Fred Speaks to the Politics of Fear

From Fred On Everything

Theater of the Absurd, by the Absurd, for…
Ionesco as Political Consultant

February 16, 2007

Every time I go to the United States (I have just returned from two weeks in Washington), I am astonished by the antic security, by the proliferation of admonitions and alarms and inchoate fear. Now it is illegal to carry toothpaste on airplanes. I find myself wondering: Is this just another spasm of periodic hysteria, like Prohibition, the Sixties, and a Commie Under Every Bed? Or is it calculated political programming?

Most of it impinges at best lightly upon reality. For example, measures for security at airports are largely useless—if their purpose is to increase security. Think about it. Time and again the public-address system warns that vehicles left unattended in passenger-loading zones “may be ticketed and towed.” Why? By the time anyone notices that the truck is unattended, by definition the driver will be somewhere else. He will certainly be able to walk a hundred yards before the tow-truck arrives—and push the button. Boom. In the case of a suicide bomber (which is what we are worried about, no?) it doesn’t matter anyway. Boom.

For that matter, at any airport you can drive up, load a hundred pounds of suitcases containing god knows what onto a baggage cart, and go into a crowded waiting area. Boom. You probably couldn’t get them onto an airplane. Why would you need to? Terroristically, killing two hundred people in the airport is as good as dropping an airliner.

Most of security is just theater. Over and over, the PA system tells you not to leave baggage unattended or it may be destroyed by security personnel. This doubtless serves to make legitimate passengers watch their luggage. Who cares? A suitcase full of bras and socks isn’t perilous. But none of this keeps a terrorist from leaving a baggage cart and walking for two minutes, far enough to be outside the blast radius.

No, I’m not giving ideas to terrorists. Everything in this column is obvious to anyone with a three-digit IQ.

It gets sillier. If you ride Metro, Washington’s subway, you will incessantly hear things like, “Passengers! Look up from your papers occasionally. Be alert! Report any suspicious behavior to Metro employees.”

Yeah, sure. As a security measure, this is worthless. Why? First, a terrorist would be careful not to look suspicious. Second, what is suspicious behavior on an urban subway? You’ve got rastas, Goths, spike-haired young in leathers, semi-derelicts, blacks from the slums, people from India, Guatemala, Morocco, drunks, stoners, people talking to Mars through the transmitters the CIA put in their teeth, and swarthy men speaking languages you can’t identify. What’s suspicious?

So how do report any of this? You could get off the train at the next stop, go up the escalators, and find the Metro kiosk by the exit gates. You find a bored guy inside waiting for his shift to end.

“Hey, I saw this suspicious guy on the train!” you say.

“Yeah? What was he doing?”

“He had a backpack, and he was looking around a lot like he was nervous, and I think he was sweating.”

Oh. By now the train you were riding has left. The attendant has two choices. He can call in an emergency, have the train halted at the next stop, tie up the whole system at rush hour, and have police search the train, for a guy who looks like he might be sweating. Now, that’s a career-enhancing move. Or he can brush you off. Real world: Which?

Read the rest here.

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