SECURITY THEATER

After all these years of writing, I find few things less useful than pointing out that right-wingers are hypocrites. Sometimes it's fun or instructive depending on the context, but overall it adds little to the public discourse. Pointing out Teabaggers on Medicare, red states dependent on Federal tax dollars, and other similar examples is about as necessary as pointing out that the sun comes up daily. All of conservatism is built on a fundamental hypocrisy: that government is Bad, except for all of the things I want it to do for me. Which I don't want to pay for, incidentally.

Any argument that begins with a caveat like the preceding is bound to have a ", but…" So, that said, this whole Let's Revolt Against the TSA / Don't Touch My Junk thing is so far beyond ridiculous that I'll suffer my own statement of the obvious for a day.

Charles Krauthammer is one of many columnists banging this drum in the last few days, trying mightily to turn irritation at airport security procedures into some combination of the Montgomery bus boycott and the Salt March – not to mention a total validation of Teabagger Doctrine:

Don't touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter. Don't touch my junk, Obamacare – get out of my doctor's examining room, I'm wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back. Don't touch my junk, Google – Street View is cool, but get off my street. Don't touch my junk, you airport security goon – my package belongs to no one but me, and do you really think I'm a Nigerian nut job preparing for my 72-virgin orgy by blowing my johnson to kingdom come?

WOLVERINES!

Other rants bear overblown titles like "TSA has met the enemy – and they are us" and other such faux-populist nonsense. This is so far beyond stupid that I am not sure where to begin. So let's begin at the beginning.

Look. The TSA was created by these same people who now find themselves in vocal opposition to it. It was born of the post-9/11 fear and paranoia of America's business travelers, crotchety grandparents, and mothers burdened with strollers. Soccer Moms. Late Life Libertarians (?). Knee-jerk suburban reactionaries. Xenophobic hicks. Whining Baby Boomers. They demanded that Big Government protect them from their fears and brown people (to the extent that the two diverge in their minds). Washington responded with the greatest display of bureaucratic firepower and security theater the world has ever seen. The TSA is everything that the 2002 Yellowcake-from-Niger obsessed American public demanded: a big, expensive show, the primary and perhaps only purpose of which was to make people feel better.

Let's be frank. Any remotely clever person who cared to do so could think of about a dozen ways to sneak dangerous or banned items onto an airplane. We know goddamn well that a walk through a metal detector and a quick pass of our baggage through a screening device aren't really going to "protect" us. Sure, it will catch some portion of the potential terrorists, namely the really dumb ones.

But come on. If security is really the goal here, it is not only logical but necessary that passengers be screened – either visually or by hand – for items taped to their bodies. Now that we're at that point, people get pissed. This is what you wanted. You wanted security. You demanded it. You wanted someone with a uniform and a badge to reassure your imagination that Osama bin Laden was not going to blow up your 12:35 nonstop from Chattanooga to BWI.

Then again, maybe all we really wanted was the Theater. Or maybe the TSA has always been a huge pain in the ass of the American traveler, but for some strange reason no one felt much like lashing out at Washington over it until their was a CommieFascioMarxist black guy in the White House. Maybe talking about our rights – which we essentially punted on between 2001 and 2008 – is just the lamest, most transparent kind of excuse for people like Krauthammer to grind a political ax. People are irritated because of a new security procedure at the airport? My word, how unprecedented. It must be because everyone hates the government.

I don't dispute that most of what the TSA does is silly and marginally effective at best, nor do I question the sincerity of travelers who say they're annoyed. I guess I just question their timing.

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54 Responses to “SECURITY THEATER”

  1. Angry Geometer Says:

    I'm a liberal and civil liberties fanatic who was finally pushed too far. I thought the screening procedures in place on January 19, 2009, were just fine, and really nothing changed for me until recently. Strip searches and sexual assault so you can board an airplane? No longer cool, if the guy at the top of the org chart is a Negro.

  2. dick nixon Says:

    @bb

    I am assuming in the following statement you are advocating "Quality at the Source"

    "Right now the technology exists to create ‘good guy’ profiles on passengers so they could blow through the system to reduce the load on the 100% product inspection, but even w/ massive relief on this front, it won’t be enough."

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that 100% inspection as practiced has a higher error rate that which it seeks to monitor. Question– what form would this QAS assume?

  3. bb in GA Says:

    dick nixon

    Quality at the Source thinking has more application to parts, subassembly, and assembly manufacturing than what we have at the airport. Moving passengers thru our system is more akin to a process manufacturing line – stream of liquid. Essentially we are trying to raise the purity of the flowing product.

    If we want to use the successful Israeli model we need to scale up a system that serves millions of passengers per year by at least an order of magnitude and a half.

    I think behavioral profiling is inevitable, but will probably have a tactical "shelf life" They will find out what behaviors are selected for attention and adjust accordingly. The terrorists will also recruit more radicalized Westerners who have converted to Islam and are trained in the West without those problematic trips to Pakistan, Yemen, etc.

    Technology to detect the presence of or recent contact w/ various explosives or their precursors exists, but this also presents a moving target. The wonderful world of chemistry suggests new and different ways to create an explosion.

    Someone earlier complained that any manufacturing quality approach didn't apply here. It is true that defects in widgets and sand in your Sangria do not have adaptive abilities so that probably a medical biological model might be more appropriate.

    But, I think I can assert, based on our nearly a century of attempts to manufacture quality products, what we are doing now will surely fail us.

    We are attempting to accurately measure the length of frog hairs with yard sticks.

    //bb

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