Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The most something time of the year

First, a confession: I watch Love, Actually several times a week (sometimes several times a day) as the semester draws to a close.

Problem: It has occurred to me that I need to find a Springtime ritual equivalent. I think it helps me write and grade.

My dad, knowing my hunny and I are packing off to Spain where we spend the "holidays" (mine are over by then) with his family, asked me whether my hunny was taking the TSA exam (so no one else would be allowed to feel me up--or pat me down). I joked with him about it, but there are some things I have simply got to say about this bunch of idiocy.

The first is that I used to be an EMT, and one of the first lessons of Emergency Medicine is that no matter how awful you believe your hygiene to be, there is someone out there who practices (and I mean actively, with zest, pursues) a worse version than yours. Imagine having to get your hands on and around someone who thinks that showering once a millennium is optional if you have patchuoli. Worse, imagine the one who doesn't feel patchouli's necessary. Imagine people who, though they may generally clean themselves, are having a really bad day, have eaten something that disagreed with them (like, say, airport food) and simply cannot help the flatulence.

I think that if you think the TSA folks are gettin' their kicks by going to work this holiday season, you have a warped sense of reality and should be forced to work with the unwashed, unhappy masses for an hour--believe me, that's more than enough.

So if you're traveling this year and are too afraid to let someone see an outline of your body, thank your TSA person. He or she is in just as uncomfortable, unpleasant place you are--only several thousand times more often!

Of course, we could avoid ALL this rigmarole.

I have, since my birth in Israel, traveled in and out of Ben Gurion Airport several times--in the 80s, in the 90s. I have never had to remove any item of clothing. I have never had to baggie up all my toiletries in 3 ounce bottles all fit into one quart ziplocks. I have never even considered whether knitting needles are or should be allowed on an airplane--and the last time an Israeli-related plane was hijacked was the year of my birth! 1972 (for those curious or young enough not to have heard of the TWA flight).

"Why?" You ask. "How is it possible?"

Because in Israel, when one enters Ben Gurion, one must stand in a line (basically, this is the queue to get your luggage on the plane), and while in that line, one is spoken to, pleasantly, by an Israeli soldier. That soldier will ask you three questions. It doesn't even matter what the questions are; he or she isn't looking for information, he or she is looking at you!

For any of you who've watched the brilliant TV show "Lie to Me" you have seen this approach to behavioral and psychological profiling in TV action (that is, made worse for the camera). It is a simple approach based on real scientific research, and it works.

"How well does it work," you ask?


There has not been a single failure of this system since it was put in place in the 70s, likely because the training keeps up with the science. Likely because there's a whole lot at stake. Likely because, in Israel, "Profiling" is not a dirty word.

"But this is the US!" you point out. "We have hundreds of airports, millions of travelers!"

The Israeli system takes fewer people profiling per flying capita. We would need fewer people to make this happen, and it would happen quickly, and if done right, effectively.

So why the big screen Vs. the pat down choice this lovely holiday season?

Perhaps it's the government trying to keep TSA people employed. Perhaps it is the international unwillingness or inability to admit that the Israeli government (human and therefore fallible as it may be) actually has the answer on this one.

Perhaps it's because we've forgotten that while words have power, that power is supplied by us--by our usage. That we have a right to reclaim profiling for what it is, and not what racism turned it in to. That it's easier to train one person to recognize facial micro-expressions (which cannot be hidden) than it is to train a million TSA agents in how to pat people down effectively without unintentionally causing discomfort.

So do two things for me: First, thank your TSA folks. Their job is TOUGH, their pay cannot be enough, and their days are filled with unhappy people. Second, write your congressman. We can still fix this idiocy.