Streetwise Professor

November 15, 2010

Transportation Sodomy Administration

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 3:35 pm

I fly a lot.  A lot.  My heavy air travel began in August, 2001, so I’ve seen the post-911 evolution of airport security from beginning to end.  I’ve seen airport security Kabuki theater more times than Cats has been performed on Broadway.  In the process, I’ve learned things: like, for instance, that chunky peanut butter is a verbotten gel.  I’ve seen the fiendishly clever ploys used to keep terrorists off-guard, such as the shoes go in the tray this week, but on the belt and not in the tray the next.  Yeah.  That’ll work.  Through long exposure I’ve become inured to that combination of incompetence and attitude that puts a majority of TSA screeners in the same league as toll booth attendants and DMV personnel.

But it’s going from bad to worse.  That’s because TSA is now giving air travelers the unpalatable choice between (a) taking a dose of radiation and be ogled in the nude, or (b) being subjected to a physical search that would be a felony sexual assault in any jurisdiction in the US. “Air travelers” who, by the way, include small children.

Or sometimes both.  My wife was going through security in St. Louis* about a month ago.  She was told to go through the new screening device.  She said she’d prefer not to.  So they said if she didn’t, she would have to be subjected to the intrusive physical search.  She decided to go through the screening device.  And when she stepped out, they subjected her to the degrading, abusive, humiliating physical search anyways.  Surely, just to teach her not to Question Authority.  The SOB carrying out this public service (take out the “l” from “public” and you’d have an accurate description of the process) did it, my wife said, with a half-assed grin on his face.

There’s a word for people like that.  It starts with “P” and rhymes with “tricks.” But they’re from the government, and they’re there to serve and protect you, so you’d better shut the hell up.

This cannot be justified on any rational basis.  The cost of the equipment, the personnel required to perform these loathsome tasks, the time lost by travelers, the health risks from additional radiation, not to mention the very real psychic cost of being groped by some TSA dope cannot possibly exceed the benefit arising from any miniscule decline in the likelihood of a terrorist incident.

What’s more, this initiative is intended to prevent a recurrence of things like last Christmas’s Junk Bomber.  That, you’ll recall, was the result of a massive intelligence and procedural fail on the part of the very same yo-yos responsible for mandating the new policy.  Since they are incapable, apparently, of denying boarding to an individual who (a) traveled through Yemen, (b) was been identified as a  terrorist threat by his own father, and (c) didn’t have the proper identification, they have decided to subject tens of millions of innocent people to abusive invasions of personal space and privacy.

I would much prefer that TSA adopt policies that rely on utilizing information that would permit a more discriminating–yes, discrimination in this, as in taste, is a good thing–targeting of security efforts on individuals that are more likely to pose a terrorist threat, instead of relying on this perverse (in many senses of the word) and indiscriminate game of X-rated Blind Man’s Bluff.  The operative principle of which appears to be that it is preferable to violate the persons, privacy, rights and dignity of everybody, rather than a rationally selected few.  That it is better to subject tens of millions to degrading assaults, than to identify a few whose behavior or associations make them greater risks, and subject them to some additional questioning (of the type that El Al has used with great effectiveness).

This isn’t insanity.  This is the exponential of insanity.

God give me the strength to keep my temper and hold my tongue.  I think I’m going to need it.

* Word to the wise.  St. Louis Lambert Terminal 2 has, by far, the worst TSA performance of all the airports I’ve been to.  And I’ve been to most of them.  Slow with a lot of attitude.  The TSA people at the Asheville, NC airport were by far the friendliest and most helpful of those at any airport I’ve visited.

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  1. “This cannot be justified on any rational basis.” True, if the purpose is to increase air travel security. If the purpose is to remind people who’s in charge, that flying is a privilege granted by state overlords, that “national security” trumps individual liberties, and so on, then it makes sense.

    Comment by Peter G. Klein — November 15, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

  2. For once, we agree 100%.

    Comment by The Other Ivan — November 15, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

  3. @PGK–I rebel against dignifying with the adjective “rational” the schemes of these power freaks. Yes, I understand they are means calculated to achieve an end, which is rational in some sense, but I won’t give them the credit.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 15, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

  4. I recently flew with my wife from IAH. While preparing to empty my pockets I felt my favorite knife (Spyderco 3″ blade tactical folder). I pulled it out and showed my wife while lamenting my favorite knife would be taken. I started filling the tray and just dropped the knife in the tray between my shoes. My wife went through first and she speaks little English. She made the horrible mistake of holding her passport in her hand as she went through the machine (hands must now be empty). The TSA pounced on her and told her she needed secondary screening. While they were escorting my wife to the adjoining secondary screening area my tray went through the machine and no one said anything. I slipped my knife out of the tray and back into my pocket. As I was putting my things away I watched as they molested my wife. It was unbelievable. I was proud of my wife that she remained calm (we both wanted to make the flight).

    I thought about EL Al’s best in class security and the fact that the actually use…dare I say it… common sense…when screening passengers and assessing potential threats. Common sense has been under assault in the US for some time and the TSA is iconic in this regard..

    I would prefer not to cooperate with TSA procedures but the threat of the no fly list is a huge concern for many people including myself. All I can do is vote for people that generally see things as I do and hope they start dismantling organizations like the TSA (maybe even start with the TSA).

    Comment by pahoben — November 15, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

  5. You live in a police state.

    Submit. Your lives are not your own. Strip and get over it. Pay your taxes and submit to higher authority.

    Al Qaeda is the least of your worries.

    Comment by JoJo — November 15, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

  6. For once, we agree 100%.

    What he said. (Well, and guns).

    But… maybe not fully 100%. Was Obama responsible? 😉

    The most irrational part of this is that the chances of being killed by a terrorist act in the US are not much higher than dying from a lightning strike, so not only is this a degrading assertion of state power, it is a hugely pointless investment that only benefits the “homeland security” and “intelligence” industries.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — November 15, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

  7. Agreed. I actually found the Russian airport security to be much better than elsewhere because they actually used some common sense. People like me got a proper search, the old granny with steel teeth got less of one. This is how it should be, and the result is I got through a lot quicker. Plus the girl doing the patting down is often quite fit, or at least she was in Khabarovsk airport. 🙂

    Some consistency between countries/airports would be nice too. Either shoes need to be scanned or they don’t; laptops either need to be outside of a bag, or they don’t; belts on or off; ditto watches. They obviously have no idea and are just making it up as they go along.

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 16, 2010 @ 5:59 am

  8. Yes, our power-mad intel and security types have lost all of the tiny sense of proportion they ever did have, and are winning victories for Osama every day. They spend thousands to send a guy out with a new technique, and our response costs billions and produces vast inconvenience. Sand in our sociology-economic gears.

    Our intel/security types are the reason the terrorists are winning.

    Comment by rkka — November 16, 2010 @ 7:40 am

  9. “that puts a majority of TSA screeners in the same league as toll booth attendants and DMV personnel.” —- Well now you have mentioned the 3 types of folks who make me feel like I am in India whenever I miss that country (sarcasm intended). People who advocate greater govt. participation just need to spend a summer in India to see how that would work out!

    I have a feeling that the “junk” bomber was let through, so that TSA could push for even greater resources & power. Or may be a day or so after he was caught they realized what a great opportunity it was to expand their reach – Napolitano went from saying there was “no major security breach” to the exact opposite. Wonder why the sudden volte face??

    Btw, there is an opt-out clause for airports not interested in using TSA. They can go for a private approved contractor. Apparently 17 airports have done this already. Wonder how it is going for those folks.

    Comment by Surya — November 16, 2010 @ 10:13 am

  10. Lets not forget that none of our Washington overlords are subjected to the same screening that the great unwashed masses are subjected to. Members of Congress are not subjected to TSA screening.

    Comment by Charles — November 16, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

  11. 100 Naked Citizens –

    Comment by Surya — November 16, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  12. @Charles. Duly noted. “Do as I say, not as I do” is the motto at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

    One other weird thing. Pilots are subjected to the same scrutiny. I mean really. The pilot doesn’t have to hijack or blow up the damn plane. He or she is at the controls, inside the locked cockpit, and can pretty much do whatever s/he damn well pleases.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 16, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

  13. Last time the Chechens blew up a plane (2004?), they bribed the security. Maybe Russian security has since become worthy of it’s name, but I fear that they’ve simply raised their prices. IMO, the only viable solution is to fly only on Arab airlines. They wouldn’t hijack/blow up one of their own planes, would they?

    Comment by So? — November 16, 2010 @ 9:50 pm

  14. I’d like to nominate Heathrow Airport for a particularly inane bit of “security”.

    A few years ago they had a rule that you could only carry one bag on the plane. This was not conveyed to the check-in desks, who checked me in with a suit carrier and a laptop in a bag. As I approached security I was stopped by a peon who – looking away from me all the time – informed me that I couldn’t take two bags. It had to be one.

    So I unzipped the suit carrier and put the laptop bag inside it. Then I zipped it up. I was allowed through. One bag, see?

    I walked about 40 feet to an X-ray machine, separated my two bags again, and boarded the plane without further harassment.

    That one will really have had Al Quaeda quaking in their sandals. How are they going to defeat the infidels’ cunning security ploy of limiting you to one bag for a distance of 40 feet?

    To Tim Newman’s point above, I’d be quite happy to be intimately searched by a fit Russian security babe as long as she did it substantially naked. I mean, who searches the guards to make sure they’re not in cahoots with the terrorists?

    I still like the theory that the best way to ensure there’s no bomb on a plane is to take your own bomb on board (because the chances of there being *two* independently-planted bombs on the *same* flight are in effect zero).

    Comment by Occasional Reader — November 17, 2010 @ 6:56 am

  15. Very sorry about your and your wife’s horrible experiences. Re: statistical (evidence-based) discrimination in searches , Steven Landsburg suggested that searched or detained passengers receive a simple monetary compensation, paid for using a small ticket surcharge. Seems reasonable. Link:

    Comment by Jack — November 17, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

  16. The airlines would then factor in the frisky bonus into their pricing.

    Comment by So? — November 18, 2010 @ 11:00 pm

  17. “One other weird thing. Pilots are subjected to the same scrutiny. I mean really. ”
    — I dont think this is a good argument. Think of a pilot in the Maj. Hassan mold

    Comment by Surya — November 19, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

  18. Planes can now be flown completely autonomously. Some people even suggest that’s how they were flown on 9/11. Proof that one can be smart and batshit crazy at the same time.

    Comment by So? — November 25, 2010 @ 1:24 am

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