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Friday, November 05, 2010

Security Theatre
Posted by Jill | 4:15 PM
As I write this I'm sitting at a Chili's in the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airport in sunny Florida, waiting for a Continental flight that since I got here two hours early has already been delayed over an hour.

I wasn't quite prepared to have to deal with full-body scanners, since Terminal C at Newark doesn't have them yet. But since I get a mammogram and dental x-rays every year, administered by medically-trained professionals, I really don't want to get x-rayed by bored TSA staff, thank you very much. So I opted for "alternative screening."

It's clear that the TSA staff here doesn't deal with people like me very often -- short fat middle-aged Jewish ladies who refuse to follow conventional wisdom, and my decision to opt out of being essentially strip-searched in order to get on an airplane left them somewhat nonplussed. They read me the spiel, hoping I would change my mind. Other travelers looked at me curiously, perhaps thinking I'd been pulled aside for extra screening.

It took a while to get someone to do the pat-downfeel-up, but I have to admit that the process is highly impersonal, the screener tells you exactly what she's going to do, and if you treat her (or him, if you are male) like a human being, it is a far more civilized way to be screened than to have to put your arms behind your head and have someone who may or may not know what he's doing zap x-rays through you. Of course that being frisked by a stranger is preferable to a full-body scan tells you something about what air travel has become these days. It mostly just makes me wonder if the luggage being loaded into the cargo hold is scanned as thoroughly "for our safety" as the passengers are.

So here we are, nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, still scratching our heads trying to stay one step ahead of some highly resourceful people who find this level of reality so intolerable that they not only want to leave it, but take a few hundred people with them. And every time we take off our shoes, send our laptops through scanners being monitored by people who often don't seem to know what they're looking at, or undergo virtual strip searches, I have to wonder if a step ahead is really where we are.

It's surprising -- and appalling, actually -- to watch people blindly and unquestioningly go into these body scanners. When you get dental x-rays, the technician leaves the room. It's also appalling to think what risks the TSA staff incurs every day at work, because they don't get to leave the room, and the scanners are not enclosed. It may be easier to think of this here, where the TSA employees are largely pleasant and professional, unlike Newark, where they tend to be surly and largely inattentive.

UPDATED 11/10/10: The ACLU cites Jeffrey Golberg's account of HIS dealings with the TSA in the Atlantic, and also notes that the "safety" of the scanners is disputed.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
In the dentist's office they also put a lead-lined cover over your body before they take the X-rays.

Blogger casey said...
Hello Jill,

The only good news is the repeated use of those scanners will make them ill after some period of time. When they become ill the insurance companies will deny their claims as pre-existing conditions due to the modifications to the health care fiasco we were given/shoved down our throats.