I’ve been on the road a lot this spring and have saved up a number of notes from the road to pass along. James Otteson, the TSA’s #1 fan, will need to put down any sharp objects before reading.
1. During my most recent trip, my crotch was frisked so intensely by a TSA agent that I thought he was going to need a smoke afterwards. I jest, but this is no laughing matter. I did not enjoy the experience at all and felt that my rights and dignity were violated. Given the power differential between me and the TSA, I was helpless to respond in any way that would protect my rights and dignity without incurring very large costs. I really wanted to punch the guy right in the head and get him the heck away from me. Fortunately, it was over quickly but it is sad that TSA agents are essentially empowered to do what they will while we suffer what we must (FN: Thucydides). I really wish that my head instantly thought “voice” rather than “violence” at the moment of the frisk since I should have used what I could to counter his aggression with the only weapon I reasonably had available under the circumstances. By the time I did start thinknig, I just thought how pathetic it would be to have a job involving regularly bending over and feeling up other people of the same sex as part of some “security theatre” designed to make us “feel” more secure. So I walked along mourning our relative powerlessness in the face of the modern bureaucratic state.
2. On another trip, I opted out of the “naked picture” machine while going through security. The TSA agent told me to step to the right and wait for a screener. I complied. He then instructed a passenger behind me who was walking towards the machine that she needed to take all the money out of her pockets (which was a considerable amount of change, actually). I then decided quickly to test my theory that people in such circumstances will essentially do what they are told if instructed with considerable confidence by someone seemingly authoritative. Sheep go where the shepherd tells them. So in an official sounding voice (and I was well-dressed, if memory serves), I said, “Please place the money in my hand” or something like that. And as I guessed, she started to do so before I quickly told her I was joking. And no, that did not result in a cavity search by the screener.
3. On the way to the airport for a return flight home, I had a long cab ride with a Somali immigrant. I love to hear about the lives of my immigrant cab drivers for some reason, and they always seem so excited when you actually know something about where they live (perhaps because most Americans are so ignorant about the rest of the world?). Anyway, we eventually got onto the subject of daily life in the Horn of Africa and khat comes up. He proceeds to tell me that it isn’t illegal in the US – by which he meant, as our conversation later showed, that one can do it with a fair amount of immunity. I probed him a bit and suggested gently that it is indeed a controlled substance in the US. And he actually knew that given this interesting story he told me about another immigrant: A Somali immigrant he knows owns a little shop in a big American city and was openly selling khat. Why not, it is perfectly legal back home and his clients were others from the Horn of Africa where it is part of the daily life of many people. Apparently he had no idea (or so the cab driver said) that he was essentially a drug dealer according to the laws here! Long story short but eventually the cops get wise. I had a bit of trouble understanding the rest but it seemed to end with some measure of common sense as he was informed of the law and had to stop. I’m just not sure if there was any arrest, fine, or jail time involved.