Sex bombs and other wayward self-destructions

Prudishness nearly killed a few hundred people on Christmas day. The explosives that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had on him could not have been detected by the usual security protocols at airports. That’s how he managed to get through not one, but two airports — Lagos and Schipol.

The PETN explosive had been sewn into his underwear and al Qaeda, allegedly his sponsors — clearly knew that due to prudishness, there are no checks on that part of the body.

There is no use screaming about how security procedures failed at the airports. It’s not that anybody failed to do his job. The procedures themselves had gaps and al Qaeda knew and exploited them. (The failure of security agencies to pass on Abdulmutallab’s father’s warning one month earlier is another matter)

For all the inconvenience air travellers endure nowadays, security protocols are focussed mainly on metal objects. The carry-on bags, laptops, mobile phones, overcoats, and at some airports, shoes, that we put into the scanner are imaged for highly contrasty objects, primarily metal. After we are relieved of these accoutrements, we walk though a metal detector gate. Plastic, powder or fabric do not set off the alarm. Even your metallic zipper does not set off the alarm, so a tiny detonator may not either.

In most airports, if you get through the metal detector gateway without setting off the alarm, you are free to proceed. There is no pat down. Even if you set off an alarm, they merely ask you to remove more objects from your pockets and walk through again till you are alarm-free. There is still no pat-down. In other words, they just want you to be free of metal, not necessarily free of dangerous substances.

Even if there is a pat down as a matter of routine after going through the metal detector, that pat-down is as good as useless. The officer does a quick pat, literally, of your waist, arms and legs. The correct procedure is NEVER carried out: using hands to glide down the subject’s entire body including the breasts, armpit, crotch, buttocks cleft and anal area — precisely the curvaceous parts of the body with folded skin, where things can be concealed. In other words, it shouldn’t be a “pat-down” but a “feel-through”. The officer’s hands must feel through your clothing to your anatomy to ensure there is as little as possible over you. Checking your anatomical contours is the objective, not avoiding them.

But feeling through is a crime. In Singapore, we call that “Outrage of modesty”, liable on conviction to jail and caning. I believe just about all countries with Western-type laws have similar statutes. Prudishness is very important and backed by the full force of the law.

For that reason, I’ll bet that the people who thought up security protocols never contemplated requiring feel-throughs — the idea of modesty is deeply ingrained.

A new technology, the body scanner — see previous article Of airports, nudity and an insult to men — might possibly have been able to detect that Abdulmutallab was carrying something in his crotch. But few airports have installed these machines. Firstly, they are reported to be at least ten times more expensive than the metal detector gateways, and secondly there’s been a hue and cry about invasion of body privacy. You can assume that the people crying loudest are the rightwing sex-phobic conservatives, oh yes, possibly the same ones quickest to condemn Muslims for just about everything wrong on this planet.

In response to complaints about privacy violations, the few airports that have these body scanners on trial offer passengers the option of pat-downs instead. We have discussed above how useless pat-downs are. But would you try a more thorough body search on the very same passengers who refuse to go through a body scanner on the ground of modesty violation?

Furthermore, what about the cost of conducting manual body searches? It’s a very labour-intensive business, and airports would not want any more than a tiny fraction of passengers opting for a thorough manual search. They wouldn’t want to have to hire more security officers.

So, given all these objections, are body scanners not the solution?

Yet, what choice do we have? After this incident and despite the cost, I think airports will order the machines anyway, passing the cost to the traveller through higher airport taxes. They will also make it very hard for anyone to opt out, to avoid additional labour cost and slowing down processing. The rule will be: If you want to be a prude, stay at home.

* * * * *

In Geylang, Singapore’s most venerable red-light district, the residents wanted the sex workers to stay indoors. They prevailed on the police to do more frequent and aggressive checks, and they seem to have succeeded.

Prostitutes have largely retreated from the Geylang streets with daily anti-vice sweeps, but they are appearing elsewhere – on the Internet.

At least seven websites are openly hawking Thai and Chinese prostitutes, a sign that pimps are increasingly tapping technology to sell sleaze beyond the red-light district.

The online brothels trouble counsellors who fear they make it far too easy for people – especially the young and uninitiated – to pay for sex.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children’s Society, said: ‘The scary part is prostitution has come to your doorstep – and it’s not just available to adults.’

One website displays photographs of 11 foreign prostitutes in come-hither poses on the homepage. They have names such as Kiwi, Ice and Cream, and their biodata and vital statistics are listed below their pictures.

— Straits Times, 2 Jan 2010, Online brothels replace Geylang’s pimps

As you can see, what made the residents happy dismayed the other folks concerned about internet accessibility. Frankly, I am surprised that it is only now that internet prostitution has been raised as an issue. It’s been going on for years. Have they not noticed?

Then again, in the Singapore context, it’s been gay male prostitution that’s been going on for longer (at least 10 years) in cyberspace, so maybe the gay-blind “good citizens” never noticed — they don’t see anything gay. (Or maybe they think that since gay people are going to hell anyway, why bother about what they get up to?)

The newspaper provided a glimpse of how the modus operandi has changed:

Traditionally, customers have to go to brothels in Geylang. Pimps brief them on their latest offerings while they take their pick.

Websites pimping for prostitutes started appearing a few years ago. With them, deals can be closed remotely with a few mouse clicks and SMSes.

It starts with the customer registering on the website. After this, he tells the pimp – via SMS – who he is interested in and his preferred time slot.

To help him make his choice, the customer relies on the photos and ‘field reports’ posted by previous patrons, who get 10 per cent to 20 per cent discounts for their next sessions if they post testimonials.

After the pimp – his mobile phone number is also listed on the website – replies, all that remains is for the customer to visit the designated hotel room at the appointed time. The prostitute is paid in cash after the transaction.

— ibid

Also, the business people of Geylang were unhappy with the clean-out. The shops and dining places in the area have complained about the decrease in human traffic. See what prudishness does?

* * * * *

Contrary to common belief, not all people with conservative views deplore prostitution. A few see it as a saving grace, especially if they think homosexuality is even worse. Here is a story from Australia, about a father who wanted to make his son heterosexual:

A father is accused of forcing his 14-year-old son to have sex with a prostitute because he feared he was gay.

In December 2007, the father from Rockhampton, Queensland, father allegedly arranged to meet a prostitute at a local motel.

It is alleged the father then drove his son to the motel and told him he was not allowed to leave until he had sex with the prostitute.

The boy’s mother this week gave evidence in the committal hearing in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court which found there was sufficient evidence for the father to stand trial for the rape of his son.

The father was charged after he called police earlier this year to make a complaint about the 14-year-old allegedly abusing his younger brother.

It is alleged during this conversation, the father made admissions about the incident with the prostitute.

The father will appear before the Rockhampton District Court at a future date.

— Herald Sun, 24 Dec 2009, Boy, 14, ‘forced to have sex’ by dad, Link.

The above report did not specify the gender of the sex worker. But it’s a ‘she’, as can be seen from another report, from the gay website Same Same:

A father in Rockhampton could face rape charges, after being accused of forcing his 14 year old son to have sex with a prostitute because he feared he may be gay.

Rockhampton’s The Morning Bulletin reports that the incident happened after a family Christmas barbecue in 2007. The father allegedly called a prostitute, arranged to meet her at a local motel and took his son to the room. The father waited outside on the balcony, occasionally coming in to check on them, and said that he wanted to see a used condom as proof that they’d had sex. Afterwards the father took the son home.


* * * * *

If all this talk about bombs and rape gets too depressing, social conservatives also provide the antidote. There is Sarah Palin and her brood. The former governor of Alaska and running mate of US presidential hopeful John McCain in 2008 is idolised by all the batty bigots of America. She supposedly represents the eternal homely values that are today threatened by liberalism.

Said to be eyeing a run for the presidency in 2012, Palin is trying to stay in the public eye. Last month, she was doing a book tour.

However, she might have been upstaged by Levi Johnston, the erstwhile boyfriend of her daughter Bristol Palin and father of her grandson Tripp. First Johnston and Bristol agreed to keep the baby and get married. Then they broke up and now Bristol is a single parent.

Then Levi sues for joint custody of the son, a suit that Bristol is contesting despite all the conservative rhetoric about the need for all children to have both a father figure and a mother figure, the chief line used by the Rightwing to battle gay marriages and same-sex parenting.

To make Bristol’s case, her lawyer is citing Levi’s immoral behaviour, namely, posing nude (but not frontally) for Playgirl magazine. However, you can also expect the Palins to sue for a big portion of what Johnston earns from Playgirl and his many TV appearances, in the name of child custody. The money earned form such immorality is not too dirty perhaps?

But I know that at about this point, I am losing my readers. Who cares about the story? Where are the Playgirl pictures? Alright, folks, here are three:

The above three are among the preview (?) pictures released by Playgirl. The full set will appear in the January 2010 edition of the magazine, though confusingly, Playgirl may have released them online already, for a fee.

Even so, according to newspaper reports, online sales of the pictures have been disappointing. The New York Magazine said:

Unsurprisingly, “nowhere near enough people” paid Playgirl’s $19.95 online fee to see Levi Johnston’s non-naked photo shoot.

Maybe sales bombed because he kept covering his crotch? Too prudish for today’s market?

* * * * *


Levi Johnston on being a gay icon

Levi Johnston appears on The Joy Behar Show tonight. In this preview clip, she asks him about his Playgirl portfolio and a gay porn movie with a Levi look-alike. She also asks him how he feels about being objectified by gay men.

Asks Behar: “How does it feel to be a gay icon? You come from a conservative background, right? And Alaska’s not the most liberal state, and yet you seem to be very comfortable being a gay icon.”

Answers Johnston: “Growing up in Wasilla, it is [conservative]. I’ve never even seen a gay guy in Wasilla, I don’t think. I’ve seen gay guys, but…once I started doing all these tours and everything, you know, I just…they’re people too. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s just more fans…it’s great.”


4 Responses to “Sex bombs and other wayward self-destructions”

  1. 1 elephanto 3 January 2010 at 20:14

    Attaboy ! YB ! Great article PLUS VISUALS SOMEMORE – ha ha , break the monotony of white spaces…

  2. 2 paksux 3 January 2010 at 22:53

    Alex, I normally like your articles but one part of this article particularly betrays your liberal bias. The people raising the hue and cry are NOT the conservatives. Conservatives could care less about invasion of privacy. In America you would normally expect liberal civil rights groups like the ACLU to obstruct those invasive security efforts. Not everything is the conservatives’ fault you know.

  3. 3 ah 4 January 2010 at 20:09

    I agree with paksux, it’s the liberals demanding anonymity and the conservatives who argue for a loss of personal privacy (although not, generally, their own privacy) under the “nothing to hide” argument.

    The scanners at the airport are ludicrous. This quest for perfect security at all costs must end. Clearly the failure in this case was intelligence before the act, not the smuggling of the materials on board.

    There will always be a risk of terrorist attacks on board flights, no method can ever reduce the chance to 0%. It is important to remember that there has been no major explosions on a flight for a long time and the 9/11 attacks did not involve explosives or weapons, but organisation and a merciless commitment. This can only be countered through the dull and un-flashy job of intelligence and policing, not the continual application of excessive technology at any cost.

  4. 4 Modesty or Safety 7 January 2010 at 01:34

    These devices that see you virtually naked will become common at all major international airports now whether we want it or not. We’ll get used to it I guess. Stand by for guffaws from staff as people go through with Prince Alberts’ or whatever. What will be interesting is how people for whom covering themselves extensively is seen as part of the their culture or religion will react to this, but they have have only Al Qaeda to blame. Maybe they will have to have separate machines for men and women, so that male staff do not see naked women and vice versa.

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