Sense and Sensitivities

by David Galland

With the news cycle lasting only a few days in this Internet era, the hue and cry over the latest airport security measures will be old news to most of you.

However, as I don’t have cable and don’t watch television (except, I must confess, Survivor – I just can’t help myself), and most of my online reading has to do with investments and economics, I’ve been paying only passing attention to the developing story about the new security measures being implemented nationwide.

Coincidentally, I had a heads up that the tighter, more invasive security screening was coming some time ago – thanks to one of the participants at the recent Sights and Sounds event at La Estancia de Cafayate.

As it was related to me, this individual, going through security on his way to the event, made some complaint to a TSA agent, who answered that things were about to get much tighter. The TSA agent went on to explain that there had been a series of tests conducted by a government agency to see if they could sneak dangerous items through airport security – and they had succeeded 100% of the time. As a result, the word had come from on high that the search protocols would soon be changed to what might be termed, “No more Mister Nice Guy.”

I recall hearing this news rather indifferently. That’s because, like most people, I have become sheep-like when going through airport security (though, as a feeble protest, I do like to wear my “Question Authority” T-shirt when traveling). As I see it, I could make rude noises or spout off about the loss of freedom in the land of the free to the TSA goons – but as my actual purpose in traveling is to get to a destination, not to make a political statement followed by missing my flight and cooling my heels in a holding cell, I typically keep my mouth shut and get through the process as quickly as possible.

I have to wonder, however, how I will handle the new, elevated level of security when I travel with the family to a wedding this December? Will I be so complacent as a former postal worker, office clerk – or whichever sort of person answers the call of duty to join the TSA after seeing ads on the back of pizza boxes (pictured here) – fondles my young children?

And while I’m personally not modest, I have to wonder how many dear readers will willingly submit to having naked photos taken and viewed by strangers?

Or, by opting out of being x-rayed, submit to a groping?

Unfortunately, in the current context, you have no other option: based on the experience of John Tyner,who refused to be X-rayed or groped, henceforth, once you’ve entered the security screening process, you’ll be arrested if you try to leave the airport unmolested.

The inanity of this whole thing can be seen in the fact that even pilots – the only people with the actual ability to turn their planes into missiles, now that the cockpit doors are armored – are being put through this new aggressive screening just before they take the controls.

So, what is one to make of all of this?

Some random musings.

First and foremost, a lot of people – those already riled by the growing intrusions into their personal lives, as well as those of more delicate sensibilities – will increasingly decide not to fly.

Among the consequences of this turning back the clock on modern travel will be:

  • Airline travel will fall – and so either fares will rise or the government will have to provide subsidies, or both. In any case, I wouldn’t own an airline stock.
  • Traffic fatalities will rise. In 2009, about 34,000 people died in traffic accidents. Though cars today are safer, and the number of deaths per accident will remain lower than in decades past, I suspect that the increase in long drives to avoid flying will push total traffic fatalities up to a lot more people than would have been lost in any airplane terror attack, absent the new security protocols. With armored cockpit doors, pretty much the worst loss of life in any one terrorist incident would be limited to the passengers on the plane. If I were a terrorist, I’d be looking for more substantial targets.
  • Resorts near populated cities will do well by comparison. The global headquarters of Casey Research are located in a ski resort only three hours’ drive from Boston or Montreal, and about five hours from New York City. As such, I suspect this town – as well as others similarly sited within a reasonable drive from large population centers – will do better than many other real estate markets. That’s not to say I’d run out and buy real estate here just now – because the market is still weak and likely to get weaker before this is over, due to the number of houses for sale overhanging the market and the maintenance costs, which, around here, include high property taxes that are headed higher still due to a huge state budget deficit.
    Conversely, resorts that are far from population centers – especially those that cater to the older audience who will be most offended by the new security procedures – will come under even more pressure.

I was going to add another item, that maybe – just maybe – this time the government will have gone too far, and that the public will finally raise its collective voice in protest, leading to a rethinking of the desirability for unchecked government intrusions into our personal lives (in this case, very personal). But then I scan the headlines and find…

    Eight in 10 Americans back ‘naked’ airport scanners: poll

    WASHINGTON — Americans overwhelmingly back the full-body scanners that produce graphic images of the body, which are being deployed in airports around the country, a poll published Tuesday shows.

    Eight in 10 Americans say airports should use the full-body X-ray machines that show the body, genitalia and all, the poll by CBS News shows.

And I watched with distaste as the talking heads at CNN championed the case for the new screening procedures.

And come up with another likely outcome…

  • The move to expatriate will increase. For many who are already bothered by the heavy hand of government in their private lives, being subjected to this highly personal and humiliating process will likely be the last straw.

Of course, per above, most people will go along with pretty much anything the government spins as being in the “public interest”… and keep going along until they wake up one morning to find they live in the equivalent of a well-decorated prison camp.

Is there an alternative to all this nonsense? Sure. As airlines have every conceivable incentive to protect their planes and passengers, let them decide what sort of security to provide, and build the cost into their tickets. Some airlines will compete as offering the timid the “toughest security in the business” while others will offer low-cost, low-security options.

It will be awhile before we get to that, or some other alternative. That’s because as a society, we are currently going through a major transition period – a transformative period – where our natural ability to understand and integrate fast-moving change is running well behind all the new technologies and nuances of a new era. Humans have always struggled with big changes and often turn to whatever passes for authority to help see it through.

While this transition period is painful – and will be even more so before it ends – I do believe it’s only a matter of time before we as a society decide against totalitarian solutions to the inevitable challenges associated with broad changes. In time – five years? 10? – someone, somewhere, will come up with a more intelligent solution to the question of airline security. And when they do, we’ll slap our foreheads and say, “Now, why didn’t I think of that? It was so obvious!” And we’ll look back at the naked scanners and unleashing people hired through pizza box ads to fondle the public with amazement and a roll of the eyes.

Until then, however, things should get pretty interesting – and not in a good way.

As Olivier and I are flying later this week for meetings in Washington, D.C. , I guess I’ll experience the new protocols first hand. So, what’s it going to be – naked picture with exposure to potentially dangerous x-rays, or groping? Decisions, decisions.

  1. Warren Murdoch says

    Why not have the full body scan of the top 3 people at TSA hanging at the TSA checkin. If it is good for the proletariat it should be good for the bourgeoise.

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