are we there safe yet?

It's official: toothpaste is a threat to national security.

Count it among other frightening gel and liquid products such as soda, makeup, shampoo and sunscreen that are now prohibited in carry-on luggage. Nothing says security like a major inconvenience.

It all happened after a flight headed to Boston's Logan Airport was sent back to London's Heathrow Airport midflight on Monday, when it was discovered that a passenger on the ever-so-trusty "no-fly" list was on the plane. I was hoping that passenger would turn out to be a Kennedy, or maybe Cat Stevens again. But to maintain a good-old-fashioned culture of fear, you can't have too many of such embarrassments, so I knew it was unlikely.

So, a bomb plot was of course discovered and thwarted, many people with brown skin were arrested, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush enjoyed their vacations, and their respective governments were quick to create new restrictions on what's allowed in carry-on luggage.

The Brits have it worse than American airline passengers, as mobile phones and iPods are among the items banned. Actually, people in the U.K. basically can't take anything onboard except a few essential items, such as identification and those pesky boarding passes. How thoughtful of British officials to at least include tampons in that list.

But I think my favorite example of how absurd and pointless these new restrictions are comes from an article in the San Jose Mercury News:

Julie Hayes of Armdore, scheduled to fly to Chicago, didn't want to check her carry-on, or dump cosmetics worth $100 or more, but got help from another waiting woman, who was flying to Kansas City.

That woman agreed to put Hayes' beauty aids - lotion, hair spray, makeup, shampoo and more - into the bag she planned to check in. Then after getting to K.C., she'd mail the products back to Hayes.

Security officials, it should be noted, often warn passengers never to carry items given to them by strangers.

Absolutely brilliant.

FURTHER THOUGHTS (2:45 PM): What of all the perfume, makeup and alcoholic beverages travelers might purchase at a duty-free shop in the airport or inflight? Does this render the duty-free industry dead? Either way, I'm still going to be angry when the airlines lose my luggage and I can't brush my teeth or call my mom.

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