May 11, 2011

No Accountability, No Apologies

I usually try to avoid getting overtly political on my blog.  My apologies.  I promise to return to my pretty much apolitical ramblings and lots of pictures of my children soon.  In the meantime, a plea for a little accountability:
Photo by Jacob Jester

Recently, the TSA (that's America's Transportation Security Administration for those of you abroad) has been getting some flak for, as they put it, "following protocol."  After a stroller set off some alarm or other, the TSA agents searched the eight month old child riding on the stroller.  The picture of this incident (and if there had been no picture, I'm sure there wouldn't have been an "incident") seems to elicit two responses.  The first, shock and perhaps amusement.  After all, it is the nature of humor that the unexpected amuses us, and nobody expects those uniformed agents with their latex gloves and serious expressions to pat down a baby.

The second response is a deep sort of unease.

Yes, we all want to be safe.  But at what cost?

The airport security protocol have been, frankly, pissing me off for some time.  Almost a decade, in fact.  After the attacks of September 11th, our government began instituting some policies to prevent another attack.  And I have never agreed with these methods.  And here is why:

If we used the methods properly that had already been in place on September 10th, 2001, those hijackers probably never would have made it onto the plane.  You'd think that somebody x-raying all the carry on bags (which they already did) would bother to check out items like box-cutters, which are completely unnecessary on an airplane.

But the hijackers did get on the plane.  And they did kill thousands of people, and completely change the paradigm of life in the United States.  I had been road-tripping that summer, and only about a month before the attacks I had stood by the side of the road in New Jersey, and decided not to make an extra trip into the city.  I stood there and I looked at the skyline, and the ocean, and the figure of the Statue of Liberty almost too small to make out, and I decided that I'd be back some other time.  That New York City wasn't going to change any time soon.  I had just gotten off the phone with my sister who had informed me of an impromptu party the next night, and I knew if I started driving immediately I could be home in Michigan before it got started.  So that's what I did.

I really wish I'd gone into New York that day.

So then all sorts of new policies were instituted to protect us from a similar attack.  We had to take off our shoes, there were more random screenings at airports.  Security started to be a bit of a nightmare.  But everybody seemed willing to go along with it because September 11th was scary as hell.

Fast forward to Christmas, 2009.  A man is stopped on from possibly blowing up a plane on the tarmac in Detroit.  As before, this man should NEVER have been able to get on that plane.  His name was on the "Do Not Fly" list.  That alone was supposed to warrant further investigation.  But no, he was allowed on the plane, and he might have succeeded if the other passengers hadn't been aware of the potential threat.

So, in response to this pseudo-attack, all passengers were made to go through the "full body scan" before getting on a plane.  A scan that makes many, many people uncomfortable for a wide variety of reasons.  A scan that I feel crosses the line between acceptable and unacceptable liberties of privacy I'm personally willing to give up in the name of safety.

As Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Then, even with all of these new precautions, last year an al Qaeda affiliate manage to ship bombs over commercial airlines to Chicago- my home city- in an attempt to blow up the synagogue I used to live down the street from.  Again, nobody was harmed, but it's not a lot of good those body scanners do when there's no body to scan.

And now, here we have a stunning example of following the letter, and NOT the intention, of the law.  The TSA agents patting down that baby were doing their job, but they were doing the WRONG job.

I've always believed that if you're going to do something, you should do your best.  Instead of wasting your time patting down a baby who you know perfectly well isn't carrying explosives, why not devote that energy to making sure that everyone boarding the plane isn't on the "Do Not Fly" list?

Instead of keeping half an eye open for an image of a gun on the x-ray, how about looking for ANYTHING suspicious, like box cutters and butane torches?

The thing I worry the most about is what this says to our children.  If you screw up, blame the system, not the individual.  If you screw up, there is a gigantic and expensive method you can use to divert all blame.

I want somebody to come out and say, "THIS is the person who did a terrible job and let something awful happen.  We are going to deal with that person accordingly, and it will NOT happen again."

But that's not the way things seem to work in this country.  Nobody takes- or is even willing to assign- any blame.  Nobody wants to be responsible for their failings.

Instead, we buy into the fear.  We buy into the idea that "The Terrorists" are wily and dangerous and we must be ever vigilant if we want to avoid dying in a horrible flaming mess.

Yes, "The Terrorists" are wily and dangerous.  But that isn't our biggest problem.  It's not even close.

Our biggest problems are all right here at home.  And, unfortunately, the most effective mechanism we have for revitalizing a floundering economy is war.  So we've gone to war against "Terror."

But this isn't the sort of war that the military industrial complex can handle.  This isn't a war where we can go blow up the people in charge of the other side.

So we're putting that money into scaring ourselves, into extremely expensive full body scan machines, into hiring more and more agents to work without thinking about the purpose behind their jobs, and into keeping any of this from being our own fault.

Nobody likes to have made a mistake.  But it's important to know when you have, when you're in the wrong.

There's a reason that parents take so much time to teach their kids the phrase, "I'm sorry."  And there's a reason that people constantly joke that those are the two words that can save any relationship.

We hate saying them.  We hate saying that we've screwed up.

But we are the adults.  And if we, as adults, can't humble ourselves once in a while an let other people know that we did screw up, and that we ARE sorry, how are we ever going to teach our kids?

Who's going to be the grown-up?

I already spend a fair amount of time apologizing to my kids.  They speak Grubling, and I speak English, so if there's a miscommunication I usually take the blame.  I hope that they grow up hearing the words, "I'm sorry," spoken by all of the adults in their lives with a great deal of regularity.  Not because I hope that M and I make a mess of their childhood, but because nobody is perfect.  And learning to eat a little crow and then FIX IT is something that we could all stand to be better at.

I'm not going to get started on who I'd like to hear apologize, that list is too long and too politically charged.  But I don't think it's going to happen any time soon anyway.  As I said, we live in a time of absolutely no accountability, from the TSA down to my useless teammates in class.  There is no giant Mommy figure out there making people apologize, or even sit in the corner and think about what they've done.

But I'm the Mommy in this house.  And I can try my damndest to make sure that there are at least two people in the world who will know how to own up to their mistakes, eat a little crow, and then make it right again.

It is, quite literally, the least I can do.  And for that, I am sorry.

I will try to find another way to help the culture in which I live change, to hold itself accountable.

I'll do my best.

...and that is pretty much the point.


  1. Well said. Period. Thank you.

  2. I totally agree with you. Actually, I'm pretty sure most Americans would agree with the assessment that the TSA has gotten stupid when enforcing this stuff. Forget cutting funding for extremely partisan causes-- let's stop buying these obscenely expensive full body scanners.

    I recently read an article that talked about how a large part of OBL's plans to destroy America were really more of an economic nature than a murderous one. After 9/11 we launched an extremely expensive war that has been a significant contributor to our massive debt. The twin tower strikes in 2001 may have killed 3,000 people and had a huge psychological impact, but you can certainly make a strong argument that the economic impacts of how we we responded had a larger effect on this country, and will for decades to come.

  3. saw you featured in SocialMoms and it brought me to you.
    Glad to see people talking about real issues impacting not only parenting but the state of the world today!

    Examining the stroller, absolutely, but the kid... I mean what could they be hiding? And where?



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