Saturday, November 20, 2010

Freedom From X-Ray Photos of Our Anonymous Junk

There has been a lot of ranting recently about the new full body scanners in airports. Travelers can submit to the scan or opt instead for a physical pat down. As I understand it, the scan produces an x-ray like image of your body. The people looking at the images can't see your face, and they're located in a different room, or even in a different building. You're exposed to radiation when you go through, just as you are simply by being on a plane. The statistic I read is that the radiation from the scanner is the equivalent of seven extra minutes on a flight.

Here is my take on the issue.

First, I just assume that from the moment I stick a toe through the door of an airport until I roll my Chevy Impala out from the rental car garage, every law of logic, rationality and common sense will be defied. Travelers are hysterical about terrorism, airport workers are paid minimum wage, rules designed to be foolproof don't allow for an ounce of personal discretion or nuance, and the people who have the authority to change anything aren't located anywhere near the actual airport. So, since it's futile, pointless and aggravating to even try to figure out how an airport works and why you have to do the things you have to do when you arrive, my strategy is to submit to everything, question nothing and try to find my happy mental Zen garden. TSA guy wants to lick my laptop screen, remove my kidney and sniff between my toes. Great. Not a problem. Just show me where to sit. And, if I leave myself enough time, I like to have a beer after making it through security and amuse myself by seeing how hoppingly furious everyone else gets because of whatever absurd injustice they've had to endure. You have to show ID to get a beer, of course, even if you're about to turn 100. That's the rule.

Next, if it's a privacy thing that concerns you about the scanner, consider this: does the TSA guy in the next building even want to see you naked? Are you really as sexy as you think? Statistically speaking, probably not. Have you ever paid attention to what the people around you actually look like? I'd say that about one person in 300 would qualify as "hot." There are regional differences. That's the national average. The rest of us fall on the physical hotness scale somewhere between "borderline tolerable" to "frighteningly heinous." For all the collective anxiety that's been expended worrying about whether some homeland security pervert is checking us out, or whether a headless x-ray of our naked selves is going to somehow go viral on the Internet, the reality is that you're more likely to be mentally undressed while out walking your dog in old sweatpants, or jogging in the park. Chances are, the TSA guy would probably get more excited watching a new episode of Two And a Half Men than looking at a scan of your junk.

Finally, I can't help but notice the strange political undercurrents of the body scanner issue. From what I can tell, the people protesting the loudest are the people who are most gung ho about hunting down terrorists and protecting our American way of life. The right to be free, to bear arms, to drive an SUV must be defended at all costs. We'll send our kids to war, invade whatever country it takes (even if it's not the right one) and spend some inordinate amount of our national budget to keep our country safe. But if some minor infringement on our personal space is required - a quick x-ray snapshot of our anonymous junk - that's just too much. Rights are rights and the government shouldn't be able to force such humiliation and oppression upon us.

To summarize: Airports may be ridiculous. Security regulations may be nothing more than window dressing. The TSA guy may be violating the core of your rights as an American. But you have the power to rise above. Just relax, submit, have a cocktail and visualize yourself in front of a pull-down canvas Olin Mills waterfall. Appreciate the miracle of modern technology – that that you can cross the country in a five hour flight instead of an eight month wagon train. You can always opt for a pat down. And you can always take the bus.


Matthew E. Sullivan said...

So should we give up all our rights, or just the ones that are inconvenient to maintain?

Sarah Garrity said...

Well said Dan, well... said!

Rich said...

Oh young Sullivan...I assume you are talking about the illusive right to privacy here? Is such a right absolute? Aren't there cucumstances under which all rights are infringed upon to some extent? If so, the real question is, in light of the government's purpose, does this act go too far?

Slippaaaa said...

Well said Dan, but I think your logic about the 1 in 300 people being hot is backwards. It's not the 1 in 300 hot people who are worried about their images being seen; it's the 299 heinous people who don't want themselves being seen.

That said, I think a person would have to be a spectacular imbecile to have a problem with any of these measures. These new methods are finally NOT cosmetic (i.e., 3 ounce limit on liquids), and will materially prevent people from bringing dangerous things on an airplane.

If a man with gloves has to touch my genitals - through my clothes - I'll be comfortable in the knowledge that he did the same to everyone else on board. And therefore, the likelihood that some asshole is going to try to blow his underwear up has been marginally decreased.


Leslie K. said...

I have to wonder if these new security measures aren't just "window dressing" designed as a psychological ploy to make us feel like no one else will try to blow up their underwear. some jackwagon tries to ignite his shoes, now we all have to risk athlete's foot going through security; some imbecile fails at igniting his drawers and we now all have to subject ourselves to full body x-rays. Placation at it's finest, I say.

Last year, en route to Israel, I was delayed in Brussels by the lovely security folks of El Al because I fit a "profile". If Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been asked the same questions I had been asked - where are you going, how long will you be in the country, where are you staying, have you ever been here before, who will be meeting you at the airport, what is the purpose of your trip, how many bags have you checked - by someone with any amount of real training in what the signs of a potential threat would be, he would never have been allowed to board the plane. And instead of being subjected to what does amount to an infringement on our liberties, we would simply be asked some routine questions when boarding flights bound to the US. I was ultimately allowed into Israel, but not before they called the school I would be attending to confirm that they were expecting me to attend their program.

I'd love for someone to tell me what happened to that new-fangled machine they had started putting in airports several years ago that was basically a "sniffer" - it blew air on you and "sniffed" for particulates that are used in bomb-making. Why can't we just use those (or improve on that technology)? Annoying as it was, no one would be crying foul over it.