A few comments on TSA airport screening, since it’s something I’ve bitched about in the past:
1. It does all feel incrementally less arbitrary and ridiculous than it did a year ago. Sure, there are new arbitrary and ridiculous aspects about it (the ban on toner cartridges in carry-on baggage, for instance, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of “that cow is out of the barn”), but on the whole things are running more smoothly, and the staff seem more professionalized than they were a year or two years ago.
2. The TSA, and Americans, have both survived the coming of the “naked X-ray machine,” and on the whole I don’t think civil liberties have been impacted overmuch. I’ve been through the thing (once). If it actually does improve the likelihood of catching the bad guys, you know, fine. I can handle it. But then I generally believe that government action in pursuit of the collective welfare (i.e., not being blown up) is a good thing, and am not particularly concerned about some bored public servant accidentally seeing the shape of my buttocks.
3. The TSA has accepted that “opting out” in favor of a patdown search is a basic right; in most terminals I’ve been through (not all) that option is clearly posted for travelers; and staff seem to have been trained well on the whole. I’ve been patted down in a dozen airports, always professionally, usually with a ridiculously excessive amount of formulaic preamble. (For the record, in every other country in the world, including the United Kingdom, if a security officer wants to pat you down, they just, you know, do it. They don’t recite you list of apologetic questions first about your “sensitive areas”; they just swipe their hands over said areas to make sure you’re not, uh, carrying anything there that you shouldn’t be, and then we all go on with our lives.)
4. Obviously someone determined to hide a plastic razor blade (or whatever) on their person can probably find a way, but the point of an institutionalized patdown search isn’t to find every potential tool of mayhem, it’s to increase the likelihood of an object’s being found to a sufficient degree that mayhem on an aircraft becomes less attractive to a doer of mayhem than alternative non-aircraft sorts of mayhem are.
5. There’s clearly more of two things going on: random extra checks (I’ve been subjected them twice in 3 months, after never ever being subjected to them before, and it’s not because I now profile more like a bad guy than I used to); and scrutiny of your bags on the X-ray monitor. My Compass iPad easel (which apparently looks on X-ray like a dangerous long metal object) almost always gets my bag hand-searched if I forget to take it out and open it up for its trip through security.
6. The “take off your shoes” thing? Still stupid. The “liquids” thing? Still stupid. But, ehh, hard to get all bent out of shape about it.
7. Finally: We as a society have decided that not being blown up in the air is our collective priority. We might instead have decided that reducing the horrific total of Americans killed and maimed in automobile “accidents” was our collective priority — in a rational world, we almost certainly would have — but we went the other way, and given that we have, airport screening necessarily follows. In this context, it’s worth observing at this point that it is in our national interest for TSA screeners — who are, after all, doing an important job on which public safety depends — to be proud of their uniforms. They should be trained, treated, and paid as public servants, given the respect of the uniform, and held to a high but not unachievable standard of professionalism. “Respect” doesn’t mean kowtowing, it means appreciation of the fact that they are earning their living in a way that contributes directly to the public welfare, and with proper training and funding are capable of excelling in their work and being proud of it. We get the public servants that we deserve.