Thursday, September 28, 2006

Another Threat To Airline Security

One night last summer I trimmed my hangnails in a hotel room 2,000 miles from my home, an act of anti-government rebellion that could’ve put my name on a terrorist watch list if anybody in the TSA knew that I’d smuggled a set of nail clippers in the single carry-on bag I bring along on business trips.

Eventually the Feds rescinded the ban, only to impose a new one on liquids and gels. That ban lasted a couple of weeks until they relented and said okay, you can have shampoo and hand lotion but only in those tiny overpriced trial-sized bottles sold in bins at the drugstore. And you have to carry the bottles in their own clear zip-locked bag, separated from the rest of your luggage.

Here’s a conundrum: we’ve reached the point where the government actually regulates how you carry toiletries when you travel. And yet if I say something like “these stupid rules aren’t meant to make us safer, but only train us in habits of evermore mindless obedience” I guarantee someone will accuse me of paranoia.

Fine. I won’t say it. I’ll just tell you about the latest reason you can be detained at the airport:
A Wisconsin man who wrote "Kip Hawley is an Idiot" on a plastic bag containing toiletries said he was detained at an airport security checkpoint for about 25 minutes before authorities concluded the statement was not a threat.

Ryan Bird, 31, said he wrote the comment about Hawley -- head of the Transportation Security Administration -- as a political statement. He said he feels the TSA is imposing unreasonable rules on passengers while ignoring bigger threats.

A TSA spokeswoman acknowledged a man was stopped, but likened the incident to cases in which people inappropriately joke about bombs. She said the man was "a little combative" and that he was detained only a few minutes.

Exactly what words did this nameless spokeswoman use to compare “Kip Hawley is an idiot” to a comment (even a joke) about something that makes airplanes explode? Anyone with such a poor grasp of analogies probably can’t be trusted to reliably distinguish between “combative” and “rightfully annoyed.”

Bird, the vice president of a company that manufactures industrial equipment … entered the airport checkpoint with a see-through resealable bag containing small containers of toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash and hair gel -- in keeping with new TSA requirements.

"My level of frustration with the TSA and their idiotic policies has grown over 2 ½ years," he said. "I'm frustrated that poorly trained TSA people can pull random passengers out of line and pat them down like common criminals. The average traveler has no recourse."

Bird put the marked bag in a plastic tray along with his shoes and cell phone. A TSA screener saw the bag and went to get a supervisor, who grabbed it and asked Bird if it was his.

"It was obvious that he was already angry," Bird said, adding that the screener told him, "You can't write things like that."

The supervisor told Bird he had the right to express his opinions "out there" -- pointing outside the screening area -- but did not have the right "in here," Bird said.

TSA called the cops. Bird wasn’t arrested, but “detained” until everyone in authority was satisfied that the words “Kip Howley Is An Idiot” written on a plastic bag (with magic marker, I presume) wouldn’t threaten the security of the airplane.

And yet if I say something like “these stupid rules aren’t meant to make us safer, but only train us in habits of evermore mindless obedience” I guarantee someone will accuse me of paranoia.

By the way, here’s what the police had to say about the incident:

A spokeswoman for the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office said the TSA did call the sheriff's office to report an upset customer at the checkpoint. A deputy went to the scene, interviewed all of the participants, ran a wanted check on the man, and referred it back to the TSA after determining no crime had been committed, Deputy Darice Landon said.

Landon said the original call came at 2:21 p.m., and it was unclear how long the man was detained. There is no indication that he was combative, she said.

8 Comments:

Blogger rhhardin said...

Wesley Pruden identified it all as a roust, years ago.

A roust is some enormous inconvenience imposed on everybody to produce the appearance that the authorities are doing something.

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/pruden010202.asp

3:17 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I think you attribute intention when there is none. It's important to separate the effects of the system from the intentions of those who created it.
Public schools tend to crush curiousity and inculcate mindless obedience and conformity. Most teachers and administrators don't mean for that to happen; it does because the system creates that outcome, all on it's own.
The same is true of the TSA. Does it train us to be mindlessly obedient to the state? Yes. Do those in command mean for it to do so? Probably not.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Mark, I see your point but I don't think I agree with it. The TSA is run by the same administration that's given us bon mots like "you're either with us or with the terrorists" and (in regards to when Bill Maher lost his job a few years back) "people need to watch what they say these days." This administration has made it abundantly clear that mindless obedience is exactly what they expect.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous A. Moose said...

This administration has made it abundantly clear that mindless obedience is exactly what they expect.

I believe what Mark is referring to is the functional managers, not necessarily the top managers. At one time in my life, I was in the military, and got to see firsthand the dissonance between intent and effect in human endeavors involving society. It's really probably the primary reason I tend to be libertarian in my approach to life.

If you can stomach some scripture scholorship, "Engaging the Powers" by Walter Wink describes how such things have possessed us throughout history.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

the functional managers, not necessarily the top managers. At one time in my life, I was in the military, and got to see firsthand the dissonance between intent and effect in human endeavors involving society.

Well, I'll agree that every single person working for the TSA isn't consciously thinking "I'm going to train all air passengers in the rites of sheephood," but I think that was an intent--not the intent--behind the TSA's creation, as well as many functional managers. Let me remind you of this part of the story:

"The supervisor told Bird he had the right to express his opinions "out there" -- pointing outside the screening area -- but did not have the right "in here," Bird said."

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Is there any rule against toy rubber snakes? Because I want to bring some motherfucking snakes on the motherfucking plane the next time I fly.

Seriously, I've thought about bringing some large print-outs of the 4th amendment with me and sticking them on my luggage. I wonder what will happen.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous mediageek said...

Alex, Penn Jillette wrote a column a year or two ago where he mentioned that he had a copy of the Bill of Rights printed on some metal cards that he would then carry in his wallet.

Then when the TSA goons asked him to give up the metal card (sharp edges, don't you know) he would point out how they were taking away his rights.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

mediageek-

I have one of those metal Bill of Rights things. They have yet to confiscate it, and I fly a couple of times per year.

I'm thinking I may need to become more aggressive, and wear a Bill of Rights t-shirt or something.

6:15 AM  

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