Safety Inspection

by The New Republic Staff | September 19, 2006

I'm on the shuttle, again, from Boston to New York to visit my granddaughter, born last week, and to celebrate the publication of Niall Ferguson's new book, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. I haven't read this one yet. But I've read all his other books, and each of them deals with a significant historical or political topic and is written really gorgeously and argued logically, with a subtle structure of overwhelming evidence. In any case, this post is not about Niall, it's about airplane safety, sort of. ... There has been no news even to hint to us that security has improved on commercial aircraft. OK, don't bring your shaving cream or hand lotion on board. At least at the airports I frequent--Reagan, Logan, LaGuardia--taking off your shoes has become mandatory. Is this an admission that the stand-up machines that scrutinize our bodies have never been able to "deconstruct" our footwear? Or is it a subtle accusation that El Al, British Airways, and other safety-conscious carriers (or their national regulators) are simply taking risks when not x-raying shoes on their international flights? And what do you think about that desultory, no, lazy inspection of your ticket at the machines? Well, in Boston at least, there's a new psychological deterrent to deflect terrorists. At the Transportation Security Administration's checkpoint to the NY and DC shuttles, there's a decorous and dignified American flag, a security weapon I haven't seen anywhere. May God protect us. (For that matter may Pope Benedict protect us.) And maybe the flag can protect us, too. And the Armed Forces as well. There is, on a glass panel after all not 20 feet away from the standing flag, a flat image of the Stars and Stripes--not a Jasper Johns, mind you, but your ordinary and contemporary 50-star version of the Betsy Ross original. Abutting this is a placard, interspersed with decals of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, plus these sentiments: "We support our troops" and "Come home safely and soon." Is this an official declaration? If so, from whom? And how soon? In Bush time? Or Kerry time?

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