I accidentally stuck an extra “firmly” into the end of the last report. It was a mistake. It wasn’t my first, and it’s unlikely to have been my last. I’m not alone. To err is human.
In a recent radio report on Vladimir Putin, the commentator compared him to “subsequent” Russian leaders. When American Airlines flight 587, the plane heading for the Dominican Republic, crashed in Rockaway, one of the first reporters on the scene described the community as having a beach on Long Island Sound. The sound is on the other side of Long Island; Rockaway’s beaches are on the Atlantic Ocean.
Those mistakes are not particularly harmful. Others are. In a radio report this morning, a spokesperson for the Northern Alliance — not the Taliban — noted that U.S. bombs are still killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan.
We don’t yet know what caused the deaths in the crash of flight 587. Perhaps it was a mistake. A memorial service was held yesterday in Rockaway, about as far from the Washington Heights Dominican community as it is possible to travel by subway in New York.
There are many differences between the loss of lives in flight 587 and the loss of lives at the World Trade Center. I’m not aware of any televised concerts or memorials being planned for flight 587 victims. Outside of the Dominican community, I know of no funds established to aid the victims’ families. And then there’s another difference.
According to Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, “There’s a lot of illegal immigrants here that have lost relatives, that have lost families, and they’re torn. They don’t want to come forward and identify their dead wives, their husbands, their parents, only because they’re not here legally. They fear that if they say who they are, they’re going to be eventually deported.”
The fear is not limited to illegal immigrants. On Saturday, we again crossed a New York reservoir in a car and saw no security whatsoever — not even a chain-link fence to keep us from tossing something out the window of the car. This time, we weren’t driving. We were with friends who are not U.S. citizens.
They are LEGAL resident aliens, fully documented, with valid, current government-issued green cards. They have been living here for more than 20 years. They are not of middle-eastern heritage. They are not Muslim. They came from a country not accused of harboring any terrorists. They are pillars of their community. But they have expressed concern about what the U.S. government might suddenly decide to do to them — with good cause, I think.
Our government should soon be employing airport security screeners. We will reportedly be paying salaries of $35,000 a year. Amazingly, that’s more than twice what some current screeners have been getting. It’s hard to imagine the screeners at Kennedy or La Guardia airports in New York getting by on $15,000 a year. But it’s not just the money.
On “60 Minutes” yesterday, commentator Andy Rooney said he wouldn’t take the job of an airport security screener for a million dollars. To him, it was an issue of job satisfaction.
“Everyone needs to get some satisfaction from his job, and if you were a security guard, satisfaction would come from catching someone trying to sneak something past you. I’ll bet there are security guards who have worked for eight hours a day for 10 years without ever catching anyone trying to get anything past them.”
Maybe the government should simply pay someone to wander from terminal to terminal at each airport, randomly selecting travelers to carry a (fake) weapon through security. The travelers would probably get a kick out of it, the guards would be more on their toes, and there would be near-constant tests of the system.
That could cut down on mistakes. But mistakes aren’t needed to bypass the system. A ceramic knife, for example, can be very sharp and won’t trigger a metal detector. But it WILL cut a sandwich.
In the “Travel” section of yesterday’s New York Times, Matthew Wald had a piece that covered, among other things, the challenges of getting food when flying. Airlines are cutting back on food service. The long lines for security make travelers worry about spending time eating in airport restaurants outside the security zone. And inside?
“Travelers who order a sandwich at Au Bon Pain at Pittsburgh International Airport may find that the bread looks as if it were hacked apart with a blunt instrument. It was. Security officials have taken away all the knives because the restaurant is inside the security perimeter, and workers behind the counter now have nothing sharper than a spreader, a metal disk originally designed for slathering mayonnaise or mustard on bread.”
There’s always room, however, for good-old American ingenuity. “…at La Guardia Airport, if the line to clear security is long enough, a Wendy’s employee will take your food order as you stand waiting, and deliver your hamburger and fries in time for you to eat them before you reach the security checkpoint.”