(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange can’t help but wonder: If we’re safer nowadays than we used to be, why don’t we feel safer?
(LANGE) I’ve found that if you don’t declare a position you hold, people who disagree with you will more openly express them- selves. But the other day somebody on my right was trying to smoke me out. “You’ve got to admit,” he said, “the world is a much safer place since the Bush Administration took office.”
Well, no, I didn’t. First, northern New England hasn’t been unsafe since the War of 1812. Second, there are places in the world Mother and I traveled to five years ago where we wouldn’t venture today. Our blue passport isn’t the guarantee of safety it once was.
I know we can’t get back the security we felt before the attacks on the World Trade Center. But I don’t believe our multi-billion-dollar security systems will stymie any creative and determined terror- ists. I’ve taken off my shoes, had my prostheses palpated, and been rebuked when I left my carryon bag on a shelf in a men’s room while I washed my hands. But feel safer? Not likely.
Our grandson flew into Manchester, New Hampshire, from Seattle the other day. Mother had arranged to meet him at the baggage carousel.
He wasn’t there. After frantic searching, she located him. He had a tag around his neck: “UM” — Unaccompanied Minor – and was being held in a room guarded by a serious young man with an automatic weapon.
Mother went to the gate; they wouldn’t let her in. She had to find the chief of security to get a pass. They checked her purse, and found suspicious objects: a pen knife with a deadly plastic tooth- pick and a pair of tweezers. A tiny flashlight (“What’s this for?” they asked.) and a small silver cylinder. An inspector peered at it. “It’s a dog whistle,” she said.
“Blow it,” he said. “Huh! If it’s a whistle, why doesn’t it make any sound?”
She offered to leave her purse till she got back. Not acceptable. Nothing was. Nobody wants to be the one to let an evildoer through; and I must admit Mother does look like a white slaver. Probably rolls through stop signs, too, when she thinks no one’s looking.
More and more nowadays someone is looking – through cameras hooked up to computers. I was amazed recently to be waved through Customs at the Canadian border. How did they know how harmless we were? How much about us do they know? I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out.
The idea of anyone having the right to look at my library records, credit card purchases, or e-mail is repugnant. There’s nothing to hide; but what would a government spook make of my down- loading weather reports from the Canadian Arctic, eh? He’d assume I was planning something. He’d be right, too: a canoe trip for 2007.
Do I feel safer? Not very likely.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.
Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.