Thursday, July 28, 2011

Confessions of a Failed Cheerleader


What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

And what would you lose in the process if there was no risk attached? That’s the other side of the question. Sometimes we are afraid of failure. So afraid that we leave the “doing” to other people while we cheer from the sidelines.

When I was in junior high, I wanted to be a cheerleader. Well, actually, I’d wanted to be a cheerleader since I was four years old. Ever since my friend, Cindy, did somersaults across the grass in my yard and tried to teach me to do the same thing. My legs never quite went straight up in the air and my spins through space had a definite ninety degree bend to them. Beginning somersaulters need spotters. Someone who is at least five.

In second grade I learned cheers from my neighbor, Donna. Fourth graders get to do everything. Longing for the day I could cheer for the Neil Cummins Elementary School Cougars, I imitated everything Donna did. And to this day, I can still spell “C-O-U-G-A-R-S”. Really well. In my sleep. But I can’t do a somersault.

Seventh grade. The snake pit of failure. I can feel it like it was . . . today. Why does junior high stay with you so? My best friend, Cheryl, and I stood in the miles of grass on the soccer field with a hundred other girls waiting for the cheerleading tryouts to begin. This was going to be great! I was going to be a cheerleader just like my mom was! We’d be popular at last! I’d get to wear a cute little outfit and . . . show off my chubby knees. I’d learn how to . . . somersault. Doom settled in over me like an Arizona dust storm in July. I glanced at last year’s cheerleaders who seemed to be pointing in my direction and laughing. I’m certain one of them said, “Look at her! All she knows how to do is spell “cougars.” I hung my head and went home.

Not only have I not tried to do something risky, I don’t even know how to be a cheerleader.

Unless you count marriage as risky. I still remember the flack I took when, as a sixteen-year-old high school junior, I accepted an engagement ring from my Air Force boyfriend and wore it proudly for the next year and a half before he finished a tour of Germany and married me. “You need a college experience,” my English teacher told me. “He can marry you when you graduate.” “Marriage is a terrible thing to spend your life regretting,” another adult said. I decided I would give marriage my best shot and do everything I could to be successful at it. I'm not saying that every eighteen-year-old should marry. But despite all the negative advice I was given, I knew I was making the best decision of my life. Thirty-five years later, I'm glad I followed my heart.

Deciding to have children was another scary proposition. After all, the world was pretty frightening in 1981 when I gave birth to our son. What were we thinking??? And how selfish were we to bring our daughter into this wildly spinning globe of turmoil two years later? Still in our mid-twenties with only four years of marriage under our belt, we didn’t even own our own home when I became pregnant for the first time in late 1980. Where were we going to put that poor little baby? In a crib attached to our bedroom wall??

So we built a house. We didn’t do the normal thing and buy a used one. For the price of an old one, we could build something new. If we could get a loan. That wasn’t easy in 1981 when mortgage interest rates were skyrocketing at 18%. With $2,000 in savings, we stepped out on faith and accepted a friend’s offer of our choice of lots in her newly subdivided property, drew up some house plans, and began to look for money. A lot of money. Six months later we moved into our house, and for five years I wrote six mortgage checks every month to the six individuals who took a risk on us and loaned us money to build our first house during a catastrophic economy.

By now we’ve owned four homes, raised our two children, rescued two dogs who rewarded us with lengthy life spans, and lost only two Japanese fighting fish. We haven’t declared bankruptcy yet. We put both of our children through college while living on one salary. My husband still sends me love notes every day – it’s just that now he texts them. I still cry when I stop to think of all he’s sacrificed so that I will be happy.

I could have failed at all of these things. I still could. But they’re worth sacrificing for. They’re worth fighting for. Life is a risk. It’s worth it.

I feel a somersault coming on.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Little Temporary Safety

Ten years ago my husband and I flew to Sarasota, Florida, on vacation to visit family. Our daughter drove us to Sky Harbor, sat with us at the gate, and drank a bottle of water she brought from home. Kissed us goodbye when we boarded the plane. It was simple. It was innocent. It’ll never be like that again.

Last October my husband and I flew back to Sarasota, to hang out with family and friends. Arriving two hours early, we put all of our personal belongings into a plastic bin to be scanned, walked barefooted through a metal detector and re-assembled ourselves on the secure side of the airport. We waited alone surrounded by strangers until our flight left. It’s not as much fun to fly anymore.

One month later, American citizens flying to visit their families were greeted in 70 airports across America by more than 400 full body scanners. By the end of 2011 more than 1000 scanners will be in place across the country. All because last Christmas a lone Nigerian boarded a Northwest Airlines flight in Amerstam, Holland, and before it could land in Detroit he tried to blow it up with explosives hidden in his underwear. The way we all fly has changed forever . . . again.

In a knee-jerk reaction to last year’s attempted underwear attack, the Transportation Security Administration – or TSA - has spent millions of dollars installing x-ray machines which expose travelers to highly questionable amounts of radiation. Could these scans cause infertility? Cancer? Shortened lifespan? We don't know the answers to these questions yet, but then again neither does the TSA. This technology is being recklessly rolled out without adequate safety testing that would prove it safe for long-term use. Meanwhile, as the debate continues over whether or not human DNA can be damaged by the equipment or what would happen if a machine jammed while someone was still being scanned, these full body scanners do nothing to stop terrorists because they can’t detect powder explosives in the first place.

It's one thing to subject adults to invasive searches. It's something else entirely to subject children to them. The internet cites numerous examples of the trauma to all family members when youngsters are scanned or searched prior to flying. Just google "complaints about TSA" to see for yourself how absolute power is corrupting absolutely TSA agents. Which brings up an additional concern: how much trauma is unnecessarily brought upon those who have survived sexual abuse only to be forced to endure enhanced pat-downs or scans as a precursor to flying? Plenty. Newsweek brought up this question last November. Their report can be read at http://www.newsweek.com/2010/11/17/tsa-screenings-worry-sexual-assault-survivors.html

We need to remember: a terrorist is anyone who uses fear or terror to manipulate a body of people. But we are so afraid of our enemies, we have become our own terrorists. And in the opinion of many, we make Al Qaeda's job way too easy. In the name of increased security, Americans are now losing their Fourth Amendment right to privacy which guarantees “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” I guess it wasn't a money back guarantee.

The question is: who gets to decide what “unreasonable” means? Is it reasonable to force citizens to be visually strip searched just because they bought an airline ticket? How reasonable is the alternative – an invasive pat down with the catchy nickname, 'Gate Rape' . That phrase is already a new entry in the Urban Dictionary. But Option C may be the most alarming of all. An underwraps directive agreed to by DHS chief Janet Napolitano details that those who opt-out could be labeled as “domestic extremists” who will be detained, questioned and processed for further investigation. So much for land of the free and home of the brave.

You might think that with security screening choices this inflexible, few people would be excluded. But you’d be wrong. Privilege or membership come into play here. You should expect that President Obama can skip a personal pat down, but you might be surprised to know Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won’t be stepping into a scanner anytime soon either. Neither will airline pilots. And exemptions are in the works for flight attendants. I guess the skies are friendly to everyone . . . except paying passengers.

But consider this clincher: In a press conference in November 2010, DHS chief Napolitano avoided a direct question asking whether or not Muslim women would be required to undergo full body scans or patdowns. She responded only that there will be “adjustments” and “more to come” on the issue. You see, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) feels that the full body scanners are intrusive and that pat-downs of Muslim women in Hijabs are offensive to the religion. They’ve advised Muslim women to “request to pat down their own scarf, including head and neck area, and have the officers perform a chemical swipe of your hands.” Well, okay. I guess that’s fair. We’re losing our rights while some who aren’t even citizens have more religious freedom than Americans do.

Something big is happening. With the outrage from American travelers and the pressure being put on corporate profits, President Obama and the TSA may eventually be forced to change these humiliating security measures - but if they don’t, then we can expect more intrusive checkpoints from our government in the very near future. Ms. Napolitano has already publicly stated that DHS is looking at other mass transit systems like buses and trains as the next target.

So, if you are faced with the choice of going through a body scanner which will display your nude body to a TSA agent while exposing you to unknown levels of radiation, or enduring a violating pat down, which will you choose? That scenario sounds eerily similar to a game I used to play as a teenager with friends: “If you had to give up one of your senses, which would you rather lose – your hearing or your sight?” These are choices??

As one person commented on the internet, “none of us surrender our constitutional rights when we walk into the airport.” How sweet. I wish that was still true. It’s time for us to pay attention to these words spoken by Benjamin Franklin during another American crisis: “They who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The only solution I can think of is for each of us to make our voice heard in Washington. Contact your senators and representatives and implore them to protect your Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

As for the TSA, I’d like them to consider an idea I read on Facebook: replace the current scanners with personal booths you can step into that will not x-ray you, but will detonate any explosive device you may have on your body.

I can see it now. You’re in the airport terminal when you hear a muffled explosion followed by this PA system announcement:

“Attention passengers - We now have a seat available on flight 2345.
and . . . clean up on Aisle 8!”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fumes from the Winepress

I watched a spider suspend in mid-air this morning. I would have missed seeing his featherweight black body if it hadn’t swayed in the breeze a bit. His tether was invisible, but I’m pretty sure he’s been watching ‘Mission Impossible’ again—zip line down, zip line up, smooth as butter. Capture the prey, get out of the way.

Watching the spider reminds me of the old “frog slowly boiling in a pot of water” analogy. What do poached frogs and stealthy spiders have to do with one another? One is gullible and the other deceiving. Here we sit, nearly paralyzed in our own Crockpot of ignorance and apathy, while spiders spin transparent webs that will finish us off.

The more I think about being scanned last week at Sky Harbor Airport, the more I realize this is how cattle feel when they’re led into the last truck in which they’ll ever ride. Come to think of it, airline flights seem like cattle cars, we’re packed in so tightly these days. Worst of all, I wonder if the helpless, powerless feeling I’ve experienced each time I’ve flown recently is the same way German Jews felt as the holocaust settled in over their country like a sun-suffocating dust storm. Their homeland, once a place of safety, became their prison. “Homeland Security” is nothing but an oxymoron.

There was no one in line at the security gate last Monday. My husband, Rob, and I walked right up to the friendly agents who read and approved our boarding passes. Of course, I’d already been stopped by an agent who insisted on swiping my hands so he could analyze the hand lotion I’d just applied. Apparently redheaded, freckle faced grandmothers exactly fit the profile of those who play with gunpowder on their way to the airport.

So, let me see. The airport had all our personal information as per their insistence when we purchased our tickets on line. No doubt their tracking cookies are still on our home computer, slowing down my internet addiction. The Southwest agent who took our bags at Sky Harbor confirmed that my driver’s license and overpriced ticket information matched. The adolescent who swiped my hands verified that I hadn’t recently packed explosives in my bra. Check, check, double check.

I assumed I was home free. I assumed that while the sacred contents of my purse were analyzed by an x-ray machine, I would gather deadly bacteria on my bare feet and pass uneventfully through the metal detector which would prove for the last time that I wasn’t packing anything more than menopausal heat. I assumed wrong.

“Go to the right,” the uniformed woman told me.

And, doe in the headlights that I am sometimes, I headed obediently in the direction of her pointed finger. I intended to walk through the free standing doorway like normal, but this time I was told to stop, place my feet on the marks, shoulder width apart, raise my arms in the air and stand there. Too late I realized what “Rapiscan” meant on the wall I faced and forgot to salute with my tall finger the anonymous videographer now viewing my naked body.

“Ok, you’re fine,” the agent announced.

That’s what he thinks. I’ll never be fine again. None of us will ever be fine again.

This, I fear, is not the worst we will face as the power of the TSA grows like kudzu on steroids. I walked away with shoes in hand and my dignity in shambles. All I could say to Rob was, “So I just got scanned. I gave up my rights on July 4th, Independence Day.”

“Yes, we did,” he replied.

In the wake of surrendering my Fourth Amendment Right to freedom from unreasonable search of my person, I couldn’t even complain about it in the autonomous airport lest someone accuse me of harassing a federal agent. Poof. My first amendment right to freedom of speech disintegrated in the x-ray booth. All this with no alert from anyone. And you’ll be hard pressed to find any warning on the Southwest website about how extensive new security measures are.

There were no official signs as we stood in line indicating that scanners were in use and, while some passengers were still directed through one metal detector at the security gate where we were, there was no rhyme or reason for the way people were sorted. Some watchdog groups are worried about the physical risks from scanners that look through your clothing Superman-style. Yet, there are no warnings even to pregnant women that the use of x-rays might prove harmful. Fortunately, my film is safe. There are more notices about the possibility of x-ray damage to my camera than to my body.

TSA’s extreme measures only contribute to the false security of all my fellow frogs. This week, as we waited to board a return flight home, MSNBC broadcast the news on an airport TV that someone on a JetBlu flight to Newark, NJ, someone who passed through security, boarded the plane with a stun gun only three days earlier.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said the incident at Newark was "the latest in a troubling pattern of breaches in our aviation security system. . . and we need assurances that steps are being taken to make sure this doesn’t happen again," he said.

Great. More steps. What else can be taken from Americans under the guise of protection? Every time a terrorist attacks my country, I lose another freedom. In the ten years since the Twin Towers fell in New York, I have lost the right to:

• Say goodbye or hello to friends and loved ones at an airplane gate
• Visit with friends and loved ones at the gate prior to boarding
• Keep my shoes on the entire time I’m at the airport
• Keep my belt and coat on at all times
• Keep anything in my pockets at all times
• Buy or bring water from one side of the airport to the other
• Have more than a quart size bag of three ounce liquids with me
• Keep my lipstick or hand lotion loose in my purse
• Identify myself only once as I arrive for a flight
• Keep my naked body’s image to myself
• Allow only my doctor and my husband to touch me intimately
• Believe in my first amendment rights
• Believe in my fourth amendment rights

But who cares? Rarely have I found anyone else who is alarmed that the price of air travel today is the subjection of American citizens to the humiliation of airport scanning or patdowns by their own government. It’s not all bad news, though. At least you can still choose your preferred form of sexual molestation.

The only right you possess in an American airport today is the right to remain silent. But remember, this is for your own good. Every freedom you lose means you can continue to fly the friendly skies with peace of mind.

Unyielding, the net the spider spins is strong and secure. No one escapes its tenacious grasp.

Now, don’t you feel safer?