Archive for November, 2010
Just days shy of the biggest travel day of the year, the furor over the Transportation Security Administration’s new airport screening procedures shows no sign of abating. The policy, which sometimes requires a choice between posing for semi-revealing backscatter X-ray images and submitting to a vigorous pat-down of private areas, has raised hackles both online and in real life, with one man stripping off his clothes in protest at the San Diego airport on Sunday (Nov. 21).
Another group of protestors, We Won’t Fly, is calling for a national opt-out day on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving and a boom time for travel. The group is urging passengers to jam up security lines by refusing to go through the controversial full-body scanners.
There’s no single reason for the overflow of anger at the TSA: Some people cite concerns about radiation, while others worry about children being virtually stripped by scanners or patted down by strangers. Others debate how effective and necessary the TSA policies are and argue that the Fourth Amendment prevents such extensive searches.
But it’s no coincidence that anger has boiled over in response to fully-body scans and full-contact pat-downs, psychologists say. Human beliefs about modesty and the sanctity of the body are influenced by culture, researchers told LiveScience, but their roots run deep.
“Physical characteristics, for men, but especially so for women, are what people are evaluated on by prospective partners,” said Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan. “So it’s going to be a very sensitive issue.”
Society and modesty
Beliefs about what is considered modest versus immodest vary widely by culture, but most societies have some rules about what is acceptable, Kruger said. In America alone, acceptability gamut runs from the covered-up to the let-it-all-hang-out crowd, with religious groups like Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and conservative Christians advocating modest dress, while the average beachgoer is happy to bear all in a bikini or swim trunks.
Nonetheless, self-conscious emotions like shame and embarrassment develop early, said Karen Barrett, a developmental psychologist at Colorado State University. Kids start to show signs of embarrassment by about 15 months of age, Barrett told LiveScience. First, kids start to show discomfort when people stare at them; later, Barrett said, they start to learn the rules of society and feel shame when they break those rules. The taboo of nudity is one of those learned rules.
“Some kids are going to be modest at an earlier age than others, primarily because it’s been emphasized in their environment,” Barrett said. “It’s pretty typical for 2-year-olds to feel perfectly comfortable undressing in front of whomever… but it would be unusual in our society to have someone completely unaware of it past 7 or so.”
Evolution and embarrassment
The universality of these emotions has led some researchers to theorize that they’re a necessary social glue, motivating us to play nice within the community. For that reason, being asked to break those rules — by stepping into a body scanner or allowing a stranger to pat your genitals — elicits a strong emotional reaction. This may be particularly true for people with medical devices or other characteristics usually kept private.
“People really do feel invaded,” Kruger said.
Part of the reason, Kruger said, is that information about a person’s body is integral to how other people size them up as a potential mate. People want to reveal that information strategically, Kruger said, keeping it close to the vest unless they’re in the midst of courtship. Thus, being told you must reveal the pooch of your stomach or shape of your breasts to a stranger is distressing.
Another factor, said University of California, Los Angeles evolutionary psychologist Daniel Fessler, is sexual jealousy. Human fathers put a lot of resources into their offspring, so knowing that they’re investing in their own genetic offspring is important. Enforcing sexual modesty is one way to try to control female reproduction.
“In pursuit of such restriction, men favor and enforce greater sexual modesty for women than for men,” Fessler wrote in an e-mail to LiveScience.
Kruger sees echoes of that pressure in the TSA screening debate.
“Women specifically have said, ‘My body is something only my husband can see,’” he said. “Women want to make sure they’re not being seen as promiscuous, that they’re seen as faithful.”
Evolution aside, the screenings strike a nerve, because choosing between a full-body scan and a pat-down isn’t the same as donning a swimsuit at the beach, Barrett said.
“I think part of it is the fact that it is non-volitional. This is something they are being forced to do,” Barrett said of angry travelers. “If you chose to expose yourself, that feels very different than if someone forces you to do it.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Interview w/ TSA Chief:
MARGARET WARNER: Growing concerns about air cargo security were the focus of a Senate hearing today. How effectively is the U.S. preventing bombsplanted in packages from getting on board?
Transportation Security Administration Chief John Pistole:
JOHN PISTOLE, administrator, Transportation Security Administration: But it’s all intelligence-driven. So, what intelligence do we know about the shipper? Did the person positively identify themselves when they came in to drop off the package? Was the package physically inspected?
What do we know about the cargo carrier, where the package was dropped off? How thorough are they? How thorough is the airport at the cargo facility? So, a lot of criteria and indicia go into figuring out what is a high-risk package.
MARGARET WARNER: The issue was brought to the fore with last month’s discovery of timed bombs headed for the U.S. On October 29, British authorities intercepted a shipment from Yemen on a UPS cargo plane bound for Chicago. They found a printer with a toner cartridge that had been rigged with a detonator and a powdered explosive.
A similar device was found aboard a Qatar Airways cargo plane in Dubai that also came from Yemen. At the same time, a furor has erupted over airport security screening for passengers. Two new security measures are at issue, first, the use of full-body scanners, which reveal images of the naked body. They’re now in 60 U.S. airports, with more to come.
Some people have balked at submitting to the scan, for reasons ranging from invasion of privacy to fears of radiation. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano insists the scanners are safe and the images are viewed in private, without identifying the passengers.
Those who refuse the scans are subject to new intensive full-body pat-downs. And those, too, have raised hackles.
CHAD WORSHAM, air traveler: The guy was coming up the inside of my thighs, front and back, with his thumbs extended. So, of course, when he got up to the back, where was his thumb? In a very uncomfortable place.
MARGARET WARNER: A California man even secretly recorded his interaction with an airport screener in San Diego on a cell phone camera. The exchange can be heard in this posting on YouTube.
Transportation Security Administration Agent: So, we’re going to be doing a groin check. That means I’m going to place may hand on your hip, my other hand on your inner thigh, and slowly go up and slide down.
JOHN TYNER, air traveler: We can do that out here, but, if you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.
MARGARET WARNER: But other air passengers sound more accepting.
TERRASIA HARRIS, air traveler: I’m actually OK. I think I’m very confident in the TSA and the process they have taken, security measures. And I believe it’s necessary, you know, just given, you know, recent events and — and the current times. It’s just — if it’s necessary, I’m — you know, I’m OK with that.
MARGARET WARNER: Still, organizers of the Web site wewontfly.com are urging passengers to opt out of security scanners next Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, in favor of the more time-consuming pat-downs. That could tie up airport traffic on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
I sat down with TSA Administrator Pistole this afternoon, shortly before he testified.
Administrator Pistole, thank you for joining us.
JOHN PISTOLE: Thank you, Margaret. Glad to be here.
MARGARET WARNER: Did you here at TSA underestimate the estimate of blowback, of anger from passengers over these more intrusive screening procedures?
JOHN PISTOLE: We are a risk-based, intelligence-driven organization. And knowing that, any time we make changes in the protocols that we use to screen passengers, in dealing with the latest intelligence, that we have to do a good job of informing the public as to what we’re doing, without providing a road map to the terrorists.
So, that’s the tension that we deal with. How much do we inform ahead of time, here’s what we’re going to be doing, as a counterbalance to the security that we need to ensure that everybody who gets on every flight has been properly screened?
I think there — reasonable people can disagree as to the balance between the privacy that some people have raised as issues. And I’m sympathetic to those concerns. But the job is really security in terms of, how can we provide the best security?
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Secretary Napolitano said yesterday, well, if people don’t want to fly, they have other means of travel.
But that isn’t really practical, is it, for a businessperson?
JOHN PISTOLE: You know, if you have two flights, and you have the option of going on the two, and you know, the one, people have been thoroughly screened, and, the other plane, people have opted out and not had a thorough screening, and so you don’t have that confidence, I think virtually everybody is going to go with the flight that has thorough screening.
MARGARET WARNER: A lot of passengers are wondering whether these procedures are proportionate to the threat. And I’m just wondering, would, for instance, these more extensive pat-downs and the full-body scans, would they have caught the Christmas Day bomber with the explosives in his underwear?
JOHN PISTOLE: So, I know the threats are real. And I believe that the techniques and the technology we’re using today are the best possible that we have. And it gives us the best opportunity for detecting a Christmas Day-type bomber.
MARGARET WARNER: Are there any other examples of people who have gotten through with explosive material that weren’t caught that would have been caught with these new methods?
JOHN PISTOLE: We know that the General Accounting Office and the homeland security inspector general and even our own TSA Office of Inspection does what we refer to as covert testing.
Now, I can’t go into the details of those, but some of the results of those are that we could and should improve the techniques that we use to do the security screening.
MARGARET WARNER: But these new methods don’t catch something hidden in a body cavity?
JOHN PISTOLE: Correct.
MARGARET WARNER: What about the level of radiation? The pilots and flight attendants are objecting, saying it’s going to expose them to a higher level than is safe. Have you done any kind of testing? Do you know how much radiation an individual is exposed to and how that measures up to what is allowable, what’s safe?
JOHN PISTOLE: There have been a number of studies done, Margaret, that deal with this, whether by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, or the FDA, or Johns Hopkins, which have independently assessed this, because, obviously, that’s something we’re concerned about. What is that exposure?
They have all come back to say that they’re — the exposure is very, very minimal. It’s equivalent to — I have heard several analogies — a couple minutes of flight, like, at 30,000 feet, the same amount of exposure you would get there. So, it’s well, well within all the safety standards that have been set.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, flyers are also complaining that the lines, the security lines, seem longer. What is TSA doing to handle that? Have you put more people on duty, for example, in these airports?
JOHN PISTOLE: Well, I think the statistics would show that, actually, that the lines are not longer. There may be an appearance, but I get a weekly report.
And, of course, compared to years ago, when there were regularly hour-plus waits, it’s — perhaps people have become adjusted to, well, if it’s a 20-minute wait time, that’s a long time. So, we are making sure that we’re fully staffed to deal with those surges, just like — it’s like rush hour.
MARGARET WARNER: So, it has put a strain on the system, but you’re saying you have put enough people, extra people, on duty to take care of it?
JOHN PISTOLE: Well, I believe that we have taken all the steps that we can, given — with our budget and the number of officers we need to have a good, refer to it as a through-put rate.
Obviously, the bottom line is security. And so we want to provide the best customer service and make sure we can get people through quickly and efficiently, but with the proper security.
MARGARET WARNER: What are your plans for dealing with this national opt-out day, the day before Thanksgiving? It’s being organized on — among some passenger rights groups and on the Web to get people to refuse to go through the body scanner.
JOHN PISTOLE: Well, I think anybody who intentionally tries to slow the system down is going to hurt, not only themselves, but all their fellow passengers who are trying to get home for the holidays and enjoy that family time. And I would hate for somebody to miss a flight because of that.
That being said, what we have seen with our advanced imaging technology is that 99 percent-plus people decide to go through that, rather than opt out. So, we are fully staffed, obviously, for the Thanksgiving rush next week. And we just hope to look for the partnership of the traveling public to say, if you want to get home on a timely basis, then work with us as a partnership.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, you’re doing all of this with passengers. What about the cargo on passenger planes? Is it the case that 25 percent of the cargo that comes in from overseas on passenger planes is still getting through uninspected?
JOHN PISTOLE: Actually, 100 percent of the air cargo that goes on U.S. domestic flights, either originating, departing from the U.S., is screened. So, that was an congressional mandate that we put into effect August 3 of this year.
The other aspect is what we saw in — coming out of Yemen a few weeks ago with the toner cartridges. And so international air cargo destined for the U.S., we have not yet reached that 100 percent requirement to have that screened. So, we’re working very closely with our international partners to accomplish that.
We assess that 100 percent of the high-risk packages are being — that are destined for the U.S. are being screened. But that’s something we still need to work on.
MARGARET WARNER: Administrator Pistole, thanks for being with us.
JOHN PISTOLE: Thank you. Glad to see you.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Anger is the original political emotion. As the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk points out: ”At the beginning of the first sentence of the European tradition, in the first verse of The Iliad, the word ‘rage’ occurs.”
Homer was writing of the rage of the warrior hero Achilles. In the past decade, the world has been stunned at the rage of Islamic extremists. Today it is the rage of the American voter that astonishes the world and threatens to put Barack Obama’s Democrats into the minority in the US Congress.
The image of children parading in front of the White House with an ”Obama Antichrist” placard, the froth-mouthed Tea Party movement, with its wild claims that sharia is taking hold in American cities, the news report that the Secret Service is overwhelmed by death threats against the President, are all part of the angry election of 2010.
It’s not that Americans have nothing to be angry about. Unemployment is at 9.6 per cent. There are 7 million fewer Americans in work today than three years ago, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.
And despite some recent gains, the median price of a house across the 160 biggest US cities today is $41,000 lower than it was three years ago, according to the National Association of Realtors – an 18 per cent loss for home owners.
And the number of Americans living in poverty rose by 4 million last year to a total of 43.6 million, the biggest number in poverty in the half-century for which the Census Bureau has statistics.
But the surprising thing is that Americans’ anger is directed not at the creators of their pain, but at the people who tried to cushion it.
The Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress who rescued the banks, enacted a $787 billion economic stimulus and created a form of universal health insurance are the object of the anger. The problem, as the conservatives chant, is government or, specifically, too much government.
The rage-mongers of conservative talkback radio and cable TV have identified it as onrushing socialism, sponsored by the Democratic Party: ”We already know of at least five radical leftists currently advising the President of the United States,” says Fox News anger-monger Glenn Beck. The de facto leader of the opposition, radio broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, rants: ”And just as Obama’s doing, Hitler – well, even prior to Hitler – German socialists attempted to remake and order their country using healthcare as the springboard and the foundation.”
This derangement feeds the Tea Party, a movement of political fundamentalists of which one in eight Americans count themselves a part.
But are Americans today really any angrier than they have been in other moments of national distress?
Polling suggests that Americans have been this angry before. Indeed, 1994 was dubbed the ”Year of the Angry White Male.” It was an anti-Clinton ”wave” election that cost the Democrats a whopping 54 seats – about the same number the Democrats are expected to lose today.
And the conservatives don’t have a monopoly on anger-peddling: ”When George Bush was in charge, you had people like Al Franken or Michael Moore, who on a daily basis were drumbeating anger about the state of the country, and they got their anger amplified by the blogosphere,” points out commentator Sasha Abramsky of the Demos think tank in New York.
”And when Obama comes in, you see that anger in a sense inverted, and the right gets very, very angry.”
So anger is a standard tool, used by both sides of politics.
Is there anything new about it? One striking feature of rage 2010 seems to be that it is increasingly fact-proof.
A Democrat member of Congress, Brad Sherman, recently turned up to address a regular town hall-style gathering of his California constituents. The mild-mannered Sherman recounted his surprise when one voter said that the Department of Justice had a policy to not prosecute any black person who had committed a crime against a white. ”I am extremely sure that we do not have a policy at the Department of Justice of never prosecuting a black defendant if the victim was white,” he replied.
Not only was the voter insistent, the crowd didn’t believe Sherman. They booed him. Sherman’s conclusion: ”I remember extremely angry people on both sides of the Vietnam War, but they were both watching pretty much the same news every night.
”Now, you can have people living in their own separate worlds with their own sources of facts or alleged facts.”
In a country where partisans can live in a self-selected world of partisan media, there is no set of agreed facts, only agreed points of conflict.
The future? American political anger is not going to go away, even if the economy improves. Because it works.
In the US system of voluntary voting, typically fewer than 40 per cent of voters will cast a ballot in a midterm election. So the ability to motivate turnout is decisive. Naturally, this works better for the party out of power.
This is the reason the Democrats are going to lose today. As the Pew pollsters explain in a study of the differences between the people who will be voting and those who will not: ”Non-voters express greater satisfaction with national conditions than do likely voters, and are more likely to approve of Barack Obama’s job performance.”
And anger? While 19 per cent of non-voters say they are angry with the federal government, 27 per cent of likely voters are. That margin is big enough to be decisive. The motivating power of anger makes it uniquely valuable, and guarantees its place as the first – and future – emotion of politics.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )