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?

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