To the class of 2015: Beware of the salad |

To the class of 2015: Beware of the salad

Rabbi David Segal

Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” If that’s the case, then the Transportation Security Administration is set to achieve greatly any day now. In a series of undercover tests of their methods, the TSA got a grade of 95, but not the good kind. They detected weapons or explosives only 5 percent of the time. If the TSA were a high school abstinence-only curriculum, it would be that one in Texas that recently experienced an outbreak of chlamydia among 20 students. Airport security would be better off with Helen Keller in charge. And she’s dead.

I’ve experienced firsthand the TSA hard at work. One time, they let me bypass the metal detector while they wanded a nun. Another time, I encountered a longer airport security line than usual. Eventually, I got close enough to see what was causing the delay. They were detaining a woman, her suitcase splayed open on the conveyor belt, because she was trying to take a container of potato salad onto the plane. An emergency ad-hoc committee of TSA experts had assembled to determine whether potato salad is a solid, and therefore innocuous, or a liquid, and therefore an imminent threat that can be contained only by a quart-size Ziploc bag.

I stood there racking my brain, trying to deduce whether potato salad is a liquid or a solid. There are arguments on both sides. On the one hand, it sort of takes the shape of its container, which is a thing liquids do. On the other hand, it’s potatoes.

I thought back to fifth-grade science class, when we learned the states of matter: gas, liquid, solid, … mayonnaise? I can never remember the fourth one. I don’t know if potato salad is a liquid or a solid. But I do know that if there’s a terrorist who can hijack a plane using potato salad, then they’ve won.

How hard could it be to make airport security an effective threat deterrent rather than an inconvenient spectacle? After all, we put a man on the moon.

That’s a strange expression, when you think about it. “We put a man on the moon!” — as if “we” did that, you and I, and not a crack squad of literal rocket scientists. “We” did not put a man on the moon. “We” cooked up conspiracy theories about how they faked the moon landing in a sound studio. “We” like to say that the moon is made of cheese. “They” put a man on the moon, not “we.”

I bet the people who actually put a man on the moon get pretty tired of hearing about it.

Imagine if you were one of those rocket scientists, and then you accidentally washed a shirt that’s dry-clean only, and your spouse said, “What is wrong with you? Didn’t you put a man on the moon?” Once you put a man on the moon, you’ve set a pretty high bar for yourself.

So I guess the lesson is to lower expectations. As the inspirational saying goes, “Reach for the stars. But tell people you’re just shooting for the moon.” At least I think that’s how it goes.

In the end, don’t be afraid to fail. That’s where learning happens. And even if you fail nearly every time, there may be a job waiting for you in airport security. Just keep an eye out for potato salad.

Rabbi David Segal, of the Aspen Jewish Congregation, can be reached at 970-925-8245 or He blogs at, and his column runs the first Saturday of each month.