Just Shelley

Perpetual State of Fear

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I grew up with duck and cover, fear obsession culminating in that abysmal, overdone, excessively histrionic Day After miniseries years ago. I grew up afraid; made more so, nay encouraged, by my own government. My government, which feared communism more than plague, hurricane, or other phenomena if one judges the amount of energy and wealth expended in defense.

After a while, people got tired of being afraid. We got tired of silly wars with very unsilly death counts. We got tired of being afraid, and turned that fear into laughter and even derision. We watched movies such as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, we protested in the streets, and we created art–book, paintings, photos–in defiance not of government so much, but against fear.

Then the best possible thing happened: The Soviet Union collapsed. The walls of Berlin came down. The hand of friendship was extended to the west, and didn’t we rejoice in the streets?

Not our government, though. The enemy without that we had depended on for so many years was now gone. How can you control a population, if you don’t give them something to fear? Not to worry, though–those in Washington DC are nothing if not creative. We now have a new government-mandated fear. This time the enemy won’t let us down: it won’t take down the walls. It will be nebulous, and undefeatable, made more so by our own actions. We, the last of the generation of ‘duck and cover’ can now rest safely at night knowing that our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, will know fear. Every damn day of their lives.

You see, it is to our government’s advantage to have us be afraid. When we’re afraid, we don’t look around us and see how 43 million Americans still have no health care coverage; the middle class is dwindling while the ranks of the poor are increasing; there are jobs, but too many at wages that can barely cover subsistence living. You can get a happy meal for less than a gallon of gas now, and buying both feeds the same corporate machine which is raking in record profits at a time when our country is teetering on the edge of a major climate and economic shift.

When we, the people, are afraid, we’re so easy to manipulate. People concerned about cost of living? Just parade a few gays around, mention the sanctity of marriage. If that doesn’t work, show an Arab.

Take the events of this past week. The members of the Democratic party in Connecticut did a very rare thing: they kicked out an incumbent candidate in favor of a relative unknown. Why? Because the incumbent no longer represented the views of the people in Connecticut. He, Joe Lieberman, supported the war in Iraq; almost fanatically. They, the voters, do not.

What was the result of this action? Leading Republicans come out saying that the Democratic party was being manipulated by the ‘extreme’ element, and that it was soft on security; completely forgetting that many members of the Republican party itself are against this war in Iraq now; completely disregarding everything that’s been uncovered the last few years that proved–proved– that iraq was not a threat; absolutely ignoring the growing belief that rather than make our country more secure, we’re just creating more support for those who would have been most likely eliminated if we had just focused our energies in the correct direction.

As fate would have it, the very next day we had another terrorist scare. This time dozens of people from throughtout the world were arrested for a plot to create untold numbers of dead. What were the headlines? “Unimaginable death and destruction?” Yet, this is a world that watched as a tidal wave killed a quarter of a million people a little over a year ago because there were no early warning systems in place. This not counting the thousand who died from Katrina last year, the hundreds from the heat this year, the thousands who die daily from something as simple as hunger.

(Unimaginable death and destruction. Tell, me: how many planeloads of people does it take to equal the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq? Now, how many to equal the number of civilians killed in Iraq and Lebanon? If they were on planes, would their deaths ‘mean’ more?)

Exactly how far will this newly refreshed fear be driven? All the way to November? Let’s see how this impacts on flying. The following are the restrictions for carry-on baggage from American Airlines:

Passengers Transiting In The United Kingdom Only
All U.K. transiting passengers will be required to check any carry-on items they bring to the airport regardless of origination. Passengers who have already departed the U.S. and will be connecting in the U.K. will not be allowed to use the transit area within U.K. airports and will be routed back to the ticket counters to check their carry-on luggage.

All Flights Departing From The United Kingdom
All carry-on baggage must be processed as checked baggage for all flights departing from airports in the United Kingdom (U.K.). American Airlines will waive excess baggage charges through August 17, 2006, for those passengers who need to check their carry-on bags due to these new restrictions, up to a maximum of two excess pieces. All other baggage rules apply.

Nothing may be carried in passengers’ pockets. Passengers may only take the following items through the airport security checkpoint, in a single transparent plastic bag:

* pocket size wallets and pocket size purses plus contents (money, credit cards, identity cards, etc. but not handbags or purses)
* travel documents essential for the journey (passports and travel tickets)
* prescription medicines and medical items sufficient and essential for the flight (a diabetic kit for example), except in liquid form unless verified as authentic.
* eye glasses and sunglasses, without cases
* contact lens cases, without bottles of solution
* for those traveling with an infant: baby food, milk (the contents of each bottle must be tasted by the accompanying passenger) and sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight (wipes, creams, disposal bags)
* female sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight, if unboxed
* tissues (unboxed) and/or handkerchiefs
* keys (but no electrical key fobs)

If an item does not appear in the list above it is NOT allowed. Additionally, no liquids, gels or other items of similar consistency are permitted to enter the sterile areas. This also includes liquids and gel products purchased as duty free.

There’s nothing I would like better than to be a woman having to board a plane holding tampons in hand. How about holding tampons in one hand, baby in another, and having to taste my own pumped mother’s milk, just to verify that it isn’t nitro. Better yet: having to do so while checking in my laptop and camera, so that the baggage handlers can use them as footballs just before they get stolen. Actually, there’s some comfort in this: the camera and laptop will be so badly damaged, the thieves won’t be able to sell the items.

Personally, I’d love to see a policy severely limiting carry-ons. I get tired of people who bring their entire household with them on the plane. But until airlines realize you have to get baggage handlers who actually give a damn about their jobs, and then pay them accordingly, as well as actually developing consistent global security policies that are worth something more than news bites, forgive me if I look at all this recent fooflah as nothing more than political maneuvering.

As for this new round of fear, just like in the 1960’s you can only push fear at people for so long before they push back. It’s time for our government to be afraid, very afraid. Not of terrorists, but of laughter.

zeFrank’s Be Afraid–funny and serious, an explosive combination. Don’t take this man on a plane in your carry-on.

Mr. Science says Let’s all pour our liquids into the same container in a crowded airport terminal and see what happens, shall we? (Don’t try this at home, kids.)

And you know what’s really funny? Laughter scares the shit out of the terrorists, too.

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