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Homeland security

January 22, 2010
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN

While I love writing for a newspaper, I can't stand reading them.

More precisely, I can't stand reading news - especially the national and international stuff. They're all horror stories, either natural or man-made, except in those cases when it's a combination of the two.

In theory, a keen awareness of Things International is supposed to make you more worldly and sophisticated, but from what I've seen it just makes you more fearful and paranoid. A perfect example is airplane travel.

People seem to know only two things about flying. One is historical: The first person to fly across the Atlantic was the Lone Eagle himself, Charles Lindbergh.

The other thing is an example of international news at its "best," namely that due to all the increased terrorist threats and resultant increased airport security, the process of boarding an airplane these days is the very definition of oppression.

Of course, that first thing everyone knows - that Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic by plane - is wrong. If you're a stickler for detail, you'll be delighted to know Lindbergh was the first to fly across the Atlantic solo, non-stop, in a fixed-wing aircraft. Others had done it before him, but in a dirigible or in a plane with a crew.

As for the second thing, about airport security? Read on, friend.

Admittedly, I don't know about ALL airport security, but I can tell you about what I encountered over the past two weeks on a trip the Amazon Queen and I took to Amsterdam.

Ultimately, not only was the security procedure not oppressive; it wasn't noticeably different from what it's always been. We left from Burlington and it probably took all of four minutes to go through the metal detector and the rest.

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The real hassle

So how about on the return trip? I've flown out of Amsterdam four other times and this time the security was pretty much the same, except for one thing: This time everyone got patted down. And while they did a good thorough job of it, it wasn't either time-consuming or much of a hassle.

But one thing was a hassle - the music they played in the plane while we waited to take off.

It was the ultimate in schlock. The songs were all remakes of famous hits whose originals I knew word-for-word, nuance-for-nuance, but they'd been so thoroughly schlockified I had no idea who'd done the original versions. Instead, they'd been buried in a saccharine tomb, from which no one could free them.

"Egads," I said to the AQ, listening to a song I knew I'd known but no longer did, "who did this one first?"

We both listened to the pap. It was to music what a flat-line is to an EEG.

"Who do you think did it?" she asked.

I shrugged.

"Honestly, I've no idea," I said.

And I didn't. What was playing was so dull, so metronomic and so emotionally defunct I couldn't imagine that any person ever sang it. A robot, perhaps; a computer, certainly. But a real live breathing, feeling person? No way.

It was elevator music at its worst. Which would've been fine in an elevator, since the ride lasts no more than a minute or two. But sitting for 45 minutes in a plane, breathing the recycled noxious effluvia of every mother's son, was enough to push me off the deep end provided there'd been one.

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The real issue

OK, so the European security process was a breeze. But maybe, I figured, the one we'd get upon re-entering the States in scenic Newark would prove to be a real hump-buster. But that didn't happen either.

The security process when we transferred from the international terminal to the national one was fast and efficient. And even better, it seemed the people running it were much more civil than they'd been in the past - perhaps intentionally, to diffuse any reaction to the imagined hassle people thought they'd be subjected to.

But even if security procedures ramp up and the wait is longer, more complicated and more annoying, being critical of it is just a 21st-century vanity. I mean, let's say the whole procedure, instead of taking a half-hour, will take an hour, or for argument's sake, two hours. Still, what's the big deal? So now your whole trip across the Atlantic, from start to finish, will be eight hours, rather than six.

Cross the Atlantic in eight hours? To the passengers of the Mayflower, that'd sound like a miracle, considering it took them 65 days. Of course they had only sail, but catch this: 250 years later, steamboat crossings could take from 25 to 100 days, and into the 20th century they could still last 10 days.

Of course airplanes changed all that. But, still, in 1945 the first commercial passenger flight took 14 hours.

And if you add in the dangers of early ship and aircraft travel, the time factor might not be the biggest hassle at all.

What it all means to me is international travel has never been so fast, safe and convenient.

Admittedly, I wasn't subjected to a full body scan, which is being touted by its detractors as the greatest threat to personal freedoms since J. Edgar Hoover shuffled off this mortal coil.

The big issue there, as I understand it, is some unscrupulous flunky will take a picture of a body scan and then download it and put it on the Internet.

To which, my only response is this: If some jamoke wants to send an image of my wretched corpus throughout the cyber-universe and some other jamoke actually wants to look at it, more power to them!

 
 

 

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