Michael Maiello's picture

    See Me, Hear Me, Touch Me, Feel Me.

    While I am of course completely against the TSA's unneccessarily intrusive scanning technology or patdown opt-outs, I think I'm a little sick of the sudden rise of Libertarians who were silent for years while the Bush administration decided to datamine through all of our emails, library records and phone conversations while sending undercover agents to infiltrate peacenik groups and other informal elements of civil society.

    I'm really, really annoyed at the way these newly-turned champions of personal freedom have actually tried to sexualize the issue.  They want to see me naked!  They want to touch my junk!  Please.  You know what a terrible job is?  Sitting alone in that stupid room watching the grayed out naked scans has got to qualify.  America, have you looked in a mirror lately?  Most of us, and this includes the TSA employees who it is so fun to mock, do not want to see you naked.  Seriously, get off the people mover and walk between gates, you need the exercise.  None of these people want to "check you out" before you spend the next five hours oozing over both armrests of the middle seat and nobody wants to touch your junk, it's just that some people have to in order to put food on the table.

    If you want to put the sex talk aside and join me in advocating for real hard core civil rights and liberties protections, it'd be nice to have you as part of the discussion.  Like I said, I'm against the X-Rays and aggressive physical searches too.  I even suspect that the ban against bringing liquids onto planes is just a big old excuse for airport merchants to gouge people by chaerging them $4 a bottle for water.  I'm also fine with people bringing lotion, medicine, bottles of wine and nailclippers onto planes. I'm against letting the telecom companies share what used to be lawfully considered private data with arms of the government operating without warrants.  I also don't think that prosecutors should be allowed to have more resources at their disposal than defense attorneys.  I also don't think that the government can be trusted to administer capital sentences under any circumstances.

    See, I'm really all about limiting the power and reach of government, particularly its law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  I'm even willing to accept that the limits I would impose might well make me and my family "less safe."  But I think it's a good trade off.  Because I'm an actual social and civil libertarian and you who have just joined the party are really and actually just shocked (shocked!) that this kind of thing could happen to white people.

    Anyway, if you make this TSA fight all about "don't look at my butt and don't touch my junk" you will lose the argument. And seriously, like I said before, these people don't want to touch or look at you anyway.  They're badly paid to do it.


    It may be the sexual nature of the assault that is stirring so much pushback, but I'd been wondering if the assault on personal space and liberty might not be a jump-start to other objections.  Think how many "experts" are now giving interviews, claiming that: the radiation from the screens is unsafe; that it's a useless technology as it can't see into 'body cavities'; that Israel's Ben Gurion Airport is the safest in the world, but only conducts 30-seconds' worth of questions with eye contact as they do at border crossings in the US.  And the public doesn't seem to think any of it, including intrusive pat-downs, make us safer.

    If and when TSA backs down, think of the shot in the arm the win will be to citizens.  Could there be more public pushback to come?


    I'm all for the experts talking about it being a useless technology and an invasion of privacy, but I can't abide by bad science even if (or especially if) it's used to support a cause I agree with. The amount of radiation from these screenings is less than you'll receive during the flight. Although not perfect, Wikipedia does a decent job of consolidating the information:


    Dunno on the science, even with frequent fliers; sorta why I put 'experts' in quotation marks.  Crap science is crap science; plenty of that around. 

    "Use PABA as a sunscreen!" vs. "PABA gives you cancer if you use it for sunscreen!"  "Use HRT or you'll die of breast cancer!"  vs. "HRT gives you cancer!"  Feh!

    Yeah, it does seem that in the science (and maybe in life in general), the more important something is, the less certain we are of it. Not to diminish its value, but do we really need to know 51.5 billion digits of pi? On the other hand, one area of research I work in is brain modeling, and I'm amazed at how little we know even of one section (pick any section) of the brain (pick almost any animal).

    Sorry, did I say 51.5 billion? Oh joy! We're up to 5 trillion!


    (Note: I'm not saying such pursuits are worthless—they're not. I'm merely disappointed by the relative lack of knowledge in other arenas.)

    Oh, I get it... they're doing this to see how much their computer and software can handle.  Because calculating it just to get the number is a little silly, right?  Like trying to count to infinity.

    A) It's a proof of hardware/software/technique.

    B) The answer to how to solve world hunger is buried in there somewhere, assuming the digits of pi obey certain properties of randomness. No, really. (Well, it's really there. It's not really the reason.)

    Correction to (B): and assuming such a solution exists.

    Well, I was really bashing some medical science, and when there arre profits to me made, the science is often not so rigorous.  Other science is far more pure.  ;o)

      I am a bit touchy about TSA so I have never commented on the subject when it came up. Or maybe I have and just forgot.
     My daughter worked for airport security before 9/11 when it was a private commercial operation and for a few years after. The airlines were much more interested in fast screening than effective screening. There was no perceived necessity for the screening among most of the public and no patience with it. The public was the public we all know except I would guess that the average passenger has somewhat above average income. I would also guess that frequent flyers, the ones more likely to run close on time at least occasionally, the ones more likely to have developed an attitude about screening procedures and any delay, are even higher up the economic ladder. That public has a fairly high percentage of opinionated jerks who don't mind one bit being rude and obnoxious. If a screener consistently did a thorough job as they were supposed to they would lose their job because it would have caused delays and made too many people angry. Security wasn't an actual priority with the airlines or the public.
     After 9/11 and the creation of TSA things were a bit different for a while. Most passengers were cooperative and less likely to show irritation or be rude to the screeners. Uniformed lower rank military were reportedly the best while the ones most likely to be jerks were uniformed high ranking officers and also pilots and crew. This in spite of the fact that they knew, or should have, that the screeners were tested by having people try to beat the process. If a screener missed something they should have caught they were subject to dismissal. If an officer bullied his way through and was a tester or if a manager witnessed it the screener was in trouble. Screeners did not have tenure. When we talked about whether profiling was a good idea she said that the blue haired old ladies thought it was obvious that they weren't dangerous and so they violated the rules more often than any other group and were often highly pissed off that they got caught and had to throw something away. 
     As time went on, more and more people began to lose patience and reverted to being jerks. More and more pundits, especially libertarians, voiced opposition and part of their screed was to denigrate the screeners as uneducated and incompetent, and overpaid. They had received a slight raise and some benefits under the new setup. The disrespect came back in spades.

    See, I'm really all about limiting the power and reach of government, particularly its law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  I'm even willing to accept that the limits I would impose might well make me and my family "less safe."  But I think it's a good trade off.  Because I'm an actual social and civil libertarian and you who have just joined the party are really and actually just shocked (shocked!) that this kind of thing could happen to white people.

    I agree completely with this but meanwhile we have people who need work doing the job as required and most of them deserve respect. Gripes should be taken to the higher-ups. A not-inconsequential percentage of passengers deserve a public flogging. I was told stories about people's actions and speech towards my daughter that I know would have landed me in jail had witnessed them. She began taking openings all over the country where there was a temporary shortage of trained screeners and where she could make some extra bucks. Slightly higher pay, overtime, and per diem added up and she saw a lot of the country. She liked Alaska a lot. After a couple years though, she quit. She said she was getting to dislike people too much and she didn't want feel that way. Too late for me to save my attitude but I am so very proud of her.


    This really strikes a nerve:

    part of their screed was to denigrate the screeners as uneducated and incompetent, and overpaid...

    Because we hear it from the libertarians about every public employees from teachers to transit workers to TSA workers.  I'm embarassed to say that I've probably said something like it myself.  But the truth is that it's hard work for which the people doing it are largely underpaid.  You're dealing with cranky people.  There are, as you say, people tesing you, just waiting to fire you for fouling up and then there's the added pressure of the actual job which is something akin to law enforcement.  Not only might you, in a job like that, have to confront and deal with an actual terrorist (or any race, creed or gender) but there are also people trying to use planes to smuggle all sorts of contraband and... they're on the hook for that too.

    I think there's a smarter way to do this but villifying public employees isn't the way to go about it and I really dislike the claim that these people are all interested in seeing you naked or touching your junk.  They're likely not!


    I gotta say Destor, that you guys must only fly through the cities of Nice, Polite and Really quite Friendly, with connections to Bliss, Good Karma and Want-A-Hand... because the staff you're meeting ain't on the same planet as mine. Holy shit. Like the assholes at the border crossings who actually wear sunglasses at night. Like the ones who SAY to you, "Ask one more question, and you'll be taken inside." The ones who fill up their freaking quotas by taking the quieter and less likely to complain people for the more difficult processes. 

    The fundamental nature of this job has been changed post 9/11, and for people who don't want to do that kindof ideologically-driven work? Well, it's the same issue we've all faced. Time to get another job. 

    La Guardia and JFK generally have nice people working there and we've had good experiences.  Also good experiences at LAX.  I have had bad, bad experiences driving across the border, even into Canada and so have my friends.  But the Border Patrol and ICE people are really different animals in my experience.  They're very much the product of working in military-like units and I think things can get way out of control in those situations.  Also, as with out of control cops, the civilians has no real time recourse.  You can complain later but, honestly, they can harass the hell of out you before you get a real name, badge number and supervisor contact.  And asking for those things is just going to prolong your harassment.

    Although I feel like I get "randomly" singled out more than most, I've always been treated well at CHO (Charlottesville), ATL, ABQ, and CVG (Cincinnati).

    I have had bad, bad experiences driving across the border, even into Canada and so have my friends.

    Why in the world would anyone willingly travel to Canada? Surely any bad experiences you had driving across the border would be looked upon fondly by comparison to experiences had while in Canada!

    Montreal is an awesome place to party!

    Is it quinn or acanuck who is behind you right now with a gun to your head? Damn moose-lovers. Don't trust them one bit.

    Always pleasant experience at the Canadian border. I cross for some variety in the cooking when skiing there

    I agree with you Destor. It is a bad habit many people get into maligning public employees.  It is absurd to generalize in this manner.

    Far as I'm concerned.... these airport people, processes and equipment can die and go to hell. Full stop.

    I have a hate on for that whole show that would shrivel the bark off a dog. 

    Bottomline for me is, these people, this equipment, these arguments have been used, post-9/11, to intimidate people. To make them fearful. THAT'S why they're there, the rest is nonsense. They WANT to make us afraid. 

    But practically, they are protecting NOTHING with their amped up nonsense, because there are enormous loopholes in their "protection," and because what they DO accomplish can - and is - done elsewhere, using other means. e.g. Anyone who knows the US-Canada-Mexico borders and their real-world permeability... and the 1001 ways to ship dangerous crap onto planes... and the utterly exposed nature of our major infrastructure, knows that all they are really doing is weeding out the dimmer terrorists of the world. Guys who can't light their feet on fire. And whoops! We even missed him! 

    It's the worst of the Fear State, and I'd be willing to rally in the streets to get rid of their whole show.

    As for the staff themselves, as people, sorry Destor, they may start off as nice people, but you give anyone a badge and whatever latent asshole quotient they have comes to the surface. So you sit 10 of them down, and the worst 1 or 2  - once they got their badge working - are gonna be intolerable. I've watched these people crap on MY MUM, who is >80, speaks impeccable English, is a non-drinking, Baptist, Conservative, going to Boston to be with her daughter. And every other member of my family - because we cross the border a lot - gets the same shit. Repeatedly. I had a brother whose car was disassembled at the border, basically because he refused to play deferential to these fucking Grade 9 educated assholes. He's a blond, non-drinking, yes sir no sir type, but not into bowing and casting down his eyes. I get pulled, time and again, because my face apparently doesn't match my shoes, or somesuch goddamn reason. And believe it or not, I'm so polite during these processes it makes my friends laugh out loud. I just tell them - "Watch. Juuuuuust watch." (And it's not just the American side of the border, the asshole-with-a-badge process exists and expands everywhere, but 9/11 just amped up the ones who wanted to believe their own hype.) 

    And yes, the libertarians are assholes. Blowhards. All I can say is, unless they were willing to stand up the day after 9/11 and fight against the stream of shit they began to pour on us all, then they should go a little easy when blathering on about their savvy and their credibility when it comes to "liberty."

    And I didn't see too many of these jokers out there, when our freedoms were getting shoved up the pipe. Nice they're all hot and excited now.

    And furthermore, grumble grumble, bark bark BARK! (Hey, where's that talking BullDog they used to have at TPM?)

    Agree 100%. The Libertarians also should have been out in the streets to stop the War President from invading Iraq.

    GWB was not kidding when he said 9/11 changed everything (and GWB made damn sure it did change everything)- for us as well as those under our bombs. Along that line you could say Americans deserve this humiliation, at least we don't get raked with automatic weapons by trigger happy XE contractors when we drive downtown.

    The statistics amount to (reportedly) 6-8 cancer deaths for a billion screenings, as in the US there are 600 million annual passengers, that may mean we are eventually killing 4 people with the x-rays each year. The entire history of underwear bombs has no killed 1 person on aircraft, what if they start underwear bombing NFL games, or stick C-4 up their a**, which won't show up on the body scan... ?

    Statistically, someone tell me how 600 million screenings and untold millions of dollars a year are justified by one underwear bomber a couple years ago. (and we have 25K highway deaths and 25K gun deaths each year) Since the US is now the biggest Israel in the world, if we want to maintain our sanity we will have to do security Israeli style by profiling Muslims, turban wearers (sorry Sikhs), and nutcase right wingers from Oklahoma or Arizona.

    Obviously, if Obama feminized, socialized, Kenyanized the screenings by dropping the crotch squeeze or the body scan, he would be accused of being a terrorist enabler who wants us dead by the GOP, and if any plane went down anywhere without 100% certainty it was not an underwear bomb, Obama would be blamed for that too.

    I am old enough to recall the freedom of walking out on an unsecured tarmac on Maui, with no security checks and no security in sight, and no metal detectors, with clouds rising on the distant mountains with only my boarding pass, to climb a mobile ramp for a plane bound to Kona in the mid-80's. That was an America that I suppose we will never see again.

    Yes, this:

    Obviously, if Obama feminized, socialized, Kenyanized the screenings by dropping the crotch squeeze or the body scan, he would be accused of being a terrorist enabler who wants us dead by the GOP, and if any plane went down anywhere without 100% certainty it was not an underwear bomb, Obama would be blamed for that too.

    Could you imagine the Drudge headline and screeching from the right if Obama were come out right now and order a stop to the scans and patdowns?

    First they would say Obama stopped the scans only for Muslims with burquas, then for all Muslims, then for socialists coming from Europe, then the pundits would weigh in and predict an imminent 9/11 type disaster and a prudent traveler should consider canceling all travel plans until John Boehner and the GOP hold hearings on the body scans with the only question being IS OBAMA GOING TO TESTIFY UNDER OATH, or be immediately impeached...?

    Every time an American gets their crotch squeezed or their body irradiated, they should thank George W. Bush and his GWOT, the gift that keeps on giving!

    I drive or take the train.  If man were meant to fly, he would have been born with Rolls Royce jet engines.

    Yikes. Are you familiar with the recent RR problems, or was that just a coincidence?

    We travel a fair amount and have frequent interactions w/ TSA people, some tolerable, some so bad we're practically ready to accept being on the no-fly list so that we can scream at them. Some of the people who make it into positions of authority have the need to mistreat those they have power over, and they would do it whether they are TSA employees or police officers or any other profession. Some were sour people when they took the job, some have become that way because of how they have been treated.

    We Americans got scared after 9/11 and allowed our government to create a bureaucracy that has turned into a monster. And every time the bad guys come up with another way to foil the system, the monster comes up with another way to cause the flying public more discomfort until eventually people will just stop flying. Notice the richest of the rich don't have to deal with it...they just get on their private jets and take off, unmolested.

    I'm too old and too spunky to care about being groped. If some one wants to shove their hand into my sweaty crotch, or fondle my saggy breasts, go for it, but I'm not going through a radiation machine unless I have no other option. Maybe if I have an orgasm on the spot, they'll rethink what they're doing.

    In the meantime, I don't feel one bit safer. All I feel is yet another reason to be pissed off.

    OK, OK, OK, I agree with everything you say, but I want to be in the booth when Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, (and just for grins) Tom Cruise go through.  Forget the fatties!  It is the beautiful people who should be concerned.  Or is First Class excluded?

    A possible upside of this:  People just might go off the McDonald's in anticipation of a flight.

    I'm having a hard time deciding if I want to be seen naked, or felt up.  Either is actually okay, but I'll opt for the x-ray because I think it would be faster.



    I think I'd pick the X-Ray too.  Neither actually bother me either but I don't want to show up at the airport any earlier than necessary.

    Meanwhile: Osama bin Laden is laughing his bleedin' ASS OFF!

    Cover of Inspire, November 2010 special issue:




    Wow!  That is the sad, sad truth!  He probably has huge investments in this very technology, which allows him to continue with R&D for newer, nastier threats.

    The day that we honestly have to frisk grandmothers in order to maintain our "security" is the day that we've already lost far more than can ever be preserved by even the most sophisticated "security" measures.

    My bold highlighting:


    The problem with PETN is that it cannot be detected by sniffing dogs or by ordinary scanners. But if you had a pouch of it on your person, the new scanners could see the pouch, and likewise a thorough pat-down would lead to its discovery.

    The TSA guys are trying to look more systematically for PETN. That is why they have adopted these more intrusive methods....

    But if al-Qaeda and its sympathizers could manage to blow up only a few airliners with PETN, they could have a significant negative effect on the economy and could very possibly drive some American airlines into bankruptcy. Al-Qaeda is about using small numbers of men and low-tech techniques to paralyze a whole civilization, which was the point of the September 11 attacks.

    Since the Bush administration hyped the ‘war on terror’ trope half to death, many in the American public no longer want to hear about this danger. But it is part of my business in life to deliver the horrific news that the threat is real.

    The question is really what level of risk Americans are willing to live with....

    ....With the US at risk of a double dip recession, this moment might appeal to al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda wannabes to strike. Al-Qaeda in Yemen is openly talking of a low-tech, high-explosive war against US economic interests, a war of a thousand cuts. Its planned method? PETN-based mail bombs.

    I doubt it is possible to outlaw or control PETN. The only alternative to looking for it systematically on air passengers and in cargo would be to just take a chance that no al-Qaeda operatives will be able successfully to detonate a PETN based explosive on an airliner.


    --Juan Cole, November 22, 2010

    I'm afraid I just find this sort of stuff from Juan Cole to be embarrassing, ArtA.

    1. The freight side of the equation has been wide open and INFINITELY easier to penetrate, for YEARS, than the passenger side. You telling me they're patting down my baggage now?

    2. Similarly, the extraordinary openness of ground staff who have access to planes. I mean, kids crawl into the wheelwells of planes and come tumbling out mid-flight, right? 

    3. Then there's the whole non-airplane-based world of terror. i mean, has anyone ever looked at our electricity infrastructure? (Answer: Errrrm, yes. Apparently not Cole though.) Let's just say, 19 guys on the ground, with vehicles, canoes, bikes, etc., plus a wrench or a rifle (tool of choice) could keep the Eastern US in the dark, for WEEKS. A few years back they went to a massive hydro dam in Northern Quebec, and do you know what they found for defences? Nothing. NOT EVEN A SINGLE STAFFER. Same with our transmission lines. They are completely unprotected. In Northern Manitoba, it's a real problem when the locals get drunk and take their hunting rifles and take potshots at the transformer thingies. You wanna know one reason the utilities, massive and mean as they are, can't build new transmission lines? Because they know they can't DEFEND them against green groups who are opposed. Literally, one guy with proper (non-lethal) tools can set a dozen towers to topple when the wind comes up. And be gone by the time it happens. The utilities have been TOLD this, and therefore, they just won't fight certain fights. Opponents or terrorists or mental cases could take down lines for weeks, rotating and moving, and keep NYC or other regions in the dark. 

    Same with natural gas facilities.

    Same with water supply.

    North America has a massive extended WIDE OPEN UNPROTECTED infrastructure. The airplane thing is a farce, but it serves the interests of BOTH al Qaeda and the US Government. It keeps people scared, and raises the profile of each side.

    Therefore, the bolded quote from Juan Cole strikes me as perhaps the most buffoonish thing I've ever heard him say. "It is part of my business in life to deliver the horrific news that the threat is real."

    Self-importance, thy name is Juan. 

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