Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Unringing the Bell

For a country that has a huge chunk of the population that believes that witchcraft is the Devil's work, and Harry Potter is evil, we sure do believe in magic.

Travelling in this country has become increasingly difficult. Going to places were large numbers of people congregate -- my two favorites are Disneyland and the Hollywood Bowl -- isn't much fun either, since getting into the venue requires me to allow total strangers to pry through my tampons and peak into my change purse to make sure I'm not hiding... what?... Tweezers?

Though I used to love to fly, I can barely stand the thought of entering an airport, knowing that doing so is agreeing to submit to the Transportation Safety Association, a collection of despotic, usually poorly trained individuals who have absolute control over each of us, and can hold each of us hostage -- even to the cost of making us miss our flights -- should we choose to speak up. I have related the story of transporting my father's ashes to Hawaii, in a wrapped box that stated clearly that the contents were cremated human remains. I have recounted the insensitive, ignorant TSA agent, tossing the box on the conveyor belt through the x-ray machine over and over, flipping it over, inspecting it, tossing it back on the belt (I use the word "toss" literally, by the way), so much so that a black-suited TSA supervisor became intrigued and came over. As he approached, I finally said to the quizzical, clueless agent, loudly enough for everyone to hear, "Excuse me. Those are my father's remains. Can you not throw the box, please?" Every head in line turned first to me, then to him, with many appalled expressions on their faces. The TSA supervisor took the box, inspected it, turned it over in his hands, inspected it again, and gently handed it back to me.

Other people have worse stories to relate, so I don't feel particularly singled out. I only bring it up to demonstrate the shift in attitude at the average American airport -- the one that says, "We think that, in spite of the fact that you've done nothing wrong, you are a terrorist and a criminal, you are guilty because we say you are, and we will treat you as such. And there's nothing you can do about it, because you, in your abject fear and cowardice, have given us this power."

This, among other little stolen liberties, is the gift the Patriot Act has given us. If we were actually safer because of it, I might not mind so much. But the results of a Harvard School of Public Health study in late 2007 indicates that, in spite of the rampant x-raying of our peep-toe sandals and the confiscation of our Jergen's hand lotion, we are somehow made no safer. Granted, Harvard was applying what the TSA clearly considered unreasonable standards -- Harvard was suggesting that security measures be applied similarly to those of cancer screening procedures. In other words, limit the screening procedures only to those which have proven to be effective over time. Does x-raying your shoes really prevent mid-air terrorist activity? The TSA's Christopher White swears it does. Why, he says, they have pictures of many shoe bombs already confiscated by x-raying shoes, right here. (In truth there is but one photo, and it looks suspiciously like the photo of UK shoe bomber wacko, Richard Reid's running shoe -- the one that the smartest demolitions experts at the Pentagon and at the FBI facility in Langley have yet to be able to detonate as Reid built it.)

The Harvard researchers dared ask the obvious question in their study: "Can you hide anything in your shoes that you cannot hide in your underwear?" White didn't seem to have an answer for this. He did say, though, that the TSA welcomes public dialogue. I'm pretty sure that's a freakin' lie, because the last thing megalomaniac over-dressed security guards who've barely earned a high school diploma want is to have their absolute authority questioned, but I was thinking it might be fun if we go to the link above and put him to the test.

All of my lamentations are really about one thing and one thing only. I do not have a problem instituting better security at airports, if it makes us more secure. But the real, deep-down truth of all of the post-9/11 security isn't that we want future airport to be safer. We really, really want to make past air travel to be safer. There is something in us -- in our President, in our National Security Advisor, in our Director of Homeland Security, and in each of us as citizens that's hoping that, if we can put enough energy into throwing away tweezers, lighters and hand lotion, we can stop four planes from taking off on September 11, 2001, and then the Twin Towers will magically reappear, and we can wake up on Wednesday, September 12th, and it will all have been a terrible, horrible nightmare. All those phone calls made in final moments will never have been made. The expression, "Let's roll," will not exist in today's vernacular.

If we can just hand over enough of our civil rights, take our shoes off, forgo drinking water and throw away enough Bic lighters, we can make the world safe again. We can roll over and close our eyes and pretend that nothing can hurt us, that we are invincible, that we are, once again, safe.

Sorry, guys, but... there's not enough magic in the world to unring this bell. So quit trying, stop being sheep and start forcing the TSA to spend the $6.5 billion dollars it's allotted every year on measures that will actually make us safer. Specifically measures that don't automatically make the presumption that each of us who buys a plane ticket is a terrorist and must be treated as such.


No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments subject to moderation. Anonymous comments will not be approved.