Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The TSA and Boiled Frogs

"Boil 'em Slow and They'll Never Know" goes the saying. It's not completely true. Frogs will hop out of water when it gets too hot. They are simple, straightforward creatures without enough brains for self-deception. Humans aren't as lucky. We have a nearly infinite capacity for, well, exploitation.

From the little bit I've learned about hypnosis and propaganda the most important key to success is to get the subject to do something. Once that has happened it becomes progressively easier to get him or her to do the next thing. Every Army in the world does this. Basic Training isn't about developing skills. It's a process of destroying the capacity to say "No" much less "Screw you. That's insane!" and replace it with immediate obedience to authority.

Since the middle of September in 2001 we've been subjected to an increasingly bizarre sequence of instructions and demands. First there was the cessation of all air travel. Then there was increased surveillance at the airport "Has anyone else touched your bags?" It became illegal to sell tickets (which pleased the airlines). Then there were explosive tests everywhere, random surveillance and searching of all luggage. Airport security kept growing although it was mostly pointless since they weren't hiring skilled investigators. They were loading the airports down with barely trained idiots. We went from metal detectors to shoes off, to partial strip searches in public to TSA drones groping women's breasts and having the victims arrested when they objected.

Restrictions on what we can carry started small. The hijackings may have been carried out with knives or box cutters. So they were banned. Then extra-sharp knitting needles, the tiniest of scissors, cigar cutters, screw drivers and an ever-growing list which we have learned to accept. Now flights get diverted when someone finds a utility knife left by maintenance workers. A sane person would just stick it in his pocket or point it out to the flight attendant. People have been arrested for trying to wear shirts with Arabic writing into departure gates. Then a scare about binary explosives allowed them to ban liquids. Even after the explosives experts repudiated it as utter bullshit the regulations remained. We were used to bowing to further limits which now extend to carrying food onto the plane. In the UK they've gone even further. Books, electronics, magazines, and toys are all forbidden. When one considers the prospect of a trans-Atlantic flight with two toddlers and a five year old with nothing to do, no snacks, and a government-mandated minimum of diapers the prospect of being blown up in mid-air begins to sound attractive.

The right to travel has become a privilege subject to arbitrary revocation by anonymous authorities. One need not be suspected of a crime. In fact, given the nature of Type I and Type II statistical errors it is inevitable that thousands of innocents will be wrongly detained or denied for every potential evil-doer who is stopped, not to mention the ones who slide through.

"Total Information Awareness" with its Eye in the Pyramid (I shit you not) logo was condemned as a totalitarian wet dream. When they changed the name to "Terrorism Information Awareness" last year the nation didn't even blink. They didn't even have to change the office stationary.

Now we are at a point where the Attorney General can say that habeas corpus isn't a right, the President can disappear, torture and kill anyone at his whim with no judicial review no matter what law Congress passes. The government has copped to secret prisons in Indiana for specifically for Muslims which almost certainly violate the Constitution. The Republican Lie Machine is saying quite literally that disagreement with the President is literally the crime of treason.

If any of this had been proposed even five years ago the person suggesting it would have been shown the door at least of his office if not the door to an asylum. Now we say nothing. Every time the head of the Department of Homeland Security, which translates nicely to Committee for State Security, reaches into his bag of M&Ms or the mantra "9/11! 9/11!" is bleated a few times we have been conditioned to submit and surrender a few more of our freedoms in the hope of a feeling of safety which we are never allowed to experience.

I'm convinced that Terry Pratchett is this generation's answer to Nasrudin, the Turkish mystic who was cursed with supreme Enlightenment but was only able to express it in jokes and pranks. Mr. Pratchett summed it up beautifully in his book "Interesting Times"

The Empire's got something worse than whips all right. It's got obedience. Whips in the soul. They obey anyone who tells them what to do. Freedom just means being told what to do by someone different.

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