I came across not one but two blazingly intelligent articles Friday morning, both from Salon.com. These two articles are loaded with common sense and are the kind of pieces I wish more people would write. The first one was written by Patrick Smith, the airline pilot who writes the column Ask the Pilot biweekly. I can’t say enough about this series, but this week’s article is particularly impressive. He writes about the security theatre at airports, a topic that has been addressed before, but never this intelligently. I’m a big fan. Read it:
This country needs to get a grip. We need a slap in the face, a splash of cold water.
On Saturday, 57-year-old Jules Paul Bouloute opened an emergency exit inside the American Airlines terminal at Kennedy airport. Alarms blared and sirens flashed. Bouloute later told police that he’d opened the door by accident.
Which is what you’d assume. Sure, the exit was clearly marked, but it happens all the time, does it not? In office buildings, shopping malls, hospitals and airports, well-intended people become distracted and pass through restricted doorways. And you would think our airport security force would keep this in mind and react accordingly, and not with the assumption that every errant traveler is a terrorist poised for mass murder. To the contrary, why in the world would an attacker go around setting off alarms and drawing attention to himself?
Unfortunately, this is America 2010, and the response at JFK was neither rational nor surprising. All of Terminal 8 was evacuated for more than two hours. Police then swept through the building with dogs and SWAT teams (because, you see, a terrorist wouldn’t quietly drop an explosive device into a trash barrel; he would first set off alarms, in order to…?). Before being allowed back in, thousands of travelers were forced to undergo rescreening at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, giving guards a chance to snag any butter knives or 4-ounce shampoo bottles they might have missed the first time. Inbound planes were stranded on the tarmac and departures were delayed for several hours.
Mind you, this was the third incident at New York airports in recent weeks in which transgressions resulted in chaos and evacuations.
Bouloute, who had just come from Haiti, of all places, was arraigned on charges of first-degree criminal tampering and third-degree criminal trespass. He faces up to seven years in prison. I can’t imagine he’ll actually be convicted, but the mere fact that we’re going through the motions is disheartening and embarrassing enough.
But what shocks me the most is that throughout all the coverage of the incident, including numerous interviews with ticked-off passengers and somber-voiced officials, not once has anybody raised the point that maybe — just maybe — we overreacted. Everyone, instead, is eager to blame Bouloute.
What has become of us? Are we really in such a confused and panicked state that a person haplessly walking through the wrong door can disrupt air travel nationwide, resulting in mass evacuations and long delays? “The terrorists have won” is one of those waggish catch-alls that normally annoy me, but all too often it seems that way. Our reactionary, self-defeating behavior has put much at stake — our time, our tax dollars and our liberties.
I say “unforgettable,” but that’s just the thing. How many Americans remember Flight 847? How many remember the Karachi murders? It’s astonishing how short our memories are. And partly because they’re so short, we are easily frightened and manipulated.
Here in this proclaimed new “age of terrorism,” we act as if the clock began ticking on Sept. 11, 2001. In truth we’ve been dealing with this stuff for decades. Not only in the 1980s, but throughout the ’60s and ’70s as well. Acts of piracy and sabotage are far fewer today. Imagine the Karachi attack happening tomorrow. Imagine TWA 847 happening tomorrow. Imagine six successful terror attacks against commercial aviation in a five-year span. The airline industry would be paralyzed, the populace frozen in abject fear. It would be a catastrophe of epic proportion — of wall-to-wall coverage and, dare I suggest, the summary surrender of important civil liberties.
What is it about us, as a nation, that has made us so unable to remember, and unable to cope?
I’ve rarely heard it asked this succinctly in any article or publication. The “unable to remember” part hits the nail on the head, for this surely is the flaw that is letting every talking head bozo give Bush and Cheney a free pass on things like torture, things that happened within the last ten years, yet are conveniently forgotten.
The second article “When the media is the disaster” by Rebecca Solnit tears a new one into the media for its ridiculous and irresponsible coverage of disasters. Her writing style may be a bit over the top but the point she makes is dead on:
Soon after almost every disaster the crimes begin: ruthless, selfish, indifferent to human suffering, and generating far more suffering. The perpetrators go unpunished and live to commit further crimes against humanity. They care less for human life than for property. They act without regard for consequences.
I’m talking, of course, about those members of the mass media whose misrepresentation of what goes on in disaster often abets and justifies a second wave of disaster. I’m talking about the treatment of sufferers as criminals, both on the ground and in the news, and the endorsement of a shift of resources from rescue to property patrol. They still have blood on their hands from Hurricane Katrina, and they are staining themselves anew in Haiti.
She goes on to talk about the use of the word “looting” and its effects on what is actually happening in disaster zones. A little polemical maybe, but she’s ultimately right when she says:
And what is absolutely accurate, in Haiti right now, and on Earth always, is that human life matters more than property, that the survivors of a catastrophe deserve our compassion and our understanding of their plight, and that we live and die by words and ideas, and it matters desperately that we get them right.
Both of these writers ask very important questions, perhaps the essential questions about the matters at hand. Why are so few others doing this? We do live and die by words and ideas and it is crucial that the right questions get asked. They rarely are. We’re losing out almost all the time.Everybody with a brain shits on the media right now, and it is absolutely deserved. The MSM throws common sense out the window, especially in disaster and “security” coverage. Well, actually, in their everything coverage. Cooler heads do not prevail. Ta-nehisi says that Americans get the coverage they deserve. He’s probably right.