The full body scanners that President Obama last night authorized to be rolled out in airports across the country at a cost of over $1 billion dollars not only produce detailed pictures of your genitals, but once inverted some of those images also display your naked body in full living color.
The likely enhanced scare-monger image is the Web 2.0 answer to SNL’s sketch where Sharon Stone is aggressively… screened by horn-ball airport security guards Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon and Rob Schneider until she’s down to her lingerie. (11 April 1992) I can already picture similar characters making a younger starlet go back and forth through the scanner and do odd contortions as they call their buddies ‘round. But I digress…
The reactions to the wider deployment of these machines were, anecdotally, along a few overlapping lines:
- Judging the privacy trade-off in terms of its motivation rather than outcome (ethically, or in verifiable threat reduction over less invasive methods). For example, speechlessandredundant: “This is designed to keep airports and airplanes safe, not to invade our privacy.” … so it’s cool.
- Backhandedly acknowledging - even taking as given - real, negative potential of the increased privacy invasion by blanket dismissal of the significance. Ex: davethebrave: “I’m fine with some pervy jerk-off security wank seeing my cock and balls.”
- Suspending critical faculties on the unsubstantiated basis that this is a singularly sure thing in terror prevention.
Incidentally - DavetheBrave goes on to say the forced exhibitionism’s acceptable trade-off to avoid being shanked with a blade. He’s willing to brandish his dudeparts to avert a threat already widely thwarted by metal detectors, carry-on xrays, elimination of metal utensils on board, etc.
I emphasize this not to pick on him, but because it’s in line with claims of a post-9/11 shift from more-rational to more-emotional analysis of security measures; and with the longer standing inclination to blow probabilities out of proportion. To wit, Jeffrey Rosen, “Naked Terror” (NYT 4 Jan ‘04):
After the 9/11 attacks, for example, officials at Orlando International Airport began testing a new security device. Let’s call it the Naked Machine, for that’s more or less what it is. A kind of electronic strip search, the Naked Machine bounces a low-energy X-ray beam off the human body. In addition to exposing any metal, ceramic or plastic objects that are concealed by clothing, the Naked Machine also produces an anatomically correct naked image of everyone it scrutinizes. The Naked Machine promises a high degree of security, but it demands a high sacrifice of privacy. With a simple programming shift, however, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., have built a prototype of a redesigned Naked Machine that extracts the images of concealed objects and projects them onto a sexless mannequin, turning the naked body into an unrecognizable and nondescript blob. This redesigned version of the Naked Machine — let’s call it the Blob Machine — guarantees exactly the same amount of security while also protecting privacy.
The choice between the Blob Machine and the Naked Machine might seem to be easy. But in presenting the choice hypothetically to groups of students and adults since 9/11, I’ve been struck by a surprising pattern: there are always some people who say they would prefer to go through the Naked Machine rather than the Blob Machine. Some say they are already searched so thoroughly at airports that they have abandoned all hope of privacy. Others say those who have nothing to hide should have nothing to fear. But in each group, there are some who say they are so anxious about the possibility of terrorism that they would do anything possible to make themselves feel better. They don’t care, in other words, whether or not the Naked Machine makes them safer than the Blob Machine, because they are more concerned about feeling safe than being safe. (Emphasis added.)
And later in the same essay:
The public fixates on low-probability but vivid risks because of images we absorb from television and from politicians. This cycle fuels the public’s demand for draconian and poorly designed laws and technologies to eliminate the risks that are, by their nature, difficult to reduce.
All this for a technology that still isn’t a guarantee. For example, back-scatter x-rays can’t show contents of body cavities, “Full-body scanning would not eliminate the risk of passengers smuggling a working bomb in sections within their bodies – which tests last year showed was feasible,” (Guardian) and may miss low-density materials “such as powder, liquid or thin plastic.” (Independent).
Even combined with metal detection, some of these threats could get over based the common practice of back-of-the-hand, non-groping pat downs in terminals.
Since our American spirit of equality doesn’t suffer most types of identity-based profiling (racial, ethnic, religious, ageist), and since would-be attackers can adjust their methods and probe weaknesses in non-identity-based profiling (buy round trip tickets on credit, recruit westerners) - we won’t be near eliminating all threats until we’re ready to really be put through a ringer, interrogated, and then some.
By all means, we should pursue air security. We should do it in a coherent, strategic manner, with weight given the sacrifices and inconveniences incurred for incremental gains, rather than in an any additional security is worth whatever cost approach. If, on that basis, letting TSA staffers see my shortcomings before each flight is warranted - it’ll be their loss.
(PS - An aside I didn’t know what to make of: the reblogs I saw in favor of scanning skewed disproportionately to those under 25. Curious.)
Leaving aside Hume’s presumption and imperative tone, he is broadly correct about “the kind of redemption and forgiveness.” The Venerable John Paul II hinted at the matter in the context of the “diffusion of Buddhism in the West” in Crossing the Threshold of Hope:
[T]he doctrines of salvation in Buddhism and Christianity are opposed. … The Buddhist doctrine of salvation constitutes the central point, or rather the only point, of this system. Nevertheless, both the Buddhist tradition and the methods deriving from it have an almost exclusively negative soteriology.
The “enlightenment” experienced by Buddha comes down to the conviction that the world is bad, that it is the source of evil and of suffering for man. To liberate oneself from this evil, one must free oneself from this world, necessitating a break with the ties that join us to external reality…
For Christians, the world is God’s creation, redeemed by Christ. It is in the world that man meets God. Therefore he does not need to attain such an absolute detachment in order to find himself in the mystery of his deepest self.
While laity on both sides mayn’t devote much time to examining soteriological juxtapositions and contexts for salvation; they intuit a timely conversion from an Eastern religious/philosophical system of belief to mainline Christianity doesn’t pass the sniff test.
Should Woods choose this route, it behooves him to practice sounding non-cynical, then announce he’s adding a recognizable-name Christian spiritual counselor. The person’s role: broadening Tiger’s perspective on spiritual matters, on being a better husband and father to his Christian wife and baptized children, and on redemption through self-improvement. At some remove from the present, should he convert, he’ll at least have established some credibility for the decision. It could even coincide with his triumphant return to golf; body rested, knee better rehabilitated.
That said, Hume’s advice is misplaced because of it’s Christocentric bias regarding mends-making. The fate of Tiger’s mortal soul isn’t what we’re all really talking about. It’s the fate of his brand, of his golf game, of his familial relations. I respectfully suggest he’s already found a suitable religion for his purposes. What he needs to practice now is a fairly Zen regimen: humility, flaccidity, productivity.