This site started out as a way for me to share sample chapters of upcoming books (please read some of my other blogs), but has morphed into my take on what is going on in the world today. I welcome your comments.
Welcome to America, where you get yelled at when you arrive and felt up when you leave
Fig-leaf underpants – the new weapon against America's airport body scanners
As my extensive collection of snow shakers from around the world proves, I like souvenirs. As the name suggests, these help me remember that I have actually been to, say, Holland: the museums, the tulips, the cobbled paths may have all disappeared into the black hole of my brain, but the snow shaker with windmills that actually spin? That's what memories are made of.
But now, the USA's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has managed to come up with the seemingly impossible, something even better than snow shakers to help one remember a recent holiday experience in America: they will feel you up, or take naked photos of you.
With the holidays approaching, security has tightened at airports across America. This is not really a surprise, considering the holiday season is increasingly as associated in the minds of many Americans with threats of terrorist attacks as it is with TV showings of It's A Wonderful Life. This is particularly the case after last year, when a certain Umar Abdulmutallab decided to celebrate Christmas by attempting to blow up a flight to Detroit, sticking explosives in his underwear and then failing to ignite them properly, a set-up Chris Morris would have rejected as too implausibly farcical for his film, Four Lions.
The TSA learned a lesson from that experience: not that some terrorists aren't the sleek masterminds they are sometimes portrayed as, but are actually moronic dupes. Rather, that they need to see or feel the inside of the underpants of specially chosen passengers flying out of the United States, using either full-body scans or their own hands.
Perhaps some of you are saying that seeing as terrorist attacks on the US generally happen on flights into the US, surely it should be incoming passengers who get felt up, not outgoing ones. And perhaps others are saying that seeing as Abdulmutallab was doing the underwear schtick a year ago, this has the decided smack of belated catch-up (explosive underwear – sooooo autumn/winter 2009). But then, the TSA is an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security, which clarifies everything. All non-Americans who have ever visited the US will be very au fait with homeland security. They're the people who yell at you when you show them your non-US passport upon landing, just before you find out that your luggage has gone missing. Welcome to America! So just to recap, you get yelled at when you arrive, and felt up when you leave. Holidaying in the US: it's like a really bad relationship, played in reverse.
Racial profiling has long been such a feature of American airport security that the two have practically become synonymous. But to the TSA's enormous credit, they are manually examining everyone who objects to the body scanners out of concerns about radiation or paranoia that their naked images might end up on the web (although it is a quirky rule of thumb that those who worry about that the most are those who have the least cause for concern). This might explain the mass hysteria – as it's only when white people's privates are also at risk of being in any way bothered by airport security that it becomes a national disaster – that has led to the issue gaining nearly as much US news coverage as an actual terrorist attack, even though the scanners are currently in only 70 of America's 450 airports.
And truly, no one's happy about it. Not the airport security already complaining about Americans' "poor hygiene", not John "don't touch my junk" Tyner, aka the Joe the Plumber of this whole farrago. Even Hillary Clinton admitted in a TV interview over the weekend that she would not enjoy being groped in an airport one bit. "I mean, who would?" she asked with a laugh. And America answered as one, "Your husband."
What she didn't say, sadly, was whether she had purchased for herself, or Bill, special underwear with strategically placed fig leaf designs that a gentleman in Colorado by the name of Jeff Buske has invented. The fig leaves will keep your private parts discreetly hidden from the airport scanners. So now Americans can look like Adam and Eve after the Fall when they go to the airport which, in the case of a disillusioned America, is somewhat apt. Sure, the fact that some dude in Colorado has already found a way to block the scanners might raise certain questions about the efficacy of these security measures, but let's focus on the important issue: one's junk is safe, if not one's life.
Yet it's the perennial catch-up element to the TSA's strategies that really worries me. Surely they should be anticipating the event, not reacting to it.
And so, here are some methods to predict terrorist attacks and to continue the TSA's sterling efforts in making flying as degrading and unpleasant as possible:
1. All passengers wishing to travel to another country must first gather witness statements from all of their exes, listing all of their attributes and flaws in detail. These will be examined by international governments who will then decide whether they want the passenger in their country.
2. Every passenger must read out his or her teenage diary over the PA system in the airport. Any references to anything other than boys, girls, music, pimples, parents and why life is so unfair will be taken as proof of terrorist tendencies.
3. Every passenger about to fly must have sex with a TSA staff member. Afterwards, when the passenger's defences are down due to the post- coital glow, the TSA staff member will interrogate them about Yemen.