Thursday, 2 December 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Touching Sensitive Areas, or TSA For Short

Culture and Politics - Politics
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Monday, November 29, 2010  

Here are some points to keep in mind as the controversy about the TSA wends it way through our various news cycles and perhaps, let us hope, into a bill in the new Congress.

1. It does the old heart good to see people get riled up with government incompetence and . . . what's the word I am looking for? Nincompoopery, I believe that's it.

I do not say this as one who believes that the radical Muslim threat is tiny. I think that I actually take it more seriously that our government does. If they were worried about terrorists, they would be looking for terrorists, and not for my nail clippers. Their procedures are risible, their hubris astounding, their reasons justifying that hubris minimal, and their folly incandescent.

To illustrate: Remember the first phase of this imbroglio where the government had to back down -- back when they were running pilots through their drill? They were checking pilots for excessive amounts of shampoo in insulting ways, right before said pilots sat down in the cockpits of the big, flying bombs? The takeway lesson here is that if you want us to believe that you are taking the war on terror seriously, you have to stop fighting it like idiots.

2. We are being told that we must surrender some of our liberties because we are in a war on terror. I see. And when is this war likely to end, and will we, or our grandchildren, or great grandchildren, get our liberties back at that time? Ah, I thought not. The war on Eastasia goes on and on and on, or so the Ministry of Truth informs us. Perpetual war justifies perpetual sacrifices, does it not? And when we have become accustomed to the sacrifices that perpetual war requires, which apparently amounts to a willingness to be herded instead of governed, and Eurasia eventually conquers our beloved Oceania, will they encounter a freedom-loving people, prepared by the long war for some real resistance to the invaders? Ah, I thought not. You cannot fight a genuine long war by making your people docile. You can, however, fight a charade war that way.

The conservative case for just war, as opposed to the national-greatness case for it, is clear. Identify the enemy, declare an objective, make sure the objective is just, achieve that objective, and get the heck out.
Some might object that my invocation of Orwell above is overblown, but if Orwell were to come back now, what do you think he would be more shocked by -- the number of cameras all over the UK or the number of people who had read his book and yet did not see any connection?

3. It appears that it was more important for the TSA to not let any protests get traction than it was to catch bad guys this last Thanksgiving holiday. I read that a bunch of the new scanners were not in use, and therefore opting out of them would not cause newsworthy dislocations. And speaking of opting out, I would suggest that any travelers who are concerned about this issue should opt out -- if you get the pat down, you know exactly what you are getting, and can serve as a witness of the whole transaction. But if somebody off in another room is getting his jollies by looking at your daughters, you have no idea and cannot serve as a witness, except as a witness to the general degrading spectacle. Also, if you opt out, I would have a small slip of paper that you can hand to the person who hunting on your person for threats to our nation's liberties. It should read something like:
"My need to travel should not be taken as my consent to the unconstitutionality of warrantless searches of my person and my possessions. I am accepting this process under protest."
And you should make sure your phone is set on record.

4. Informal survey: from family traveling this week, it appears that the number of travelers was unusually light for the days just before Thanksgiving -- partially full flights, and that kind of thing. I would be interested to hear if anybody else had a similar experience or not. And I am sure somebody can figure out how to get the raw numbers on many people flew last Wednesday, as oppposed to previous years. It would be interesting to discover if the opt-out protest was not successful because a large number of people opted out of flying at all.

5. So then, let's talk about political correctness and sexuality for a moment. As it stands, the ladies are patted down by women, and the men by men. Could we agree then, that lesbians and homosexual men ought to pat down nobody? They can't pat down members of the opposite sex without a badge saying, "It's okay, I'm homosexual," and they shouldn't be able to pat down members of the same sex for obvious reasons. Now this is the moment in the discussion when your opponent draws himself up to his full height, and says, "This is outrageous. These are hard-working, trained professionals and . . ."
"Trained professionals, you say?"
"Yes," they say.
"Nothing sexual about it?, you ask.
"Nothing whatever," they reply.
"Okay," you answer, "let's have everybody pat down everybody then. Trained professionals, you know."
"Oh, we couldn't do that. It would be upsetting to the sensibilities of too many travelers."
Right. Like you care about that.

6. Not satisfied with having their panties in a wad, they are now trying to help us rearrange our panties. There needs to be a way for a civilized people to say, "Back off, perv," and not have to then worry about being frogmarched out of the airport, and fined for maintaining your decency.

7. This issue has legs, and this is a good reason for writing about it. If it has legs, then one of the things we can do to make air travel dignified again is to make sure it keeps those legs. Tell stories, circulate stories, write about it. Like here, for instance.

8. Why are the supposed great lions of civil liberties silent about this? Where is the ACLU? [Update: I stand adjusted on this one. See comments.] When the Bush administration wanted to have computers analyze cell phone chatter under the Patriot Act (which Obama extended), there were howls from the predictable quarters. So when the Bush administration wants to analyze that great heap of ones and zeros that constitutes a sludge pile of inviting cell phone data, they go nuts, but when the Obama administration wants to go through our skivvies, they fall silent?

And just for the record, I don't like Republicans without warrants anymore than I like Obama without one.

9. Extend the logic for this lunatic way of fighting terrorism, and see how you like it. In a free society, crowds gather in more places than in airports. And when they gather, they are vulnerable to anybody with a bomb, an automatic weapon, or a canister of poison gas. Make a short list -- malls, football games, concerts, etc. If the TSA imbecility is sound with regard to airports, then the first successful attempt on life at some public event (as was attempted a few days ago at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland) will necessitate nude scanners and pat downs at city squares, subways, bus stations, train stations, basketball games, etc. When they are done securing our liberties, we can all rest easy. The radical Muslims can never get at our liberties now. We don't have them anymore. Our liberties are in a box in a TSA warehouse, along with 10,000 nail clippers.

So if such security measures are not consistent with life in a free society on the ground, then they are not consistent with life in a free society in the air. We need to do something differently. As in completely differently, and I don't mean changing the color of the TSA uniforms. We need to spend all that money on hunting terrorists. We should be looking for certain kinds of people, not certain kinds of objects.

10. You cannot reason with bureaucracies. You can only stand on their oxygen hose, which I suggest. The new House can defund the TSA. They are going to be looking for areas to make budget cuts anyway -- two birds with one appropriations measure. So to speak.

But the reason why politicans hate to do things like that is because covering your rear end is expensive -- as your doctor could tell you as he is ordering a bunch of unnecessary medical tests because tort reform has not yet occurred. Politicians in this case don't want to defund the TSA just in case someone afterwards highjacks a plane with a weapon cunningly fashioned out of three pair of nail clippers. And then his opponent can say that the incumbent voted against the Transportation Safety Administration. This is the kind of thing that makes politicians wake up with the night sweats. And so what they want is not security for you, but plausible security theater for themselves and their campaigns. Always remember that this is very expensive security theater, and not security.

So this is why politicians will usually cast a courageous vote only when three hundred thousand people are holding their hand, and patting the back of it. Let's help them out.

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