There was one of those canned recordings playing that usually reminds you not to leave your luggage unattended or take materials from anybody with an Al Qaeda T-shirt. In this case, however, it advised me that "inappropriate jokes or language" during the screening process would render me subject to arrest.
Being too damn curious for my own good, I ventured a conversation with the bored TSA agent who had just used his decoder ring to discern that my driver's license carried the Ovaltine seal of approval, asking him what exactly constituted "inappropriate language." (I knew that "inappropriate jokes" would revolve around box cutters and bombs in my luggage--I'm not a complete freaking idiot.)
He looked at me, apparently examining my chin for moron drool, and said, "It's anything I say it is, buddy."
These are the same clowns who (not far down the road in Lubbock, Texas) recently forced a female traveler to use pliers to remove her own nipple rings before getting on a plane.
Now they're going to get blue shirts and shiny new badges:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is starting to equip its 48,000 screeners with 3-inch-by-2-inch, silver-colored, copper and zinc badges that will be worn on new royal-blue police-style shirts.
The attire aims to convey an image of authority to passengers, who have harassed, pushed and in a few instances punched screeners. "Some of our officers aren't respected," TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said.
Among those who don't respect the TSA officers are the real police officers who have to work with them:
Actual airport police, who carry guns and have arrest powers, worry that their own authority will be undercut by screeners who look like police. Every major airport has its own police department or is patrolled by local police.
"A lot of cops at airports are not real thrilled about it," said Duane McGray of the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network, an airport police association. "It's another way of saying (to airport police), 'You're not important.' "
And what's not to respect? The gigantic Federal boondoggle (43,000 employees and a $6.4 billion dollar budget) that is the TSA costs the taxpayers (us!) almost ten buck ($9.94 for each of 647 million airline passenger trips in 2007) every time somebody takes his or her shoes off.
Ten dollars doesn't seem like a lot, does it? Especially if it makes us more secure.... Right?
Forget that the three-ounce rule on liquids is based on a complete ignorance of high-school chemistry, or that the need to take off your shoes is driven not by realistic fear of shoe bombs, but as an attempt to prevent smuggling.
Even ignore the fourth of science fiction writer Larry Niven's basic laws of the universe:
4) Giving up freedom for security has begun to look naive.Even to me. Many of you were ahead of me on this. Three out of four hijacked airplanes destroyed the World Trade Center and a piece of the Pentagon in 2001. How is it possible that those planes were taken using only five perps armed with knives? It was possible because all those hundreds of passengers had been carefully stripped of every possible weapon. We may want to reconsider this approach. It doesn't work in high schools either.
All of that pales in significance next to the rigorous two-day course in talking nice to people that TSA screeners will have to pass in order to win the right to the uniforms and badges of rent-a-cops.
That's real safety.