Monday, December 6, 2010

FTT Off Topic: Are We Really Still Talking About Body Scans?

I'm probably not going to make any friends on this one, seeing how it's defending a position that some of you will find unconscionable, let alone a bureaucracy. It's also going to talk about carbon footprints, which makes even more of you itch. But FTT Off-Topic is where I get to spew, and that spew might not always be to your liking. As always, feel free to skip this and go about your day. Plenty of them other blogs have words and all.

As I was settling in to my monastic vigilance of NFL games on Sunday, I caught news that Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has proposed a law that makes it a felony to misuse TSA body scans. And while I appreciate my side finally coming out in the lead on a smokescreen position (along the lines of, say, flag burning, naming more things after Ronald Reagan or declaring your continued brave opposition to sharing diplomatic cables that millions of people had access to)... Teh Stupid. It Burrrrnnnnnssssss....

First and foremost, the furor over the scans themselves. When the story broke, I reacted the same way everyone else did; against the TSA and their pervy, pervy ways. Then, as the news went beyond the day-bubble-and-forget-about-it of the news media and into the ever-percolating realm of social media, only to come back to the news... well, that's when I started to smell something untoward. In general, if "everyone" believes or loves something, then it's likely to be wrong, or at the very least, not going to wear well with time. (And if you find this statement to be insane, I'd ask you to please break out your Spice Girls CDs, discuss how the women's World Cup soccer game changed your life, or speak to how "Titanic" is the Bestus Movie Ever.) And the fact that *everyone* feels that the TSA has crossed the line here and just wants to grab your junk since you made the decision to get on an airplane? It's time to explore the other side of things.

Here's the not very nice, but quite lasting, part about getting on an airplane. It's environmentally indefensible, and for the most part, increasingly unnecessary. We do it because we can, not because we have to. Business trips can be easily curtailed through the use of video conferencing, but when you aren't in the room, you don't get to eat, drink and have adult adventures on an expense account. You also have to be at the very top of your game, since you are at a disadvantage with people who are on the ground. For real top-end negotiations or mission-critical business pitches, being there is part of a crucial need to have every edge. For most business travel, it's just status quo people doing what they want to do, rather than what makes the most sense for a business or the planet.

As for personal travel, if a scan offends you so much, Just Drive Already. I just did this on a trip to Florida and back, and when I tell people about this, they look at me as if I've just confessed to a predilection for child abuse. But of the six days spent with my family, four of which involved significant car travel in a hatchback, my favorite was the last one, where we drove the longest, sang songs in the car, and celebrated, I suspect, how we had managed to do this without killing each other. if you are going to take a vacation to spend time with someone, spend it with someone.

(And if you want to come at me as a hypocrite for defending the environment for not getting on the plane but driving instead, feel free. I drive a hybrid that was filled to capacity for the trip, and we used something like 50 gallons to go 2,000 miles. Pretty sure that four passengers on a plane making the same trip would have been a bigger carbon footprint. But having said that, full disclosure: had the plane ride been an equivalent cost to driving, we probably would have flown. Moving on.)

So that's the first bit of it: very few people really need to fly, and as much as we bitch about how bad it is, we still on some level *like* to do it, otherwise we wouldn't. Personally, I dream of high-speed rail travel, since a lot less people die when that goes wrong, it's a far better play on an environmental level, and the American in me dislikes having inferior technology to many other parts of the world. I also like knowing that I can drive long distances if I have to, because I've got patience, stamina, and a genuine interest in knowing what the rest of the country is like on a ground level. But I digress.

No, the real issue of TSA scans is that we're ashamed of our bodies, and want to keep them hidden. Folks, I realize that people working as TSA gropers seem like evil alien pervs and twists, but I suspect that the vast majority of them are just under-educated slugs who don't have much else going on, employment-wise. (And why do I suspect this? Because in my day job, I make ads for people who want to get these jobs, and they respond to the things that under-educated slugs respond to, rather than what the ambitious money-grubbers do.) They don't particularly want to grope you, but since something like 2/3rds of us are overweight, it's not like we don't have a lot of space to be hiding stuff, and the TSA agent loses the gig if someone gets something through that they should not. And they've got to grope you if you say no to the scan.

Here, of course, is where the rubber meets the road. It's fine for the non-white non-us to get the wand end of the business at the airport. It's even fine for us to step out of our shoes and waddle around in our dress socks for a few seconds. And it's even OK for the process to delay us a little, so long as we make our flight and get back to the hours of zombie-killing email deletions and site updates that constitute "work" for the modern business traveler. But when the world gets to see your spare 30, or a person who is not wearing a white lab coat gets to remind us that bodies are public and that The War On Terror That No One But The Poor Is Actually Fighting has come home?

Well now, it's time to shout from the rooftops. It's time to compare conditions to historically oppressive and murderous regimes, since that's everyone's go-to move these days. And it's time to criminalize the act of using someone's scan outside of the scan, because Lord knows we don't jail enough people in this country, or that getting your rocks off from a body scan of some anonymous traveler should be an equivalent crime to something involving actual violence or criminal enterprise.

(Besides, it's not like the TSA is scanning Brazilians here. We are still scanning Americans.)

Teh Stupid, It Burns.

And that's all I've got to say about that, so we'll now return you to your regularly scheduled sports blog.

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