November 25, 2010

I would go so far as to say that National Opt-Out Day was a big bust.
- Genevieve Shaw Brown, spokesperson for Travelocity

By now it is a very rare person in the continental United States who has not yet heard of the airport security pat-down furour. They may not know John Tyner's name, they may not all have seen the recording; but most people are certain he missed his flight as a consequence of an overly-intrusive search -- and everyone knows the four key words which sparked a nationwide protest against overly intrusive security measures which secure nothing at all. In the name of sanity, they were prepared one and all to make a statement by making life as difficult for the Transportation Security Administration screening personnel as possible, whatever the personal cost.

Or not.

Only actions can speak for themselves. Actions have weight, which is made stronger by immediacy. Belated action could also be taken at the ballot box: but realism and long experience hints darkly in the background that whatever might be said during election campaigns, for a representative to vote to reduce security measures at this time will be death in the following election.

Words without acts are meaningless. No matter how many people wear a popular protest t-shirt, it means nothing but a popular fashion statement, to be lost at the back of the closet after the issue has lost its immediacy and eventually turned into rags or donated to charity. The power and threat of free speech is that the words are supposed to be able to seed the kinds of actions which make a difference. If the words turn out repeatedly to be just a lot of hot air, free speech is meaningless.

Actions which involve true difficulty or risk have a different weight than actions which are incidental, inertial, and which carry no consequence. On Travel Wednesday, flights to bring family together are not incidental, not a casual get-together for which alternatives can be found. Miss the flight, and you have missed Thanksgiving.

It seems very few people were prepared to risk that. Of the few visible protestors, most were not even planning to fly that day.

The TSA screeners themselves are not particularly happy about the current state of security screening. While these kinds of pat-downs are virtually the only reliable method of getting around the many ways in which there are to conceal a weapon, all of which are helpfully described or even modelled in gun and weapon magazines: the screeners and the travelling public alike have a nagging suspicion that there must be another way.

There is: but would you truly want it?

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