On the Kilt Question (TSA Dept - updated)

My colleague Jeffrey Goldberg has nominated me for the honor of going through TSA "enhanced intimate pat-down" procedures on Opt-Out Day while wearing my ancestral garb* of a kilt.

To which I say, Hmmmm.

For the record, and by wild chance, KiltMart.com happens to have a picture of how it might look that day. In addition to numerous Mackenzie-plaid ties, shirts, caps, and so on, I do indeed possess my Clan Mackenzie tartan kilt like the one shown below -- and I also have a nice leather aviator jacket, like the one this model appears (weirdly) to be wearing. I am short on the sporran -- the purse-like thing about which the less said the better.


Only if Jeff Goldberg agrees to convert to Scottishism will I discuss with him the details of "going commando" and so on. Otherwise that is between me and the TSA. (You have not imagined true comic genius until you've seen Goldberg and me trading Borscht Belt one-liners about the comparative miserliness of our respective ethnic backgrounds. Hardee har!)

[* OK, I'm not "pure" Scottish -- just half, via my mother, Jean Mackenzie -- but that's more than I am anything else, and it's enough. And, yes, I realize it's not an aviator jacket, but a guy can dream.]

To wax earnest for a moment: here are things I know, first hand, about airport procedures in the rest of the world, versus what's becoming standard via the TSA.

    In China, you don't have to take off your shoes (usually) or be patted down (that I have seen). Only the flights to the US have extra-special security drills. And this is Communist Red China with its locked-up dissidents I am talking about.

  Same in Japan, when I was there this summer.

   In Australia, for domestic flights you don't have to produce identification of any kind, take off your shoes, etc. Last week I flew from Sydney to Canberra and back on Qantas. It was just like Amtrak procedures in the US: you type in your confirmation number at a terminal, it spits your ticket out, and you get on board. That's it. (You pass through a keep-your-shoes-on metal detector, no pat-downs.)

 In Korea, you go through security procedures when you get OFF the plane and go into the airport, but that's a separate story. As soon as the TSA learns about that...

 And in Israel, the former head of airport security says the new imaging machines don't do any good.

 Seriously, the security-versus-liberty situation is always a balance. But who in public life is speaking for the "liberty" side of the balance at the moment? Where is the check on new machines, procedures, requirements from the TSA -- or the politician who will ask, Is this worth it? Worth the money, worth the intrusion, worth the frisking of children, worth the frisking of uniformed pilots, worth the police-state air? Conceivably most Americans would still answer "yes,"  but I'd like to hear the question raised.

UPDATE: A reader writes in with a stronger version of the point I was making above. Emphasis added.

>>Honestly? I remember when we, collectively, as a people, believed and accepted that our choices in standards and practices of governance led to a VERY slightly higher chance of something bad happening, and on balance it was a classic "no-brainer" that we would live to the highest standards of our values and willingly, happily accept any attendant risk.

We've run SO far away from what was just a given for my entire life that I would be ecstatic to see someone, ANYONE stand up and say "This far and no farther". Someone to say that if individual liberty comes with risk, if freedom isn't a guarantee of personal safety, if by living our values we increase our personal exposure to those who hate, then so be it.

Where is the voice of courage, of American confidence, of hope and optimism in the face of fear and hatred?

Much has been made of Obama's use or lack of use of his 'bully pulpit', but someone needs to take a position in the name of freedom's risk over the false promise of surveillance and intrusion...<<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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