The Cool Guy on the Airport Security Line (Update)

Somehow, I missed a post by Stewart Baker at the  Volokh Conspiracy explaining a psychological infirmity that afflicts those whose “real” issue while awaiting their turn for a full body scan by the TSA of which I was wholly unaware.  Not until I saw this  follow-up poll did I read his post. I was floored.

Bear in mind that Baker is a Steptoe & Johnson partner, having completed a stint as first Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security. He’s a passionate believer.

I’ve spent mine puzzling over the roots of TSA-hatred.

There’s no doubt that it’s virulent. As a privacy skeptic and national security conservative, I’m used to hostile comments.  But it’s only when I defend TSA that the comments go beyond hostile to visceral and occasionally even spittle-flecked.

Why is that? Notwithstanding the venom of the TSA-haters, polls show that most Americans support TSA, including the decision to use whole body scanners. But for a very vocal minority opposing the agency isn’t political. It’s personal.

I can’t explain the women who hate TSA with a passion, though I’m not sure how many there are.  Anti-TSA sites and comments have a distinct whiff of testosterone.

While I, unlike Stewart, don’t go sniffing around for testosterone, and while I can easily explain why women aren’t enthralled about having strangers rub their labia or lift their blouse in airports, the balance of Stewart’s thoughts about airport security took me by complete surprise.

After a lengthy quote from Michael Chertoff, Stewart’s former boss, describing his ritual preparations to go through the ordeal with ritualistic precision, he goes on:

It may not make sense. But I’m willing to bet that a lot of the men reading this have similarly choreographed plans for the security line.

I know I do. And if I’m honest with myself, the rituals of the screening line aren’t really about speed.  They’re about performance.  I feel a kind of competitive pressure to keep the line moving. I’m not happy to see more than about six inches of distance between my luggage and the bags in front of me on the belt. Every delay in pulling out my laptop or my liquids, every last minute bit of change I have to throw haphazard into the bin, every stutterstep as I realize it’s a whole-body scanner, not a metal detector, so belt and watch have to come off too –- all detracts from the performance.

Every once in a while, though, everything goes right, and I feel great. I’m Michael Chertoff, baby, all smooth competence, no wasted motions, no hesitation, no gaps on the conveyor belt.

Don’t you think to yourself, “I’m Michael Chertoff, baby”?  Me neither.  But why?  What is it about this “smooth competence” that gets Stewart’s “Michael Chertoff” juices flowing?

OK, that’s a little embarrassing to admit.  But it gets worse when I ask myself why I care.  If you’re the kind of guy who can’t throw away a piece of paper without wadding it up and arcing it into a basket across the room, you already know.

In part we do it to keep our place in the hierarchy of guys.  But in the end, what we’re really hoping for is an Alice Munro moment — that our easy concentration and economical movements will set up in someone “a procession of sparks and chills,” followed a few pages later by, well, what we deserve for all that demonstrated competence.

Wait for it….

And that means that TSA has an Alice Munro problem.

This, dear readers, is where it gets twisted. An “Alice Munro problem” comes from this quote, which Stewart places atop his post.

“I … watch him working at the stove.  His easy concentration, economical movements, setting up in me a procession of sparks and chills.”

– Alice Munro, Dear Life

What this means is that Stewart perceives himself, as he smoothly navigates the airport security line by wearing loafers and putting his keys and phone in the pocket of his blazer, as becoming sexually irresistible to women, causing them “sparks and chills.”

Perhaps I’m a quart or two low on testosterone, but I have never harbored a fantasy that my smooth negotiation of the airport security line has caused any woman to have “sparks and chills.”  In fact, not a single sexual thought has passed through my head as I pulled my laptop out and placed it gracefully in a bin. Never.

Had someone suggested to me that other men indulged in this sexual fantasy as they placed their shoes on the belt, I would have told him he was a lunatic and needed intensive therapy.  I would have been wrong.  Apparently, not only is there such a person, but he held high office in a department of the government that carries great sway with the imposition of these mandates.

Like the commenters to Stewart’s post, I am flummoxed by his revelation.  No, I do not share his sexual titillation at being the coolest guy on the security line.  No, there is nothing whatsoever about being a player in this TSA theater that makes my manliness come out, making me believe that women who watch me swoon with desire.

That Stewart needs therapy is not my issue.  I’m sure the Steptoe health plan can cover it, no matter how many years it will take to get him past his delusion.  But that Stewart had a voice in the way our government imposes its rules scares the hell out of me.  Do others behind these dictates similarly share a sexual thrill in the TSA security line?  Do they dismiss the “spittle-flecked” very vocal minority because of the manly thrill they get as they prove their smoothness? 

Had Stewart not made this very embarrassing admission, I would have never known, never believed, that some bizarre macho titillation was involved in the mastering of the full body scanner. I now know different, and it scares me.  Who are these people in charge of our lives, and have they passed any sort of psychological screening for something remotely resembling normalcy? 

No, Stewart, I do not share your testosterone-fueled feelings.  Not at all.  But I am of the view that one of us isn’t quite right, and this time, I don’t think it’s me.

Update: This just in, TSA footage, using their newest secret weapon of mind-imaging, of Stewart Baker on a security line.


31 thoughts on “The Cool Guy on the Airport Security Line (Update)

  1. Bill P.

    Well maybe he doesn’t feel that way, but he wants other people to. That way there will be less complaining.

  2. Erika

    Thanks to The Chappelle Show i know have a mental image of someone jumping on a couch yelling “I’m Michael Chertoff, Baby.”

    Its most definitely not sexy 😛

  3. SHG

    I was hoping to get a female perspective on this, because I had the same feeling but wasn’t sure if it was just me.

  4. David

    As if his pride in being a “privacy skeptic,” or his recent crusade in favor of the right to “hack-back” any computer you believe is being used to “hack” a system you own, regardless of things like evidence or warrants, wasn’t bad enough. As consistently, utterly wrong as Baker is, sometimes I wonder if the Volokhs just keep him around as a chew toy for the commenters.

  5. SHG

    I personally like and respect most of the guys over there, and I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt. And I would especially like to think this is “chew toy” fodder (great image, by the way). But I don’t.

  6. ShelbyC

    I don’t know, it seemed liked a pretty reasonable post to me. I’m sure at least some people in the line felt “a procession of sparks and chills” watching the young lady get her sundress ripped off. And of course, if Mr. Baker gets aroused by the site of a dude drenched in his own urine after the TSA spills his urostomy bag, hey, whatever floats his boat, right?

  7. Jack B.

    I almost posted a heads up to Baker’s article in your other TSA story, but I figured you’re a step ahead of us most of the time.

    What I find creepy is not just Baker’s position, but his utter nonchalance about it, as if he’s unaware that being a “privacy skeptic” is sort of like believing the moon landings were faked. The first few articles of his I read, I assumed he was merely playing Devil’s Advocate or at the very least, merely being contrary for the sake of generating controversy.

  8. SHG

    Not sure how this one fell through the cracks, but it did.  You’re right about his nonchalance, though I attribute it to his obvious belief that this is how normal, red-blooded, 110% American guys feel. Except he’s totally weird, and it’s just him and Chertoff who think they’re particularly sexy going through the security line.

  9. Jamie R

    If I were a prospective Steptoe client, I’d be concerned about hiring a “privacy skeptic” as a lawyer, and extra concerned about someone with a paraphilia for security.

  10. Rita Handrich

    Someone asked me today what Scott Greenfield is like since he is in the ABA Hall of Fame and endorsing young bloggers despite being known to talk meanly about young lawyers and also because I know everyone on the internet intimately.

    The first word that came to mind for me was ‘dark’. And then I said ‘but sometimes surprisingly vulnerable’. And then I said ‘complicated’. And then I stopped because I am self-aware.

    And then I saw this news item:

    Psychology Uncovers Sex Appeal of Dark Personalities [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    And then I read this post. I think even though it is only slightly after 5pm here–I need a drink.

  11. Rita Handrich

    Oh I did. I said I didn’t know you but based on what I’ve read and seen that was what I thought. Sorry. That was crystal clear in my mind.

    I just thought it was a little funny (and a little creepy) to have those unrelated things happen so quickly.

  12. SHG

    Maybe you should consider noon as a better time to start drinking?

    Dark and sexy. Hmm. Not quite my self image.

  13. John Neff

    If you search around on the web you should be able to find a video of SHG being interviewed. He is not in the group photo at the top of his blog.

    I notice that they are wearing suits under their jail uniforms so my guess it is a group photo of his grandfathers law office.

  14. Jess

    @Scott – The female perspective is that Mr. Baker is a twerp. And no, seeing guys being sheeple, even if they are efficient sheeple,at the airport does not enthrall me in the least.

  15. Christopher Tozzo

    “Every once in a while, though, everything goes right, and I feel great. I’m Michael Chertoff, baby, all smooth competence, no wasted motions, no hesitation, no gaps on the conveyor belt.”

    I get that feeling all the time when moving through a TSA line. But in my case, it’s because I have Asperger’s Syndrome, not because I’m an insecure emotional eunuch posing as a “national security conservative.”

  16. Marilou

    Chicks dig brown shirts? I haven’t found any reference to brown shirts in this post. And just for the record, not all chicks like brown shirts, even the old hens like me. Where’d the reference to brown shirts originate?

  17. Cephas Athios

    Why is it that so darn many conservatives (and Conservatives) seem to have such strange sexual predilections? It seems that the more senior you are, the kinkier your preferences – and the more highly repressed you are!

  18. SHG

    Is that so? I apparently don’t spend enough time learning of other people’s kinky sexual preferences. I plan to keep it that way.

  19. Onlooker

    Wow, he really just doesn’t get it, eh? I’m sure any discussion with him about the Constitution and our natural rights would be maddening beyond belief.

    It is probably useful to be reminded that there are people out there like him; and serving in our govt.

  20. SHG

    Remember, he’s not one of those “people” out there, but the former first assistant for policy at Homeland Security. He had a big job, so what he “gets” mattered.

  21. Pingback: Stewart Baker Plays Pick Up Sticks With Civil Rights | Simple Justice

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