Monday, August 21, 2006

When I heard that terrorists had tried to blow up airplanes with nail polish remover, my first thought was, Please. Low-tech airplane terrorism is SO 2001. Clearly there is a lack of imagination at the top. And adding Neosporin to the list of banned substances on flights isn't exactly going to be a major long-term inconvenience, now that we're already leaving our box cutters and nose hair scissors at home. Some overachievers would still fly if the NSA banned clothing and ordered mandatory microchips implanted in each areola.

Americans will never be afraid to fly, at least not for long. Once you get your brain past the notion that you've consented to climb 30,000 feet above the ground in a 250-ton steel port-a-potty that could plummet to earth because of a drunk pilot or a sudden brisk gust, the worry that the guy next to you has a bomb in his Nikes just sort of adds to the adventure. Besides, we want to be in Philadelphia in two hours, not tomorrow night after missing 36 hours of reality television. And we already hate flying. If you want to get our attention, make us afraid to do something we like, like keeping up with celebrities or playing poker online.

The real reason airliner terrorism doesn't scare us is that it's so random. Even if the terrorists had succeeded in simultaneously blowing up ten planes over the Atlantic, that would have been ten out of the thousands of planes that are in the air every minute of every day, around the clock. Sorry, Osama, but Americans will take those odds. Remember, we're the people who spend most of our work days fantasizing about how we're going to spend our Powerball winnings.

I sometimes find myself feeling sorry for our kids who have to inherit this world of terrorism, which is something we didn't have much of back when my generation was growing up. No, our situation was much worse. Kids today have to live with the specter of Osama bin Laden, a clumsy madman who wants to kill a few random Americans with their own jets every 5 years or so. We had to live with a clumsy madman who had the capability to blow up the entire world and almost did it every day. His name was Ronald Reagan.

America won the cold war and the winners get to write the history books, so if you look in the history books you'll read about what a glorious leader Reagan was. But the history books don't do a good job of describing everyday life, minute by minute. If you think the fear of being on that random exploding airplane is bad, try living every moment of every day under the threat that your own addlepated president might cavalierly start a nuclear holocaust, boiling the heart, lungs and pancreas of you and everybody you know. That's everybody everywhere, not just a few hundred people who were unlucky enough to book the wrong flight.

As bad as it would be if hundreds of people died in airplanes, it's still not the kind of thing that touches you personally, especially if you don't fly much. Kiss my ass, but "Mutual Assured Destruction" is a little better at inducing paranoia than "Terror Alert Red." Thank Jesus the weed was weaker back then.

But Reagan and his handlers weren't a one-trick terror pony, merely scaring us all into the fetal position with the daily threat of nuclear Armageddon. They also paved the way for today's low-rent terrorism. In 1986, when he was already busy ignoring the AIDS epidemic, busting unions, turning America's back on the poor via trickle-down voodoo economics, and boosting the crack cocaine trade while launching a vapid anti-drug ad campaign, Reagan's CIA spent billions of dollars to arm the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to fight their jihad against the Soviet Union, and made a punk-ass terrorist named Osama bin Laden into a rock star in the process. That particular covert arms deal – something Reagan famously excelled at in other places -- permanently destabilized Afghanistan, leading directly to the clusterfuck America is currently enduring. At the same time, the senile overachiever was also providing billions of dollars to Saddam Hussein to help Iraq fight its war with Iran. Well, oops.

Is it fair to blame Reagan for all of today's problems? Yes it is. Wait, no it isn't: You also have to blame Bush. But casting blame is not really a huge help with the whole terror thing at this point. What would be a huge help would be to actually learn from the mistakes of the 80s. When we sanction the actions of Bush and his campaign against "Islamic fascism," we shouldn't be thinking of how it'll affect the world today, but how it will affect the world in 2026 and 2036 and 2046. We've all heard the argument that we're creating new terrorists faster than we can kill them, but even those of us who pay attention to that line of thinking seem to think in terms of 2007 or 2008. The fan the real shit's going to hit won't even be plugged in until 2026 – if indeed there's a grid to plug it into at all. Somewhere right now, some woman of indeterminate voluptuousness is pulling up her burkha to make the future Osama bin Laden who's going to produce the shit that's going to hit that fan and he's going to do it because of the atrocities of our current American president and the American criminal-in-chief from the 1980s. And he's not going to do it with fucking nail polish remover.

But look on the bright side, kids. Reagan didn't nuke the world after all. After the decade of insomnia and panic he caused for all people everywhere, the Soviet Union went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Reagan swaggered into the history books, right next to Max Headroom and Timbuk 3. And when the non-nuclear dust cleared, what did we find in the Soviet Union? People, just like us. People who just want to eat some tasty food and be loved and laugh a lot and get a little buzzed sometimes and have a lot of sex and go to a movie and not have to cower in the fetal position from a maniacal half-assed thespian with plastic dyed hair. People like smooth Gorby and drunken Yuri and regular ol' everyday Yakovs and Yanas and Vladimirs and Sashas and Ivans and Aksanas. Pretty much the same people you'll find in Baghdad and Kabul and Pyongyang and Tehran and Darfur. Do we need to be afraid of those people? Sometimes. But here's how often those people have to be afraid of America: Always.

The Soviet threat was just like the purported threat of WMDs in Iraq and the threat of communism in Vietnam and Korea and whatever we were fighting for in Grenada. But somehow the prewar threat never seems to actually pan out.

Wait. Where were we? Oh, yeah. Looking on the bright side. OK, sure, it sucks to read today's stories of suicide bombers and airline terrorists and your vice president shooting people in the face. But at least you don't have to spend every waking moment wondering if a mushroom cloud is going to descend on your Home Depot because your own president, in his dotage, pushed the wrong button. And you know why, kids? Because your president is too stupid to even pronounce nuclear, let alone find the button. See how lucky we are?

Now, can we talk about that bastard Woodrow Wilson? …