What I call the Weird Factor, for lack of a better name, seems to have become a permanent feature of our post-9/11 world, a dark and sinister leitmotif that plays in the background. On 9/11, of course, the Factor was on full display as a whole string of unusual events and unexplained phenomena were visited on us. The 9/11 Commission did little to clear these matters up, for the most part because they didn’t address them. Just a few for the record: Bush reading My Pet Goat to schoolchildren after being told of the attacks, the sudden appearance of the "Israeli art students" — and their buddies, the "laughing Israelis" — in the months and weeks leading up to the attacks, and the apparent passivity of US air defenses on that fateful day.
I mean, how is it possible that the terrorists actually hit the Pentagon, the symbolic fortress of America’s alleged military supremacy? After spending untold trillions on "defense" over the years, a sum that never declines in real terms, and driving ourselves into near-bankruptcy on account of it, how in the name of all that’s holy did nineteen men armed with box-cutters manage to drive Don Rumsfeld stumbling into the street, literally running for his life?
Reclaiming the America... Best Price: $3.59 Buy New $14.00 (as of 10:35 EST - Details) The Weird Factor seems to intensify whenever there is some significant event in our ongoing "war on terrorism," or whatever they’re calling it these days. My longtime readers will be familiar with my theory of how this works. Briefly: on Sept. 11, 2001, the impact of those airliners as they hit the Twin Towers sent us careening into an alternative dimension where up is down, right is left, and torture is the American Way — in short we landed in Bizarro World, where we have been trapped ever since. The post-9/11 cognitive shift that heralded our entry into this alternate dimension is amplified around these incidents, and certainly the most recent — the midair antics of the Undie Bomber — underscores the Weird Factor at its absolute weirdest.
The official narrative has been in flux, due in part to the political firestorm that surrounds the event: President Obama’s characterization of the Undie Bomber as an "isolated" individual, unconnected to a larger network, began to fall apart almost before it was uttered. As the links between Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab and the specter of "al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula" surfaced — along with the incredible story of how Mutallab’s father, a prominent Nigerian banker, personally reported his son to the US embassy and the CIA — the official story had to be amended. Now it’s "the buck stops here," an admission of failure, and the inevitable calls for making everyone’s flying experience more problematic and unendurable than ever.
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Also inevitable was the way the Republicans leapt on the incident to somehow prove the President and his party are "soft" on terrorism, a strangely empty critique that doesn’t seem to consist of anything more substantial than a highly arguable perception of "softness" in the President’s rhetoric. GOPers complained that the President didn’t use the word "terrorism" enough, that his tone lacked the requisite harshness, but when it comes to substantial differences over policy — or over the specifics of this case — the Republican critics come up empty. I won’t be the first to point out that the Bush administration’s response to the Richard Reid/Shoe Bomber incident was nearly identical to the Obamaites’ on this very similar occasion. Team Bush raised the threat level, imposed all sorts of new regulations and restrictions to make air travel decidedly more unpleasant, and were somewhat less self-critical than their successors.
In all of this politicized brouhaha, however, we hear not one word about the various anomalies clustered around al-Qaeda’s latest — and most successful — post-9/11 attempt to sow fear and confusion in the West. I count three:
1) The well-dressed "Indian" man seen accompanying Mutallab at Amsterdam’s Schnipol airport. Michigan attorney Kurt Haskell, a passenger on the flight, was playing cards with his wife in front of the ticket desk when he saw what he considered to be a bit of an odd couple approach the desk and engage in a conversation with the attendant. Mutallab, who looked to Haskell as if he might be a teenager, was dressed somewhat shabbily, and was accompanied by an older "well-dressed" man who looked and sounded like he might be a native of India. When they approached the desk, the Indian did all the talking, explaining that Mutallab didn’t have a passport but needed to get on the flight. The attendant replied that everyone on the flight had to have a passport, to which the Indian retorted that his companion was a Sudanese refugee, and "we do this all the time." Well, then you’ll have to speak to my supervisor, said the attendant, and the odd couple went down a hallway: the next time Haskell saw this "refugee," he was setting his underpants on fire in an attempt to down the plane.