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November 26, 2010
It’s probably unfair to dismiss the "Blizzard of 2010" as a complete dud. The storm that caused all kinds of preemptive school closures and the like did meet expectations in the wind and cold categories. Freeways were closed by drifting snow, and there’s no disputing the bitter cold out there. But in the snow department, it fizzled.
Leading up to the storm, the National Weather Service forecast information was showing some pretty impressive snow totals. In the forecast for my immediate area, the estimated totals on Tuesday included things like "4 to 8 inches" on Tuesday afternoon, with "8 to 12" Tuesday night. I’m not great at math, but that would seem to be an expected range of 12 to 20 by Wednesday morning. It was enough that I got up in the middle of the night to check to see if I had to do some plowing. Twenty inches is about the limit of what my equipment can handle. If they got it wrong on the low side, and 20 inches turned into much more than that, I would be in trouble.
The TV weather people, who had been delirious over the storm for a week, started to backpedal by the 10 p.m. reports on Tuesday. "We never said this was a big snow event," said Sterling Poulson of Channel 2. Yes you did. I have the tape. All week he was talking about 3 feet of new snow in the mountains. It just didn’t happen. The power didn’t even flicker at my house. A butterfly flapping its wings in China is enough to knock the power out in Woodland.
Given the hoopla about the storm, I was getting ready for an evening in the dark; the woodstove was raging and the flashlights were out. But the lights stayed on, no trees fell across the driveway, the Yeti stayed deep in the woods, and there isn’t enough snow to bother plowing. But it’s very cold. Give them credit for getting that part right.
The big news going into the holiday travel season is the new airport security system. You’ve heard it all the new scanner that creates an x-ray vision view of you buck naked to see if you are packing explosives in your colostomy bag. The new scanners use a process that is perfectly safe, according to the people who make the machines (and if you can’t trust them, who can you trust?). My nephew spent about 12 years training to be a radiologist. The TSA people probably get nearly a week of training before they are irradiating people in airports. But it’s perfectly safe.
If you are skeptical about the new machines and the long-term impact they might have if you fly a lot, you can opt out and get an enhanced pat down instead. The pat-down process has been drawing all the attention because it is very invasive. It’s a pretty thorough groping enough so that the former Senator from Idaho is spending even more time hanging out in airports than before.
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I certainly don’t want to put up with any of it. I don’t want to be electronically scanned with an unproven machine, or have some stranger in rubber gloves groping me. I’m not carrying any explosives. On the other hand, I fully expect them to search you thoroughly to ensure my safety. Of course that’s the problem. When they wrote the Constitution, the founding fathers were strangely silent on the rights of air travelers. It’s not a fundamental right to fly. If you don’t like it, ride your bike.
It always looks like TSA is reacting to yesterday’s issues and not looking ahead. We had an unsuccessful shoe bomber, and we now take our shoes off at airports. We had an unsuccessful shampoo-bottle bomber, and now we can’t travel with containers larger than 3 ounces but you can travel with a whole suitcase full of 3-ounce bottles. An unsuccessful underpants bomber has us all showing our privates at the gate. So the next attempt will be something implanted, and we will all get a CAT scan before boarding the plane.
Is it a reasonable price to pay for safety, or a rude intrusion that doesn’t really accomplish much? So far it is only at airports because of Al-Qaeda’s obsession with airplanes. But what happens when an underpants bomber tries to blow up a subway, football stadium, or a shopping mall? Will there be full-body scanners at the base of every ski lift, or just Payday?
Air travel has become cruel and unusual punishment under the best conditions. I’m quite happy to drive most places I travel. But I have a hard time looking at constantly changing and rather easily defeated airport security measures, and thinking that we have accomplished much.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland, and has been writing this column for nearly 25 years.