belt buckle, a katana sword or a small steel box of plutonium. (It will not, however, detect a glass vial of sarin gas or an anus full of plastic explosives.)

Considering that walk-through metal detectors run around three or four grand, you have to wonder who’s authorizing these purchases, and why. Unless there’s someone behind the metal detector who makes sure that you’ve revealed all your metal and passed through clean, all the metal detector does is beep. Without the human element, the metal detector is about as helpful as a truncheon without a cop attached.

But people love things that beep (truncheons do not), and perhaps people feel more secure knowing for absolute certain that there is metal inside the building. In the end, these proliferating metal detectors are just very expensive cupholders: devices to make you feel more secure, even as you’re becoming less so.