And now you can't bring your cup of coffee on board the airplane. It's the latest new rule laid down by the nation's security wizards. Everyone knows it's ridiculous - the notion that you can toss together a few liquids and make an explosive is a fiction from late-night movies. You might as well prohibit bald men on the grounds that the evil Lex Luthor was bald and so was Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE.
But we ditch our venti latte in the trash barrel (goodbye, four bucks) and board the flight, and there we read in the paper that aggressive CIA questioning of an al-Qaida bigwig - stripping him, turning the air conditioner to 40 degrees, blasting him with Red Hot Chili Peppers music - broke him, so he ratted on Jose Padilla, a terrorist who set out to make a dirty bomb and who believed that by swinging a bucket of uranium in a circle over his head, he could separate plutonium. It's like a cartoon.
The way to stop terrorists on planes is to encourage passengers to bring loaded firearms aboard: guys in orange vests sitting in exit rows with deer rifles on their laps, ladies with Mr. Colt in their purses, kids with peashooters. Somebody wake up the National Rifle Association. Does the Second Amendment say, "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed except on commercial airliners"? Where are the right-wingers when you really need them?
This way, if some guy in a burnoose sets up a chemistry lab in row 24 and mixes hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid and acetone in a big beaker that is packed in 15 pounds of dry ice to keep it cool, and cooks up some triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, the passengers will be able, in the several hours it will take him to make the deadly explosive, to bring him under control, assuming the fumes haven't knocked him out. And they could nab the mastermind, too, the monocled guy in first class petting the white cat.
It all began with the name Homeland Security. Somebody with a tin ear came up with that, maybe the pest exterminator from Texas, or Admiral Poinduster, because, friends, Americans don't refer to this as our homeland. It's an alien term, like Fatherland or Deutschland or Tomorrowland. Irving Berlin didn't write "God Bless Our Homeland." You never heard John Wayne say, "Men, we're going over that hill and we're going to kick those krauts out of there. And we're going to raise the flag of the homeland."
"Homeland" was a word you heard shrieked by a cruel man flicking his riding crop against his shiny black boots: "Zie homeland - ve shall defend it at all costs!" Americans live in Our Country, America, the nation of nations, the good old U.S.A.
But they couldn't call it the Department of National Security because there was a National Security Agency already, so they created this new Achtung bureau to make us take off our shoes and put the toothpaste in the checked luggage and dump the coffee.
The jihadists we're afraid of are, so far as we know, young Muslim men from the Middle East, not old grandmas named Evelyn and Gladys married to soybean farmers, but nonetheless they pat us down for plastic explosives under our Sansabelts and have us raise our stockinged feet to be wanded for possible toe bombs. It's all to make us feel we're in a movie, and it will have a happy ending.
God forbid somebody shows up at an airport somewhere in the world with an explosive tucked up in his lower colon. The Achtung people will come up with some new security procedures that will effectively kill airline travel, and then this enormous bureaucracy can turn its attention to the nation's highways. Pull over at the checkpoint, get out of the car, open the trunk, take off your shoes, put your hands on the top of the car, turn your head to the right and cough.
They can search each laptop for possible terrorist-type writing and confiscate cell phones, white powder, shoelaces, car keys, pencils, anything sharp or cylindrical or made of glass, and interrogate people randomly, putting them naked into cold rooms with ugly music played at top volume. It's all fine with me. I'm a liberal, and we love ridiculous government programs that intrude on personal freedom.
But where are the conservatives who used to object to this sort of thing?
Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.