Those who were reared when cartoons were only on Saturday mornings may recall the antics of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Or if Mad Magazine was your escape, remember Spy vs. Spy? In these cartoons, one character was always trying to outmaneuver the other. The bombs and absurd contraptions grew more grandiose in size, complexity, and devastation. Still the spies or coyote would bounce back from near annihilation with ease and with greater plans. The illustrator and creator of Spy vs. Spy was a Cuban national attempting to point out the futility of escalating arms.
That was then. Real life today imitates the cartoons of yesterday. Some characters are always trying to outwit the next. The deterrents and devastation get costlier and the consequences are not funny. The Cold War has been replaced by bombers on home soil.
Nearly two months after the Christmas Bomber’s attempt to blow up a plane that was landing in Detroit, that fair city just an hour to the north, the Department of Homeland Security is now rolling out some new security procedures. But, these procedures will be announced and implemented in the U.S. It will not foil any efforts by those that would thwart our freedom from afar. The new measures will only add to the burden exacted from travelers in the U.S. It appears that efforts to prevent would-be bombers only exact a toll from law abiding citizens.
Thanks to new measures, travelers are being advised to be at the airport three hours before traveling! (And why do we fly? To save time and hassle!) But all these new measurers appear to be grandstanding, serving only to ease the fear of trusting travelers. And who will foot the bill for new security? The taxpayers! Even for a weekend trip now, one must pay $25– each way– for each piece of luggage. Granted, one can cram clothes enough for a weekend trip in an overhead valise, but it is hard to find sun screen in 2 ounce bottles, not to mention mini deodorants and teensy cans of hairspray.
Having just returned last week from a trip to Brazil on American Airlines, traveling companions and I concluded that the “security” check from abroad was just a joke. Knowledgeable travelers, we began to peel off our belts, pull off our coats, and kick off our shoes when going through security. We produced our Ziploc bags with minuscule traveling essentials. The Brazilian security officers quickly assured us that we need not remove our shoes, take off our coats, or jump through the other hoops. And when three large bottles of shampoo, cream rinse and perfume were found in another passenger’s purse, a quick complaint, a wink-wink, and the liquid was returned to the sputtering passenger.
But if security and confidence are what the traveler needs, perhaps one should remember the obsessive Howard Hughes. He feared so much that he became reclusive and only allowed his nails and hair clipped once a year. Frankly, all of life is a risk, whether you work for the IRS, say in Austin, Texas, or you drive a sleek Toyota. No one is totally secure or safe. Ask the people of Haiti or those living in the Madeira Islands where natural forces have played havoc with their homes. And what of the people in La Canada, California where mudslides ripped apart lovely houses and filled spacious pools?
Dr. Ben Carson, fed up with American’s obsession with security, wrote an interesting book entitled Take the Risk. In his line of work as a pediatric neurosurgeon, every surgery involves high risk. He points out that all successful people have taken great risks. Most inventions have come at the cost of risk. Those who fear everything either are insurance rich and financially poor, or headed for a very sturdy psychiatric couch. Anyone who has taught a 16 year-old offspring to drive has likely taken greater risk than someone flying in a commercial airplane.
Still reasonable precautions are expected and warranted. The screening machines used at each airport, though they cost over a million dollars each, are necessary. And if you are like me, you are surprised by the phalanx of TSA screeners milling around airports, seeming to be doing very little other than chatting and bantering with each other. Only government can afford so many decorative employees. Some engaged and polite screeners are necessary.
But common sense is also necessary. I’m always perturbed when some granny is singled out and given the intense wand waving and extra screening. Posturing for sure to avoids profiling charges, but Homeland Security tries too hard to avoid profiling. Last time I flew out of Detroit, two of the TSA screeners wore the Arabic hijab and spoke broken English. It seems counterintuitive for recent immigrants to be part of the screening process.
The bucks you are saving by having your knees assaulted by the reclined chair in coach are being liberally spent by our government. Their knee-jerk response to the Christmas Bomber was to limit bathroom visits and to collect blankets an hour before landing. Thankfully, saner heads prevailed. On the return from Brazil, I helped several on the flight fill in an additional sheet required by Homeland Security. Sadly, it was only printed in English and baffled foreign travelers. Does a voluntary sheet really keep the wily U.S. hater from his lethal goal? I think not. But it is that kind of thinking that made Janet Napolitano declare that the system worked and that is why the Christmas Bomber was thwarted. It is also our short sighted wrangling that has prevented the Trade Towers from being rebuilt. It took one year to build the Empire State Building. Ten years after 9/11 there will be no replacement to the World Trade Center. The haters for sure feel victorious.
So now we must contend with new measures: hand swabbing. I wonder if traces of hand sanitizer will be picked up by the new procedures. Life is a crap shoot. Bombers and the Wile E. Coyote will prevail. New measures must be random and unannounced. It is past time for America to profile.