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?


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.
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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.
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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.

54 thoughts on “SECURITY THEATER”

  • Agreed. I hate the junk-grabbing as much as the next guy, but when the next guy is a teabagger who was CHEERING for this fascist crap 3 years ago, I don't feel too inclined to raise the red flag of the proletariat along with his suspiciously-timed anger.

    I feel this way about a lot of ginned up teabagger complaints — yeah, I agree in theory, but where were you when this crap was getting started? Oh right, cheering it on.

  • Am I the only one that just. does. not. care?

    You want to scan my body using only the power of science, without touching me or forcing me to disrobe? Where the fuck do I sign up?! I love this techno shit. I'd rather go through a thousand body scans than have someone feel me up in the kabuki theater that is the liability-law-hampered body search. They can't ACTUALLY touch your junk, which means anything you hide up there is good to go.

    Granted, this does make it harder to take weed on a plane, but c'mon. We don't care when the NSA records our international phone calls without a warrant, but when someone wants to see if we have explosives taped to our chest, we freak out?

  • I think this righteous indignation is part of the fact that now people are physically touching you and so becomes a more invasive and scary interaction. With a lot of Patriot Act indignities, you could hide behind the "well, I'm not doing anything wrong so I've got nothing to worry about," and the invasion of privacy was rather disconnected from physical experience. Having a metal detector wand passed between your legs, having to remove shoes and belts, putting your toothpaste in a clear plastic baggie – all of these things are annoying but doable; having people physically touching you as if you were a suspect is the thing they decry. "Don't touch my junk" is just saying, "I've done nothing wrong, don't single me out."

    Meh. I've stopped taking planes because I am poor.

  • It's necessary to keep pointing out the hypocrisies of the right wingers, for the same reason that Coca-Cola keeps advertising even though it's a universally-recognized brand… because if one stops pointing out what seems obvious, the other guys immediately start gaining ground.

    Stating the obvious and preaching to the converted are necessary. You don't get anyone into your church without a choir, and the choir needs lyrics to sing.

  • 1. Only rich white people fly.

    2. Rich white people claim to be fearless risk-takers but actually piss their pants when there's a terrorist attack and fully support invading countries at random.

    3. When they do, the people who get sent to get killed in some foreign shithole are poor and/or brown people who rarely fly.

    4. Nobody gives a fuck if rich white people have to get their junk fondled by strangers if it means even a marginally smaller chance that they will get sent to Iraq and blown up.

    5. A lot of people get treated a lot worse than the TSA treats them every single day. They get searched leaving their shitty warehouse job, they're forced to piss in a cup in front of strangers every few weeks, or they get sexually harassed by their boss. Humiliation and indignities of the TSA sort are part of the daily life of many people. No, they don't give a shit if the TSA wants to be the 5th person to grab their junk this week.

  • Aslan Maskhadov says:

    It IS pointless to point out the hypocrisy of right-wingers because…

    A. The pseudo-leftists in the US often ignore their own hypocrisy as a result, but more importantly…

    B. Right-wingers are "hypocritical" because they rarely have a coherent, consistent ideology of any sort. They live one outrage to the next, each delivered either weekly or even daily by the Fox pundits and AM radio. Often times when asking conservatives if they remember past events or arguments they are often incredulous to hear about these things. A typical response from Tea Party supporters is something like- Oh we were mad back then too! Or we're against both parties.

  • Of course the Tea Party is ALL about timing. The deficit? Look to the Bush years; that privately run "war of choice" and drug plan didn't help a whole lot… Big gum'mint? Ditto. Individual rights threatened? See: Patriot Act.

    All this is academic. "We were angry then too" just doesn't cut it. Aslan's "psudo-leftists" are rank amateurs next to these guys.

  • …Y'know, I recently flew from Atlanta to Seattle and then took the train to Portland – the train was, by far, the best leg of the trip. The car was clean, the chairs are large and you have actual leg room, you can get up and move around, the dining car was nice and the food was good. The conductor was a friendly fellow who told jokes over the PA during his welcome spiel. There was no security wait, no scan, and no junk grabbing! Best of all, it was dirt cheap. A night and day difference from the flight.

    Maybe if the U.S. actually invested in high-speed rail infrastructure, we would have a viable alternative to all this nonsense at the airports…

  • As a Chattanoogan who spends way too much time in the air (Which I guess makes me a rich white person! Yay!), I feel pedantically compelled to point out that there are no non-stops from here to BWI. :)

    My objection to the use of the full-body scanners revolves around the fact that they are massively expensive, don't actually make me any safer, and may even provide an illusion of safety that is even more dangerous. There are only two things that have happened since 9/11 that have made me feel safer in the air: locked, reinforced cockpit doors (and God what a no-brainer that was); and the fact that passengers are more likely to resist hijackers, bombers, etc. now that they realize that being hijacked means probable death.

    (In that respect, bin Laden kind of ruined it for every guy who only wanted to *hijack* a plane rather than turn it into a Flying Death Tube. Another good tactic down the drain…)

  • Yes, if this had been Bush's idea, the Right would have fallen in line, and actually felt safer! I don't mind their questioning authority (I do it myself), but I am appalled and let down, every single fucking time, when it seems apparent that their dissent is automatic when a Dem is in the White House, just as their silently falling into line for their own party is assured.

    The ultimate hypocrisy, in a way, is that dissent is Patriotic when they do it, but Treasonous when the Left does it; just as a Democrat minority had better shut up at the back of the bus, but a Red minority had better be heard, even bent-to, or it will throw a tantrum and stop the car. (And then we are condemned for calling foul.) Nauseating; infuriating.

  • Just the other day I was stopped and frisked by a police officer. He asked me a lot of invasive questions, ran my license and when it was clear that I had done nothing wrong, explained that he stopped me because I didn't have a light on the front of my bicycle. Seriously. He then sent me off with a lecture about my attitude. This is not the first encounter I have had of this sort and in the neighborhoods in which I grew up and I am sure, in non-wealthy neighborhoods all over this country, this sort of thing happens dozens of times a day. I feel confident that Krauthammmer couldn't care less about any of it.

  • Oh stop bickering about the idiot tea partiers. They arnt the ones touching little kids privates and creating a huge amount of child pornography. Thats the TSA. The tea partiers dont have any power. The TSA is nothing but an expression of power.

  • I'm pretty sure Krauthammer is desperate to have anyone touch his junk, or any kind of animate being for that matter.

    But you know, looking at that face? There's so much that's wrong with that face. One just naturally extrapolates that the unnaturally toned integument, sordid random growths, greasy residue, and abiding disfigurements just continue the story downstairs, and…

    Wow, I actually grossed myself out.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Wasn't the TSA thing pushed through congress by Blue-dogs? I'm not really sure the Republicans ever really got on board that much with it (except Herr Bush.)

  • Krauthammer (I imagine Germans being a little frightened of this guy) does make one good point: Screening pilots is pointless. Why would they carry an explosive device on board when they're the ones flying what is basically an enormous bomb?

  • The best part is listening to AM radio and hearing the pundits admit, point-blank, that the TSA wouldn't bother them if it wasn't happening to WASPS. They openly state that their gripe is that this shouldn't be done to "soccer moms" and the like, along with odes to how wonderful profiling was or how necessary it was.

    Basically, their cry is not "Stop the TSA!". It's "Stop the TSA from checking white people, get back to those dirty brown muslims!".

    This, of course, despite the mountain of terrorists that were not muslim. McVeigh, the Unabomber, the Columbine kids, the unitarian church shooter, the anthrax letterbomber…

    But then, we've already established that those weren't terrorists, mostly because they weren't muslim.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    John said…

    This, of course, despite the mountain of terrorists that were not muslim. McVeigh, the Unabomber, the Columbine kids, the unitarian church shooter, the anthrax letterbomber…

    Of course all those people were from the left wing of the Nazi party. lolz

  • About a 9.3 on the 10 point bloviation scale…

    In 2009 there were approximately 770 million passengers in the United States commercial airline system. Obviously that is mix of one time and repeat customers who originated here and from abroad.

    We could consider that the terrorists that fly among us as defects in a system that produces about 7.70E08 parts per year. Now the very famous 6 sigma approach to product quality allows for 3.4 defects per million “opportunities.” (DPMO) when successfully operating the process.

    How many terrorists flew in 2009? We don’t know for sure as only a few are publicly revealed when they succeed or are caught. Let’s assume 100 terrorists (defects) exist in the system in 2009. That represents about 0.13 ppm. Just by way of calculation, the 3.4 ppm rate would produce about 2600 terrorists.

    So we start this exercise already superior to a 6 sigma quality level.

    If we examine the history of quality improvement, it appears to have moved through the following phases.

    Defective Parts Quality Problem Solution

    Any level All types 100% inspection plus rework
    ~30% to 3% Process Capability Stat Methods plus ProcEng
    3% to 1% Problem Detection Time Cells, flow , FIFO, visual cont
    1% to 15 ppm Human Error Mistake Proofing

    Our approach to finding terrorists seems to be stuck in the early 20th century production technique of 100% inspection (without the rework. :-)) Unfortunately, our measurement systems may still have a greater error bar than the actual defective percentage that we are looking for.

    I submit that the attempt to inspect the quality into the airline passenger problem by 100% inspection is doomed to failure while inconveniencing (at the very least) tens of millions of innocent people. If we are, indeed, at somewhere near a 0.1 ppm defect level, we are still a few orders of magnitude away using everything on the list.

    It is difficult to imagine that we are near the 6 sigma defect rate (with about 2600 terrorists in the system) without a successful strike from more than one of them.

    Certainly, we could analyze the system much further. The 7.7E08 I am sure has both legs of round trips embedded in it. Repeat fliers would also reduce the core passenger numbers, but most likely no more than one order of magnitude.

    We probably have a core number of passengers on the order of 1.0E08. This would reduce the 6 sigma number of terrorists to about 300 – 350. So we could argue if that is a realistic number for actual terrorists then we are still in a 6 sigma regime.

    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.

    In any event, it is unlikely we can prevent future successful attacks by following the methods and procedures of the 1900s.


  • Monkey Business says:

    Long story short, this has been happening to anyone that looks remotely ethnic for years, it's just now happening to white people, and white people are pissed.

    Seriously though, if they would just institute some kind of dong detection software on the full body scanners that hid the gender appropriate items on the TSA screen, no one would care.

  • Mark B, you are so right about the train. It's a real treat. We take it from Milwaukee to my hometown of Whitefish, MT because it's cheaper than flying, food is provided, there's leg room, it's clean, people are nice, and yeah, it takes 30 hours but flying would be 15 with all the layovers and the 5 hour drive from Spokane because flying into Kalispell costs as much as a trip to Amsterdam.

  • As other commenters have pointed out here – the issue ain't about Tea Partiers, their politics, or the hypocrisies that the political classes and punditry wallow in. It's about a new class of people who are only now being enrolled in the school of "I have a badge and I'm telling you to STFU and do what you're told." As the banana republic police state praxis boils higher up the totem from the barrios, ghettos and rural backwaters – and the (mostly white) middle class sinks lower to meet it – expect to hear a lot more of this. At least until we're all put in our place.

  • Well said Ed.
    Recently there was a letter to the editor in the AJC from someone in a wheelchair who can't stand to be wanded or walk thru the metal detector. He has to have a full body pat-down every time he goes thru airport security. His final line was, "Welcome to my world"!!

  • What bothers me about these damn scanners is that now the airlines can charge me for an extra carry-on every time I fly due to the revelation of the size of my "equipment"…..if you know what I am talking about.

  • @bb:

    While I agree that the TSA's methods are flawed (my delight at the irony of right-wingers suddenly having to put up with the same shit everyone else has had to for so long does not change my loathing of such a fascist security system), I do not believe comparing terrorists to defective parts in a production system is reasonable.

    A defective part is mostly a revenue loss problem, with returns and such. Occasionally, a defective part may kill a few people (firestone tires, toyota brakes, etc.), but in general the 6 sigma system approaches it from a cost-benefit angle.

    The problem is that terrorism isn't a cost-benefit problem. One terrorist getting through means people die. It is, of course, insane to expect total security without devolving into an authoritarian police state, but the point is that you can't screen *some* people, in the name of security, and claim that you're accomplishing anything. As I said, a lot of the complaints are, to paraphrase, "Why are they patting down soccer moms?!".

    Well the answer is because, if you really wanted to do something to a plane, you wouldn't go in as a brown guy wearing a turban. You'd recruit a soccer mom precisely *because* they don't pat down soccer moms. We saw this with the anthrax letter bomber — turned out to be a homegrown terrorist that was quite WASPy, but everyone KNEW it HAD to be those damned dirty ay-rabs, because white Americans don't do terrorism!

    You either accept that no amount of invasive screening is going to guarantee your safety, or you go the whole hog and make absolutely 100% sure. A security system that only scans *some* people for bombs is completely worthless, because it will not catch moderately resourceful people.

  • John:

    I probably lost my best point by bloviating myself…

    I'm talking about effectiveness here. The 100% inspection will not catch ppm level defects when the inspection process itself has an error bar that may be as much as an order of magnitude higher than the level it is seeking to root out.

    We will miss the next airline terrorist for precisely that reason IMO.

    We are also facing an airline shipped cargo fiasco coming soon to an airline near you.


  • To the extent that my liberalism has an anti-authoritarian bent to it, I'm happy to oppose TSA's draconian searches. I'm flying this Wednesday, if I get selected for AIT, I'm opting out and requiring them to do the pat down so other travelers see what's being done in the name of "security".

    But you're completely right that a good portion of the the people against these searches were the ones fearfully clamoring for airline safety in the wake of 9/11.

  • A cursory glance over this comment thread illustrates what the right-wing noise machine is missing by trying to force this one into the "Everyone is a Tea Partier" narrative:

    The left is pushing this anti-TSA-groping thing as hard as harder than the right.

    I have seen the left rally against this since its inception on the principle that it goes too far. All the right is trying to do is use it as a pretext to mandate full body cavity searches on children of Muslim parents. They're not against it on a civil liberties principle; the right is against it because it inconveniences white middle-aged cranky fuckers instead of the people who look/speak/worship differently.

  • If you really want effective security we would need to implement the Israeli methods. Layered security, one-on-one interviews and behavioral (not appearance) based profiling.

    I've gone through security at Ben Gurion and they are very, very thorough.

    Of course, this would be tremendously costly and would require people to show up 3 hours prior to departure.

  • I agree that there wouldn't be a peep out of the usual suspects if the airport screenings were only happening to people who didn't look 'Muslim'. Think about the AZ 'Show me your papers' law. That thing will probably get through the courts as long as enough people who don't 'look Mexican' are asked for their documents as well. As soon as enough non-brown people accidentally leave their wallets at home, the wailing about the inconvenience of it all will be off the charts.

  • @jjack – of course, as any good, thoughtful conservative knows, you're completely wrong. Everybody knows that the TSA was a necessary and judicious move to Keep Us Safe, and was protested loudly by Evil Socialist Liberals Who Want To Destroy America. Now that it has been Hijacked By a Secret Muslim Racist Nigra to Let Damn Homos Feel Up Children And Mothers, we Need To Rise Up In Righteous Wrath. The Dirty Hippies, of course, aren't saying a word, because they secretly want to be groped (if not actually raped!) by the homosekshuls. Everybody knows this.
    I hope that this has clarified it a bit for you; no need to thank me.

  • "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."

    So what I get from this steamy shit pile of an article is this:
    "I agree with the complaints but seeing how its coming from a group I don't like, I'm going to say fuck you and go with the government on this one".

    Talk about being hypocritical.

  • @Ryan:
    I don't get a heavy pro-TSA vibe here. The subtext seems to be that it's all showbiz. I do think Teabag Nation deserves to be called out on its hypocrisy for embracing this issue nine years too late. You were all good little minions under Bush, and you stopped trusting Big Brother on PRECISELY January 20, 2009. You are all bitches for the GOP, and your opinions are less than worthless.

  • A big part of this is the gigantic contracts that Rapiscan and L3 Communications got to provide these scanners to — what is it, 700 airports? — nationwide.

    Wish someone would look into THAT.

  • Yeah, it's totally about the 4th Amendment, which didn't apply until the last week. Until then there were no 4th Amendment issues. Good point, retard.

  • If you like the TSA, thank a Republican. The only people to vote against creation of the monster in Congress were Democrats. It was a product of a GOP-controlled Congress. Thanks, GOP!

  • I totally get the irony of those who were all for strict screening are now crying foul – because they will now be affected by said strict screening. However, as much as I hate it when my views coincide with the views of groups of people I normally disagree with, I'm not so group-identity-minded or whatever to let that fact change my point of view. The latest TSA screening machines are way too personally invasive.

    Your statement, "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," is absolutely true. Seeing passengers naked will only stop the ones who aren't clever enough not to have been stopped by less invasive means anyway.

    No one should have to expose his/her naked figure for the privilege of flying on an airplane. I heard on NPR recently (yeah, I'm gonna be that lazy with references at the moment) employed by some other more progressive country(s) (like the scandinavian ones, maybe? sue me. i was getting two kids ready for school when I heard the piece) that there are ways of displaying the body on these machines as a stick figure rather than a naked body.

    Why not look at something like that?

  • I got pulled for a body scan when I flew to my dying grandmother's bedside. Granted, I was wearing a bulky sweatshirt in the middle of June because I am a diehard Floridian and I was flying to Fargo, where the lows were reported to be in the 50s. My mother made the same trip and she said it seemed to her that it was women who were getting pulled for the scans. That may explain why they didn't want to spring for the scanners which display the stick figures.

  • @pinch:
    Yeah. Pure of heart and motive, the teabaggers.

    PS: FUCK Sarah Palin if she decides to chime in on this. Just getting that in writing.

  • @pinch:
    Scanners under Bush would have Defended Our Freedom. Under Obama, they're a Statist Plot. That's the point here. Argue all you want, but you spent eight years happily taking it up the ass from Bush, and, TSA overreach aside, I don't care about your opinions now.

  • I'm a liberal and civil liberties fanatic who was finally pushed too far. I thought the screening procedures in place on September 10, 2001, were just fine, and really nothing changed for me until recently. Strip searches and sexual assault so you can board an airplane? Not cool.

  • Acer and Other guys. The Body scanner thing is the catalyst, I'm not saying that they aren't using it as leverage against Obama, but people were promising to make a shitstorm out of them as SOON as they were announced. If you read places like naturalnews, tons of conspiritorial organic eatersr, and libertarians flipped shit when they discovered this. They also raged when it was discovered that the Body Scanners were saving images of people… This has basically been planned. Fox News grabbed at it like for the hell of it.

    Neo-conservatives on Fox News aren't saying, (as HUFFPOST is) that we should just ditch them, or ditch our security, but rather we should profile specific people from the populace rather than just searching random people. Israel apparently does this effectively.

  • 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.

  • @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?

  • 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.


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