It's the intimidation, stupid
Remember how, immediately after September 11th, 2001, airline security was suddenly a lot tighter, and everyone was glad? "I'm just happy they're there to protect us," we'd say sanctimoniously, to justify to ourselves that we had failed to protest the indignity of having our underwear spilled out of our luggage for all to see. But after a while it got old, and instead of relaxing, the restrictions got, well, more and more restrictive. And those of us who'd travelled overseas, to countries that had dealt with terrorism on a recurring basis since long before 9/11/2001, remembered that we didn't have to sacrifice our personal dignity to clear security, there.
When I was travelling to visit my family over the winter break last year, I flew for the first time in perhaps two or three years. I've always liked flying. And I was happy to be doing it again. I arrived plenty early at the airport, got my e-ticket, and joined the security line. People were shuffling through the line, pulling their laptops out of zippered bags and placing them in the plastic tubs, taking their shoes off, putting those in the plastic tubs, and shuffling on through the metal detectors in their sockfeet. I took one look at the spectacle of hundreds of adults in their socks, and when I heard the recorded looped message that said taking your shoes off was optional, I decided I wasn't going to do it.
Then as I approached the X-ray machine with my stuff, a suited man eyed me, and told me drily that he suggested I take my shoes off. The implication of the look on his face was that there might well be something much more unpleasant in it for me if I refused. I gave him the evil eye right back... and took my shoes off. I didn't want to miss my plane, after all.
But I didn't have any illusions what that confrontation was about, not then, and not now. It was to prove to me that They - the faceless suits of government authority - can make me do what they want me to do, even if, strictly speaking, it's optional.
It's about intimidation. That much is clear if you only look at a crowd of grown men and women shuffling through an airport with no shoes. But to strengthen our case, let's consider this:
Many more airplanes have been brought down by bombs in luggage than by bombs in shoes. (The number for the latter statistic by the way is zero.) Yet 100% bag match - where each bag in the cargo hold of an airplane is registered to a passenger who actually boarded the plane, or the plane does not take off - was a surprisingly low priority for those in charge of airline security in the months and years after September 11th. Then one day, some crazy guy tried - and failed - to blow up a plane by burning his shoe, and suddenly we all have to take our shoes off before getting on a plane.
It's perfect, really. Because having your bag X-rayed isn't really embarrassing. Having your luggage hand-searched in front of you isn't even that bad, unless the screener pulls out your dildoes and waves them around, as happened to a friend of mine. But taking your shoes off? That makes you vulnerable: you can run, but you won't get very far in all likelihood without shoes. It can embarrass you: are your socks holey? do your feet smell? And it certainly sets you off balance, takes you outside your comfort zone, to shuffle through an airport with no shoes.
The shoe thing is not about keeping you safe. It is an exercise in power, in intimidation. And there are similar actions taking place all around us.
For example, a woman from Florida reports that Bush's motorcade pointed an assault rifle at protestors during a recent visit to Florida.
We all know that the President (any president, not just Shrub) as a matter of course has security around when making a public appearance - much of it invisible. Snipers aren't any use if they telegraph exactly where they are. No. This sort of visible security has but one purpose: to scare people. It's certainly no mistake that this rifle was pointed at protesters.
The recent news that the government is tracking ALL our phone calls reveals nothing that many of us did not already know or suspect. And how many times in the last two or three years have you NOT said what you were going to say, or written what you were going to write, when it occurred to you who else might be listening or reading?
This president wants us to be afraid - all of us. He wants us to think we're afraid of terrorists, but he wants us to BE afraid of our own government. So that we don't ever dare dissent. That's what he wants.