Last week’s column highlighting the notion that traveling by airplane these days bites in large part due to passenger malfunction clearly struck a nerve with many readers.
The PWB mailroom staff, an eager but not particularly bright bunch, was overwhelmed with responses, each providing your own experiences with navigating the exciting and joyous world of air travel.
For those of you who missed the column, we can distill the several pages of blather down to one simple mathematical equation:
A – 2B + C/D + E(F – G) = How Much Airplane Travel Sucks
Where A equals passenger common sense, B equals passenger idiocy, C equals number of existing TSA passenger regulations, D stands for number of working lines at the security screening point, E equals price you paid for the airline ticket, F equals your blood pressure and G represents the number of drinks you’ve had before the flight.
It’s all very simple. Anyway, many of the responses plucked from the mailbag were from airline and TSA employees. Contrary to what you might think, they weren’t jumping on the dogpile to complain about passengers who fail to display common sense or consideration for others. The vast majority of airline and TSA employees wrote in to say they appreciated the column, realize there’s room for improvement in the job that they do and always appreciate those passengers who make the effort to work within the system that exists.
One day soon I’ll have to write a companion piece to the airline column… one that deals with hotels. Speaking of which, I was sitting in a hotel room the other day in a big shiny city here in America. Having decided not to fall under the spell of the room’s minibar, where an eight-ounce soft drink costs $5 and opening the can of macadamia nuts means baby ain’t getting’ new shoes, I flipped through the television channels looking for news. And sports. Actually I was looking for sports. News was an afterthought.
The joy of staying in a hotel while traveling on business is that I can sit slackjawed in front of ESPN from dusk till dawn and nobody in my family will look at me like I’m a major goober. Yes, I catch the occasional game at home, but if you’re like me, there’s just too damn much going on around the homefront to justify watching the eight or so hours daily that you need to stay connected to the wide world of sports.
In case you think I’m a simpleton with narrow bandwidth, let me assure you my tastes aren’t limited to football, baseball, basketball, hockey and auto racing. It could be cricket from the West Indies, Aussie Rules Football (a great game by the way) from Perth, rugby from France or camel racing in Dubai… if it’s on, I’m watching. That goes for bowling, girls fastpitch softball, golf at any level, poker tournaments, any equestrian event and curling.
I draw the line at figure skating, ice dancing and soccer. Personally, I think it’s politically incorrect nowadays to say you can’t stand soccer. Frankly, I’d rather suffer through a Barbara Streisand film festival than sit through a professional soccer game.
Mind you, I was born in England, lived many years there, as well as in Australia, and spent most of my adult life in Asia, Europe and assorted other locations where football, aka soccer, reigns supreme. Trust me, I’ve been exposed to soccer. I’ve tried to be mesmerized by it… hoped I’d become emotionally tied to it… but despite the effort, I’m clearly missing the elegance, strategy, joy and beauty of this game.
Here’s a statistic that never fails to amaze me… according to some survey taken at some point by whomever (my PWB research team is just so crappy), more children in the United States play organized soccer than any other sport. You’ve probably heard this, but it should still strike fear in your heart. We shove more kids out onto the soccer pitch than the baseball and softball fields. More kids are strapping on shin guards and chasing the soccer ball than are wearing shoulder pads and colliding into each other at full speed.
Basketball? Nowhere close in numbers.
I know. Soccer is the universal game. You need a ball and some open space and it’s good to go. Girls and boys can get involved and play at an early age. You’re not spending a fortune on equipment or indoor rental spaces. What’s not to like?
My town is a veritable soccer mecca. Each weekend every single man, woman and child can be found at the sports complex where hordes of children seemingly as young as six-months-old try to kick the crap out of the soccer ball as they move up and down the field in one big dust cloud. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect the town council keeps a list of the soccer faithful and duly notes those in town, and there aren’t many, who refuse to drink the soccer Kool-Aid.
Count me in with that small, dysfunctional anti-soccer mob. However, one day I’m sure my new son, now only five-months-old, will toddle up to me and ask to sign up for soccer. As a supportive parent, regardless of my personal feelings about the game, I’m sure I’ll look down into his eager blue eyes and realize the universal appeal of the sport. At which point I’ll tossle his hair, hand him his very first Rawlings mitt and take him out back to learn the art of catching a fly ball.
Obviously I’ve veered off course from today’s topic, which was to be the domestic side of the war on terror. Or as Anderson Cooper calls it, "… the so-called war on terror." That apparently is his patented phrase. Much like "What a load of crap" is the patented phrase here at the Peoples Weekly Brief.
While sitting in that previously mentioned hotel room, after failing to find anything on the sports channels other than ice dancing and reruns of past UEFA Cup soccer matches (yaaaack), I caught a bit of Cooper’s news program. Whenever he referred to the war on terror, he always used the phrase "…the so-called war on terror." This I found curious.
I’m not sure what part of the term "war on terror" he objects to… perhaps he just dislikes the phrase for grammatical or linguistic reasons. Could it be that he doesn’t like the way the war is being fought, so he’s tacking "so-called" onto the word "war" because he thinks we should be fighting it differently? Maybe he doubts that there is a war on terror, hence the “so-called” addition. Possibly, and this is me being speculative, he doesn't think we’re actually in a war and the whole thing has been cooked up by the current administration?
Regardless, it’s always interesting to note the power of words in spinning a particular topic. I’ve noticed several op-ed articles in national papers where the authors seem to have coalesced around the phrase "…seemingly endless war on terror." How’s that for spin?
Al Qaeda declares war on America (and its allies), initiates many deadly, bloodthirsty attacks on innocent persons around the globe (9/11 included) and actively promotes its violent goals through the magic of the media and internet on a constant basis. Lemme' think… is there a war on? Might it take a very long time? Yes on both counts.
For those with short term memory loss, a few pointers that I’m pretty sure are accurate:
—The fact that we haven’t been attacked on home turf since 9/11 isn’t due to a lack of interest on their part.
—The declaration of war won’t be rescinded when the Bush administration wraps up and departs Washington. Whomever claims the White House in the next administration will still be fighting a war on terror.
—Eventually there will be another attack on our soil. You don’t have to engage in fear mongering when the enemy is as committed, dangerous and resilient as Al Qaeda and it’s like minded fundamentalist jihadist ilk.
—You and I will be long gone before the root causes of this current terror threat are successfully dealt with and the world comes together in a big ball of happiness and patchouli scented merrymaking.
I certainly look forward to that day, although I suspect all that global unity and backslapping will undoubtedly lead to a game of soccer.
In the meantime, check out the four-part series on Terror in America being run on Fox News' Live Desk with Martha MacCallum program, starting Nov. 13. There are some very interesting interviews and insights focusing on the threats we face here at home and how we’re working to combat terrorism on the homefront.
As always, we look forward to your comments and insights. While we can’t respond to all of them (primarily because the staff can’t spell worth a damn and finds typing to be very, very challenging) we do take the time to read each and every one, sometimes without silently moving our lips.
Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
Till next week, stay safe.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.