"Get ’em skeered and keep the skeer on ’em" – Lt. General Nathanial Bedford Forrest, CSA
Nathanial Bedford Forrest was described by such military luminaries as Robert E. Lee and William T. Sherman as the most brilliant cavalry commander on either side of the American Civil War. He understood the value of fear in controlling your enemy. And he was a master of keeping "the skeer on ’em" once he had it going.
I was reminded of Forrest’s axiom of control through fear by a recent N.Y. Times story called "New Scrutiny of Remote Controlled Toys." It has the look of rare inspiration by a Transportation Security Agency (TSA) press release flack. His job, of course, is to find scary stuff to write about. On this particular day he came up with an excellent new "skeer."
The true gold standard of success for a new "security threat" is if it introduces another mindless ceremony to the tedious, useless, security rituals involved in air travel. This newest "threat" may soon enjoy that kind of success. Although the only logical response is to point and hoot derisively, my fellow Americans seem not to agree.
In the story, the TSA cited "credible specific information" about terror tactics to step up their scrutiny of remote controlled toys in carry on luggage. I take that to mean one of their guys found something interesting on the internet and it gave him this terrific idea about a new "skeer" and new stuff to "scrutinize."
Sure enough, the Times reports that the triggering event was a video made by a college kid and posted on YouTube. The video showed how to use a remote controlled toy as a detonator. The kid is now being held on "terrorism related charges," whatever that means. You can bet he wishes he’d taken up a safer hobby than RC modeling, something like rugby or bar fighting.
If describing how to make a detonator is a "terrorism-related crime" there are legions of criminals still on the loose. Try a quick Google search on "remote detonation device." You’ll find everything you need, even diagrams and formulas for brewing up ignition chemicals.
Apparently TSA’s idea men can’t read. The volumes of detailed bomb and detonator building instructions on the web caused them no particular concern. Once similar information is in video form, however, a crack down is essential. And how do we do that?
Obviously, kids carrying remote controlled robots, trucks and jeeps onto airplanes will now be subject to "a more intense search" than other less suspicious passengers. Of course, that will take care of everything.
I have to wonder what the TSA hopes to find with a more "intense scrutiny" of RC toys. The device they are looking for, after all, is for remote detonation of bombs. You don’t alter the transmitter to make a detonator. You alter the receiver, which, duh, has to be attached to a bomb. Do they imagine little Timmy will be wearing blocks of C4 under his Mickey Mouse T-shirt, or that his toy jeep will be stuffed with ANFO? Wouldn’t they have found that anyway?
Why is it any more likely that a kid with a GI Joe remote controlled Jungle Strike Humvee is a bomber than anyone else carrying a potential detonating device?
You’re probably wondering who else might be carrying such a device. But potential remote detonation units are everywhere. You can hardly walk across an American living room without tripping over one.
Here’s a short list off the top of my head: garage door openers, remote controls for appliances, air-conditioners, fans, lights, burglar alarms, cameras, car locks, car alarms, TV’s, DVD’s, wireless phones, long-range wireless phones, walkie-talkies, and of course, the real favorite of terrorists the world over, cell phones. I’m sure there are many more.
Why would the TSA concern itself with remote controlled toys when there is a cell phone on almost every passenger on every plane in the air? Cell phones are vastly superior to toy controllers for setting off bombs. They can do it in a number of ways and at great distances. They can become detonators or small bombs themselves if the batteries are shorted. And yet, no "intense scrutiny" of these excellent, proven remote detonation devices is required.
TSA’s new fixation on toys is so deeply stupid that its only plausible purpose can have nothing to do with security. The purpose is to keep up the "skeer." An unspoken part of the TSA mission is to keep the public genuflecting at the alter of "Our Lady of Helpless Obedience." Checking RC toys won’t make us any safer than taking our shoes off or checking our toothpaste does, but it does give us more orders to obey.
In the past it has taken more or less genuine threats to add to the ritual. A nut job trying to ignite his bomb-sneakers introduced ritual shoe removal at airports worldwide. The London group that tried to figure out binary chemical bombs, though they were never even close to success, is responsible for the ritual banning of KY Jelly, bottled water, and toothpaste from carry-on luggage.
We are now entering a sort of "Cowardly New World" of "security threat." Today’s "threat" can be totally imaginary. YouTube videos posted by college kids now suffice to scare the American public into accepting another permanent, absurd, degrading ceremonial humiliation to defend against terrorists.
I still expect the final straw, the last, ridiculous, over-the-top, feel-up-my-daughter, frisk-my-granny humiliation that will make us wake up and shout "ENOUGH!" I fear there isn’t one. I’m concerned that we’re so thoroughly trained to bovine obedience there is no humiliation too degrading, no security proposal too dumb to make us finally point and laugh.
In the meantime TSA and the drones at Homeland Security follow Forrest’s tactical advice to the letter. They’ve got the enemy skeered, and they’re keepin’ the skeer on us.