David R. Henderson  

David Sedaris on TSA

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As regular readers of my posts know (see here, here, here, and here, for example), I think the TSA is one of the most anti-liberty, intrusive government organizations in America. So I follow the culture to see what people are saying about it. Are they close to resisting? Are they at least angry? Have they given up on reclaiming their freedom to travel?

Last night, at the urging of my daughter, who is reading lots of David Sedaris, my wife and I went to see his performance in Carmel. I had never read him but I had heard good things. We enjoyed it immensely. Interestingly, early in the evening, he talked about his experience with the TSA on his book tour. He told about going through the airport in Arcata and, even though he didn't trigger the beeper, being pulled aside for a full-body patdown. Somewhat miffed, he said to the TSA guy, "OK, let's get this over with." The TSA guy replied in a threatening voice, "Calm down, sir." Sedaris explained to the audience that he was calm but that he wasn't happy. They expect you to be happy and inviting when they pat you down, he said. Later in the evening, he referred to the TSA people as "security goons."

This morning I did a Google of David Sedaris and TSA and found this. It's from about a year ago, just about the time the TSA was starting its fairly frequent intrusive patdowns. The host seemed to want to push him to minimize the issue based on Sedaris's own experiences. Sedaris cooperated, pointing out that he hadn't experienced much of what the media had been talking about. Still, even then, Sedaris, a keen observer of reality (he couldn't make the good living he makes if he weren't), pointed out that a woman in front of him in a TSA line who had accused the TSA guy of being bossy was apparently retaliated against by being put through the X-ray.

In a year's time, there appears to have been a major shift in Sedaris's attitude to the TSA.

Postscript: Check out this "toy" on Amazon.com and many of the customer comments that go with it. HT to Jeff Hummel.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
mb writes:

The playmobile toy has been featured in many libertarian blogs, I can't say I would buy it and if I received it my 3 yo son would love it. He already plays toll gate (with a stick) and other such games when we walk, this would just be an extension of that play. I wouldn't lecture him about it at his age, he could not grasp all the ramifications of the real life actions. In the end I don't think this toy matters much for the age it is targeted at, a parents education of the child as he gets would be much more important.

RPLong writes:

The TSA is hideous. Every time I travel, I feel like an animal. It is one of the most humiliating, dehumanizing experiences I have ever been put through. To this day, I find it unfathomable that some people make it through without complaint. The TSA will never be "normal" to me, and I hope to high heavens that it never becomes "normal" to anyone else.

English Professor writes:

If I may vent--about six months ago I got pulled aside for the X-ray. No one told me to take everything out of my pockets. I was then patted down and asked sternly, "Why do have things in your pockets?" I said because they were not metal. Without any further explanation, I was then taken into a separate room for further search, and a more senior agent was brought in. At this point I was so angry that I was thought about demanding a lawyer--but here's why I didn't. I quite simply didn't know what these goons could do to me. I didn't know if they would be required to release me (though not let me fly), whether they could hold me without a lawyer, or whether they could prosecute me in some way for not complying. This situation is intolerable. And I'm ashamed to say that I never found out the exact extent of what they could have done to me.

Jody writes:

They expect you to be happy and inviting when they pat you down, he said.

But not too happy. They get really peeved when you act like you enjoy the groping. Examples of "too happy":
*Audibly enjoying the pat down ala When Harry Met Sally
*Replying, "I think of it as more of an 'opt-in' instead of an 'opt-out' (this one I did, but it just led to confused faces)
*Pointing out and requesting particular agents to perform the pat-down - "He looks like he's good with his hands"
*Asking if the agent will still call you in the morning.

Randy writes:

I have a new position now that does not require me to fly (thank god!). But I used to fly frequently, and it totally sucked. As you mention, the TSA sucks, but its not the worst part about flying. The worst part is how the airlines treat you, and they get away with it because they are required (allowed) to treat people like crap by FAA regulations. And I imagine that it will only get worse over the coming decades.

J. Scott Frampton writes:

Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.

— Benjamin Franklin

aez writes:

This is a bit of a sidebar, but don't hesitate to read all the David Sedaris you can get your hands on. He'll skewer everyone, himself included, in the most charitable way...and along the way you will often laugh so hard you can't breathe. The sections in "Me Talk Pretty One Day" where he is learning French are a great place to start.

tom writes:

David Sedaris flies all the time. He has multiple stories about flying. If this is the worst he can come up with, then isn't that a celebration of TSA?

Also, we have had embarassing airport inspections forever. If we are using pop culture references, it's shown back in 1984 in Spinal Tap. There's even the obligatory wanding of the crotch.

How much of this anti-TSA complaining is based on the fact that it's an easy and weak target for people to whine about? The inspectors are lower-class and have very constrained discretion, they conduct the huge majority of their jobs directly in view of the public, there's no evidence that they are regularly using their limited powers to require tribute, and almost everybody traveling is affected by it the same way. Is this really a big civil libertarian cause?

David R. Henderson writes:

To all commenters,
Thanks.
Now, specifically, to:
Randy,
For what it’s worth, that’s not my experience. I have one roundtrip about once a month. I grit my teeth to get through TSA. If they treat me nicely, I act nice back. If they act like jerks, I’m “business cold,” not that they would necessarily know I am without knowing how friendly I usually am. Then I adjust my attitude to deal with the airline and it usually works. I feel well treated, within their constraints.
J. Scott Frampton,
Good line from Franklin. Here’s mine:
Benjamin Franklin once said that those who are willing to trade liberty for security deserve neither. They'll also get neither. If my major goal were security, I would want, even more than I do, freedom from government regulation.
From my “Risky Governments, Safe Markets."
aez,
Thanks. I’ll check it out.

Mike Williams writes:

David,
This post reminds me of the time I was coming back from Iraq on R&R leave and I was stopped and held up because I was on the terrorist watch list (or my name, more specifically M. Williams was on the watch list). In uniform, coming directly on a military flight from Kuwait and I was held up.
-Mike

Liam McDonald writes:

Oddly, I responded to some postings just yesterday on a similar topic as many people were actually stating that in the US passengers have it easy since in other countries it's even worse so stop complaining. However as a frequent flier to countries with very high incidents of terrorism (Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan) I can state as a matter of fact that they are not nearly as invasive as the US measures and in countries where they have similar measures they are just copying the “standards” laid out by the US. These include things such as 3 oz bottles and removing your shoes.
In what I consider the worst airport in the world (Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila) they scan your bag entering the building, then security scans you again going to the gates where you must remove your shoes and then they have a guy who very quickly rubs your legs, rubs your pockets and waves you by. They do not have x-ray equipment or their hand right up in your crotch and this is a country that has one terrorist attack every week in some part of the country and one every two months in Manila, but never at the airport. Nor have they ever had an attack on a plane that I can recall in the last 30 years.
The lines are huge but oddly it’s not the security that slows it down but the immigration queue and the ticket counter. And I have never met a Pilipino that thinks any of the measures are effective. They see them as just a way to help employ people and don’t kid themselves that they are safer.

Nicole writes:

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