Up close and personal
By Michael R. Shannon
web posted May 10, 2010
In the old terminal 'A' at Washington's National Airport the Underwear Police (TSA) installed the latest, greatest detecting machinery a few years ago. This Sherlock Holmes of the snooping was the "puffer." (I'm assuming it was installed in DC instead of LA because out there people would have assumed a "puffer" was either blowing marijuana or spray paint fumes in your face.)
In theory it blew rapid–fire puffs of air all over your body and dislodged any fertilizer fragments, C–4 chips or shell casings a would–be bomber might have adhering to his dishdasha. I had a sneaking suspicion the device would have been popular with dogs, since it gave you that head–hanging–out–the–window feeling.
The "puffer" was at the end of the "elite" security line that was limited to frequent flyers, Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, pilots, flight attendants, diplomats, gate agents, ramp personnel and cab drivers who speak English.
[As a side note, I've never understood the populist outrage at frequent flyers getting a shorter security line. Any successful business gives big customers better perks than they give occasional customers. For example, big spenders get to use the skybox at Redskins Stadium, the occasional customers get to listen to Vinny Cerrato on the radio.
Even with the shorter line the frequent flyer still spends a greater portion of this life in security lines because he's at the airport more often.]
The "puffer's" heyday was back when the Underwear Police claimed that removing your shoes at the airport was "optional." I used to take them at their word. And a form of peaceful, non–violent protest at government idiocy — the security "experts" didn't start requiring this until months after the shoe bomber failed to meet his virgins — I would refuse to remove my shoes. The guard would direct me to the secondary screening line away from the "puffer" where I could sit as he waved a wand around my feet.
My hope was wand radiation would kill my toenail fungus and save me a trip to the laser, but it never happened. But while the rest of the sheep were hopping around in their stocking feet, I had a seated encounter with Leviathan that took a little longer, but was much more dignified.
Now it seems the "puffer" wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Evidently the modern–day equivalent of a bellows wasn't the terrorist nemesis the lobbyists said it was.
So now we have the full–body scanner, which is composed of thousands of tiny cell phones (why did you think it costs so much?) that bathe your body in radiation that produces a picture that is pretty much you in your birthday suit.
Women and ACLU lawyers in particular find this alarming.
Even though the image resembles a sonogram in quality and it obscures your privates and face, they fear the TSA attendants will fail to renew their subscription to Playboy since the scanner photos will now fill their every prurient need.
As a result we are now getting reports that travelers who decline to be microwaved, are complaining they are singled out for "harassment."
In their fantasy land if you tell the Underwear Policeman that you are a regular reader of the Huffington Post don't want to have your privates scanned, he says, "I know exactly how you feel, go ahead and board your aircraft."
In reality land you will be directed to another line where a highly–trained government employee will rub his hands all over your body while moaning softly to himself.
Well, maybe not moaning, but he will touch areas that high school students only dream of encountering on a first date. This is called a frisk or search and it's the alternative to the scanner.
Of course comes as big news to DC–area residents. Somehow it's a surprise that one way or another either radiation or fingeration is going to explore your corpus delicti.
There is no opt–out for government groping.
I suppose in an age of Cafeteria Catholics, Boutique Baptists and do–it–yourself Episcopalians it's only natural that citizens think they can pick and choose their way through life.
But Big Government is a package and when you opt in you get the whole megilliah. One way or another, Uncle Sam is going to have his way with you before you board that plane.
Currently at National not everyone has to enter the microwave and I have not been selected as yet. (Although after this column runs, those days may be over.) But when it happens, I plan to submit cheerfully and when it's over ask the TSA minion if my prostate is looking any better.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He's a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker and can be reached at michael–email@example.com.