I found a link to a six-week-old story by Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) about an adventure at an airport.
Long story short: Jillette got grabbed in the crotch by a security guard. Whether it was intentional or not, when Jillette pointed it out, the guard went on a power trip. But touching someone’s crotch without permission is assault. Even if you’re a post-9/11 airport security inspector. The big question is whether someone can be charged with assault while working that particular job.

A juicy quote: “[F]reedom is kind of a hobby with me, and I have disposable income that I’ll spend to find out how to get people more of it.”

As I read it, I couldn’t help but remember some stories Charlie told me about flying in and out of Israel. I don’t recall whether he said he was searched, but he was interviewed. It’d be a whole lot better if he’d tell the stories, but he said at the end of the interview, he felt like a terrorist.

They’d point at random people and ask if he was with them, and if he answered yes, they’d ask for the person’s name. If I were traveling with a group of 50 people and just met some of them, I’d get uncomfortable. (I’d also answer the question wrong.) Sometimes they would say the other person had told them something outrageous about him.

That line of questioning would make anyone with pure motives uncomfortable. They didn’t seem to be as interested in Charlie’s answers as much as they were interested in how he answered them.

Now, when I go through airport security here in the States, I always get screened. Maybe I set off some kind of religious zealot alarm or something. I don’t know. But they always want to test my shoes and my carry-on for explosive properties. And I’m always carrying lots of electronics (a laptop computer, still and video cameras, and, with me, you never know what else), so they want to see them working, to make sure I haven’t figured out how to build a bomb into a Micron TransPort laptop.

So it’s not much fun for me to get onto an airplane. I try to be as gracious as I can, because I know these guys get more lip from people than probably anybody else in the world and I know giving them more isn’t going to get me anywhere.

Neither will putting vile and disgusting things in my luggage so that they have to touch them when they look through my stuff. That’s really immature.

There are some things I’d be packing anyway that probably do work in my favor. There’s my Bible (single white Protestant males aren’t exactly known for blowing up airplanes), and when I think to do it, I wear a cross, for the same reason. I figure since, legal or not, constitutional or not, politically correct or not, there’s profiling going on and nothing’s going to stop it, so I might as well make it work in my favor.

The last time I went through airport security I had a brief and nice conversation with the security cop about video cameras. Yes, I have had a nice conversation with an airport security troll. It’s possible. I hadn’t given him any trouble so I guess I seemed like a fairly nice guy, and he liked my camera, so he asked about it. And let’s face it, by asking me about my camera he was paying me a compliment.

I try to be as polite and nice as possible to everyone I can, whenever I can (there are times when I’m not very capable of that). And I’ve found that most people–not all people, but most–want to be nice to strangers and will be if given the excuse. They’ll just as quickly be not-nice if given the excuse. That’s true of the checker at the grocery store and it’s true of the airport security troll.

Now I don’t know if Penn Jillette got an attitude with the guy in the airport or not. I wasn’t there, so I have no way of knowing. I can think of some people I’ve had the misfortune of meeting or corresponding with who’d have real problems in an airport because of their attitudes. Some of them are twice my age, but they still need to grow up.

Personally, I’m willing to give up some convenience–within reason–to keep the plane I’m on from becoming a missile. The problem I have with a lot of civil liberties advocates is that many of them forget that my individual rights end as soon as my exercise of them starts infringing on someone else’s individual rights. Sometimes one individual’s rights trump another’s.

If the owner of an airplane doesn’t want me on the plane because s/he doesn’t like the color of my shoes, then that’s his or her right. If I want to carry an armory with me when I travel, then I can get my own plane. Most freedoms have always been for those who can afford them.

The biggest problem I have with the current state of airport security is that I think there’s a better way.

One, take the feds out of the equation. I can’t think of a single airline that can afford the financial hit of having an airplane blown up at this point in time. Airlines have a whole lot more at stake than the federal government does. Let them handle their own security. If the feds want to “help,” then fine. Give the airlines money to pay the salaries of their security people. But make the security people accountable to the airline, not the government.

Two, change the approach. The U.S. approach looks for weapons. The problem is, that’s changing all the time. Weapons used to be guns and knives and pipe bombs. Then it was anything that could cut. Then it was shoes. It’s a moving target and it’s always just a matter of time before some terrorist organization gets around it until we cut off the terrorists’ air supply by not buying oil. Since we like our gas guzzlers too much, that’ll never happen.

The Israeli approach doesn’t look for weapons. It looks for terrorists. And it doesn’t really differentiate between armed terrorists and unarmed.

Israel definitely has its problems, but safety on its airplanes isn’t one of them.