Just in time for the Thanksgiving travel crunch, new security measures at airports have caused officials to raise the color-coded passenger irritability threat advisory. You need to be alert to this if you are planning to fly.
Not to be confused with the better known security threat advisories, the passenger irritability advisory had been pink (flushed cheeks) but is now red and white (red face with steam coming out of the ears).
While the latest alert is not yet black (nimbus cloud with lightning over passenger's head), it is in everybody's interests that the alert slides down the scale to lavender (cute smile and teddy bear in carry-on).
So as a public service today, I have volunteered to clear up some public misconceptions for the good folks at the Transportation Security Administration, who could do it themselves if they were not so busy inspecting the grand pianos that passengers hope to fit in the overhead bins.
As the Associated Press reports, "Annoyance at security hassles has been on the rise among airline crews and passengers for years, but the widespread use of full-body image detectors this year and the simultaneous introduction of more intrusive pat-downs seems to have ramped up the frustration."
A software engineer named John Tyner fed the fire of public discontent when he wrote in his blog that he had been ejected from the San Diego airport. He said he had been threatened with a fine and lawsuit for refusing a groin check after turning down a full-body scan. He said he told a TSA worker, "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."
As well as providing what we can agree is the best quote of the year, this incident illustrates the problem. Some people just come to the airport with a my-junk-is-superior-to-thine attitude.
Mr. Tyner, the TSA workers do not want to touch your junk. They are doing their duty. That is all. Nobody would be interested in touching your junk if it were not for the jackass terrorist who tried to blow up his underpants and the plane they were flying in. The threat from foreign underpants is real.
The same goes for the official who must sit in a separate location and view the images from the body scan machines. What a horrible job. This being America, acres and acres of fatty flesh pass by, putting the viewer off cupcakes for the rest of the shift. If a hot body should appear, the government's no-fun policy ruins the moment, because heads are blurred on the screen. And if a supervisor does hear laughter or hubba-hubba sounds coming from the viewing booth, the operator is put in charge of shoe inspection.
What we have with this controversy is hyper-modesty in bed, so to speak, with the American penchant for mistrust of government. It is the Tea Party ethic clothed in the long frocks and high-buttoned collars of Victorian prudery. This is all very well and good, but think of the poor TSA workers. It's not all about you and your too-wonderful-for-official-inspection body.
As for me, I don't care if some unfortunate TSA worker wants to look at my body in the interests of national security. They do not pay that person enough. All I ask is that he or she keeps the giggling to a minimum and doesn't put me in a calendar.
You see, I believe the body is a temple, not a source of shame to be hidden away at all times. Admittedly, in my case, it is a temple to the veneration of beer and sandwiches, but the principle holds.
Do people who object to these full-body scans ever go to the doctor? If Mr. Tyner gets a pain in the groin area, does he accuse the doctor of planning a sexual assault for trying to put a glove upon the affected area? I bet he doesn't, because he knows full well that if left untreated, the condition could require a junk-ectomy.
Yes, and in the same way, hands must search and screens must be observed in case the plane blows up. The rule of reason, not modesty, must prevail.
Much of what goes on in security screening is, of course, ridiculous. Yes, a certain amount of random searching of grandmas goes on, but those grandmas can be tough. I think only flight crews have a good case to be excused from screening -- if they can be trusted to operate the plane, they can be trusted not to smuggle water onto the plane.
What is needed for flying is a sense of humor and a recognition that the TSA did not cause the problem. Osama bin Laden should be the one worried about his junk.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.