Just when things can't get stranger, they do

WHAT a month. If anybody had told you Bush would hide behind the report of a subordinate who's been seeing "progress" in Iraq since 2004, that federal agents would be yanking people off airline flights for their facial expressions, that O.J. Simpson would be looking at prison time, that Saudi women would demand the right to drive ... the mind reels.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus told lawmakers that things are going — surprise — rather well in Iraq, if you look at it right. Although Petraeus also talks openly of "nine or 10 years" being a typical time to get a handle on an insurgency.

They dodged the question of whether it's more important to go after al-Qaida in Iraq or the terrorist training camps around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

During the whole dog-and-pony show, nobody mentioned the elephant in the room, which was that the guys who carry out Bush's military and diplomatic policies were reporting on the progress of those policies. It's like asking an architect how the building turned out. It's like Tony Soprano convening the Commission to ask Paulie Walnuts how the numbers rackets are doing.

TONY — How's da take?

PAULIE — It's up, Tone, wit dem extra guys on the street.

TONY — It stays up, we might pull a few back out.

PAULIE — Sure, T.

TONY — Dat's what you call withdrawing. Dis is hard work. I understand hard work. If we cut and run, the Lupertazzis will move in.

AS IF flying weren't stressful enough, enter "behavior detection squads." These science fiction-sounding agents are not figments of some dystopian future. They are plainclothes agents from the Transportation Security Administration, and they are fanning out around airports to watch you and me.

Their mission: to spot and capture terrorists and evildoers. Their method: to read faces and watch for the fleeting expressions that may signal "stress, fear and deception."

According to the TSA, such expressions may include (but are not limited to): raised and pulled-together eyebrows, exposed whites of the eyes, raised inner corners of eyebrows, the corners of the lips turned down. TSA spokesmen say the expressions they look for may last less than one-fifteenth of a second. Screeners — 600 now, 1,000 by year's end — get four days of classroom training and three days of on-the-job training. That's almost as good as FEMA officials.

Of the 40,000 people they've fingered since January of last year, fewer than 300, or less than 1 percent, were arrested. I feel safer already.

It's not like when you fly you have any reason for stress. It's relaxing to fly. I particularly enjoy parking hassles, long lines, security searches, remembering how much shampoo you can carry, removal of clothing, overbooked flights, late arrivals, missed connections, lost luggage, cramped seats, stale air, dangerous airports, one of the oldest airplane fleets in the world, the deplorable state of the air traffic control system and stale pretzels. It's enough to make the corners of your mouth turn down.

WOULDN'T it be delicious if O.J. Simpson (gaaa! is there no end to this guy?) wound up doing heavy time — for trying to strong-arm a couple guys for some football cards? This for a man who went free after practically decapitating his wife a few steps from where his kids lay sleeping,

SAUDI WOMEN are petitioning King Abdullah for the right to drive cars. Conservative men, firmly in control in Saudi Arabia as almost everywhere else, respond that such a right would leave women free to go where they want, when they want. Such candor is refreshing if un-American.

SO. I'm betting in 10 years Saudi women will be yakking on cell phones while driving mini-vans full of kids fighting over which DVD to watch, air travel will be even more miserable than it is now, O.J. will be playing golf with his pals, and we'll have military forces in Iraq.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

Share This Story