Death By A Thousand Gnat-Bites

Copyright © by Len Holman, 11/27/10


  It could have been different.  Software is available to make it all better.  People would have some other thing to bitch about besides their breasts and asses being exposed to an unseen  viewer in a remote room.  Americans don’t mind seeing other people’s breasts and asses; they just don’t want THEIR parts exposed.  Voyeurs, yes;  exhibitionists, not so much.  The unconvincing justification by the TSA is that—because someone’s Haynes briefs might be filled with nitro—we can’t be too careful (It’s not a bomb ‘til I SAY it’s a bomb!).  We must, TSA officials say, be ever-vigilant, and if that means some minor inconveniences to the traveling public—so be it. But those images!

  Are you telling me that we can put machines on Mars that pick up and examine rocks, pretzels in M&Ms, wiretap half the cell phones in America, fight two wars, make Sara Palin a celebrity, and produce cars that talk too much—and we can’t figure out how to make air travel safe without creating a porn movie?  Are you telling the American public that some bearded zealots a half a world away, who live with goats and bathe every ten months can create panic, anger and confusion and fear here?  And all this after several FAILED attempts to blow stuff up?  What would things be like in this  if even one pair of tighty-whiteys had blown?  The best we can do, with all the tech savvy we’re supposed to have, is take pics of women with the goods exposed or of men with their  junk in motion?  It’s not as if there are no options for scanner technology (called “advanced” by techies and administration officials).  How about presenting to the one looking at the screen an image of a square or triangle or circle representing the body, with the bomb and gun and box cutter showing?  Or maybe the human image could be blurred enough to render boobs and penises just messy pixels?  As long as the C-4 is shown, what else needs to be seen?

  Of course, no politician with any sense (if there be any) will come out against it.  If the public whining continues, and TSA gets the word to just check to see if a passenger’s smile is sincere, and a plane blows up over Chicago, then heads will roll.  So those goat herders in Somalia who spent 4200 dollars to get no results have scored a nice little victory with all this thrashing about.  To be sure, it’s not the Super Bowl, but a sweet little conference win.  So how can we all be safe in the air and still maintain our prudish ways?  Aside from changing the image being looked at, which seems the simplest of all, the government could just say, “Look, bad guys are trying to blow up our planes, but since you don’t want to be checked, take your chances or take the bus.”  Not stirring rhetoric, to be sure, but choices are presently limited.  A traveler could refuse to be scanned and take an intimate pat-down instead, which is pretty thrilling in the dark with your soul mate, but not much fun in a crowded airport.  Or perhaps a traveler could run for office and win, because everybody in the government is exempt from such ignominies as presently visited on the Unwashed.  But this uproar, and the fizzled-out protest around it, is really not about breasts and other body parts, it’s about the ability of a a raggedy bunch of zealots (those aforementioned goat lovers and others of their kind) to instill unreasoned—and unreasonable—panic on a country which prides itself, to the point of arrogance, on being The Leader of the Free World and the Scourge of Evildoers Everywhere.  A guy sets a bomb in Times square and the ensuing damage is equivalent to setting your Air Jordans on fire, with about the same amount of smoke and smell.   In response, America causes its citizens hours of frustration and anger, protests, really, really deep discussions of the Obama administration’s incompetence on Fox, and no end of jokes and cartoons and viral videos, fueling the turmoil even more.  Our Lex Luthor-type terrorist opponents can’t seem to train anyone to do anything, but when they succeed in sending printer cartridges in an airplane, we are as stunned and incoherent as that steer in the slaughterhouse that will soon become your bacon cheeseburger.  We are as gun shy as someone playing Russian roulette and, having pulled the trigger several times, is still alive and is being forced to pull it again.  Terrorism is alive and well, even if it does no more damage than scare the living hell out of its target, even if it causes no more damage than a sonic boom over the San Fernando Valley.  Of course, to be really effective, SOME damage has to be done initially, as in 9/11 or the London subway, but once that’s done, no more needs to happen—other than threats and glowering bearded men in blurry videos issuing comic-dire warnings of impending doom.  One or two long pass completions, maybe one for a touchdown, will make the running game work and confuse the defense, opening all sorts of opportunities for an offense to do what it wishes.

  Of course we must do as much as we can to protect ourselves, but a knee-jerk reaction to every swarthy man with a video camera isn’t the way.  The story of the boy who cried “wolf!” immediately comes to mind.  How soon will it be—if it hasn’t happened already—before any warnings will be totally ignored by the public, sated and bored by previous color alerts and travel advisories?  The Germans and the French authorities have warned of “potential” threats, but the visitors keep on coming.  When interviewed, people say things like “Yes, I know about the warnings, but we can’t hide at home. That way, the terrorists win.”  The terrorists ARE winning with failure and infinite patience with all those failures.  There is an apocryphal story about Ho Chi Minh, who was asked his opinion about the effects of the French Revolution.  His reply:  “Too soon to tell.”  Terrorism has this kind of long view.  It is working in Afghanistan and will work here, if we let it.  Drones are cool, and appeal to our video-game mentality and distaste for long-range planning, but they don’t substitute for actual planning and foresight on our part.  It may be that—after careful, reasoned thought informed by good intelligence and experience—we will conclude that terrorists are with us to stay.  When you live in a place with lots of gnats, you expect to get bitten from time time, that you will bleed from time to time, but swatting two or three and letting the other ten thousand alone will only exhaust and frustrate.  So what to do?

  Titty pics are not the answer.  Refining the screening process to acknowledge our Cotton Mather psyches would be a start.  Screening overseas airports and FedEx offices would be nice.  But those damn gnats will keep swarming and stampeding the cattle.  One gnat-bite is no problem, but thousands and thousands—eve n though each single one is insignificant—will eventually bring down the moose. We need real leaders with real minds and real planning and implementation skills.  Either that, or the death of a thousand gnat-bites will be fodder for the history books of the NEXT great empire.


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