The Political Scene, Post 11 September 2001

So much for the isolationists

As if there was ever any doubt, we now have empirical evidence that we are part of a global political scene. It should now be blatantly obvious that we can not just sit back and assume misery and bloodshed can only happen to "those people over there."

To this writer, there are a lot of things we need to give some thought to.   Perhaps as one of the largest and wealthiest nations on the planet, no matter how we conduct our affairs, we will always be targets for some wacko psychopath.  However, I do think we should try to step back and take a look at ourselves as seen by outsiders.

That is, why do our world neighbors hate us?!

Only a week or two before this attack, while listening to news about our participation (or lack thereof) in the global conference on racism, I commented to some friends that we seem to display an incredible arrogance in our international dealings:

  • Refusing to sign the land mine treaty
  • Refusing to sign the Kyoto agreements because "it might hurt our economy" (none of the many signers were taking a similar risk?)
  • Threatening to unilaterally drop the ABM treaty because it's in the way of developing new warfare technology (even though said technology is outrageously expensive and many well-educated, experienced engineers and scientists believe that realistically it can't work reliably). Maybe this is corporate welfare for the "Military/Industrial complex" that Dwight Eisenhower warned about.

In general, such behavior appears to have worsened since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and especially under the new administration.

On top of this potentially irritating behavior, we have for decades been propping up governments that have been abusive to citizens of the governed country. This has usually been done out of economic interest (regardless of public statements), maintaining our sources of oil, iron ore, copper, etc.  A number of middle-eastern and South American countries fall into this category. (Ah, what ever happened to the Shah of Iran?)

Pragmatic Considerations


One story going around claims that a man designed a cockpit door that is bullet proof and cannot be broken in with an axe.  It cost about twenty-five or thirty percent more than the present design.   When he attempted to market it to airlines a few years back, he was told "we're not interested unless the government mandates its use." Obviously, that mandate is long overdue.

If some of the proposals to restrict carry-on luggage go through, we can only hope something is done to change the liability rules for baggage handling.   As it is now, the maximum airline liability is some low number (around $350) that was established a half century ago.   (Purportedly set by international treaty to cover a suit and a few shirts, back when.)   Perhaps if airlines were fully responsible for any damage caused in handling checked bags, baggage handlers would be better trained and better supervised.   That could reduce loss and damage enough that more people would be happy to check their bags.   Right now I'd really hate to have a $2500 laptop or $10,000 worth of violin and bow moved and loaded by today's baggage handlers.   I have only ever seen one item loaded on a plane that wasn't dropped or thrown on the conveyor -- a huge metal machine part that took six men to carry!

If the carry-on fear is that a passenger will reassemble some bizaare weapon after boarding, how about a creative approach:   Convert most of the current luggage space to solidly lockable cabinets.   Airline personnel would accompany the passengers and supervise stowing of the (thoroughly searched and sniffed) carry-on item(s) in the cabinets.   These cabinets would be locked by ground crew personnel before departure.  (No one could force a flight attendant to open a cabinet in flight, it would be common knowledge that attendants would not have keys.)   At the destination, ground crew personnel would unlock the cabinets and folks could cart their bags away.   The best of both worlds.

Do we need 110 story buildings?

This relates to more than hijacked aircraft banging into them.   Suppose you have any problem in one of those upper floors -- a fire in an office full of papers -- a gas line for heat (or the restaurant stoves on the top floor) ruptured and burning -- how do you deal with it?   You can't get up there from the outside ground level.

Originally, I assumed such tall buildings were to help the filthy rich get even wealthier by squeezing more office space out of a small chunk of real estate.   Now I hear that actually, such super-tall buildings are not particularly economical.   The additional structure required for their support consumes much of the additional floor space.   The World Trade Center was built by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, not some greedy private developer.   It's more a "show off to the world" effort than a sensible development.

The memory of exact details is admittedly a trifle hazy, but a few years back, a building in the Penn Center area in Philadelphia had a fire on about the 11th or 12th floor out of about 20 floors.   There were minimal injuries, but later, after careful analysis of the structure, it wound up being torn down.   Why would we want buildings five and a half times taller!

World citizenship

Let's be a little more careful in our international dealings.   While I certainly don't want us to abandon Israel, decades ago we should have been really putting the heat on them to stop shooting and start talking.  Surely there is enough dependence on US-supplied money and weapons to establish some serious influence there.  Both sides have carried the "eye-for-an-eye" thing so long that it appears neither knows where it started.   There's a whole generation of people in that part of the world who've never known anything but tearing each other apart.

Could we try a little harder to understand how our actions look to the little guy, the person on the street, in other countries?   Our actions should be guided by concern for the rights of all human beings, not just our greed for whatever commodity those beings possess to sell.   Much of the current misery and unrest in the Middle East goes back to actions taken by colonizing countries and other world leaders decades ago, much of it dedicated to preserving the flow of oil.   We in the USA are well out in front of the next closest country when measuring largest per capita energy consumption.

Maybe we should officially discourage "missionaries" from prosletyzing in other countries.   It's not hard to see how waves of "our god is better than your god" could arouse and antagonize members of other long-established world religions.   Some here claim ours is a "Christian country," yet the track record of US "Christians" is not all that impressive.   Over the last two hundred years, we've managed to inflict genocide on the native population, support kidnapping and selling Africans into slavery and support segregation and other forms of racism.   Some religionists are still fighting to make the trappings of their particular version of Christianity official government policy in spite of constitutional prohibitions.

Correcting some of these questionable situations won't automatically stop terrorism, but it might reduce future problems.

Punishing the guilty

Yes, those behind the September 11 massacre should be punished.   I only hope we don't punish a large number of innocent people in the process.   Cruise missiles are relatively precise compared with WWII era saturation bombing or atomic bombs, but I'd hate to be living next door to a place they were targeting.

I propose air-dropping Osama bin Laden and Jerry Falwell onto a small, deserted island.   The major TV and cable networks could bid competitively for the chance to put on a "Survivor" show with some real grit.

I recently heard another creative suggestion -- give Osama bin Laden a sex change operation and force him to live as a woman under a Taliban government.

But seriously, ObL should be held in solitary confinement for life, in a cell surrounded by copies of the wanted posters and memorials posted on the walls in New York.

D. W. Thomas 12 October 2001