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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

Some weeks the adage, “truth is stranger, or at least funnier, than fiction” gets stuck in my mind, like an old vinyl LP with a really bad warp-and-scratch defect.

This was one of those weeks.

On the political front, we had Democrats all over the place resigning, backing out of elections and switching party affiliations, all of whom indicated in one way or another that they were getting out of the rat race of partisan squabbling and snarky behavior. All of which sent Republicans into gleeful overdrive.

I can’t blame Kathleen Curry, a Colorado Democrat and state legislator from Gunnison, for deciding she would rather be an Independent than a Democrat, which she announced this week. After all, from the outside, it sure looks as though the partisan sniping and back-stabbing of legislative bodies is little different from the turf wars of rival gangs, although the spilled blood among legislators is rhetorical rather than red and wet.

And it was largely the partisan bickering that was distracting her and preventing her from attending to business, Curry said, noting that she wants to continue in elective politics if the party apparatchiks don’t sink her first.

As for Gov. Bill Ritter, who announced he wouldn’t be standing for re-election in 2010, he probably was simply tired of all the crap he was having to put up with. And he undoubtedly knows he can make a lot more money as an attorney or lobbyist than he has as governor. Or maybe he has his eye on higher office – it’s an addictive thing, this “public service” work, and he’s been at it for a while.

It was toward the end of the week, though, that things began to get truly strange, and it had nothing to do with politics. No, it was in the realm of air-travel safety.

It turns out that the Department of Homeland Security agency was all set to scoop up Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the Nigerian kid who allegedly tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, on the very day when he was already in the air heading toward Motor City.

So, rather than the total incompetence they have been accused of since the attempt happened, it now appears they were just a little late. Thankfully, he was no more competent than they were.

But a week later, reports surfaced of a security test gone way wrong in little Slovakia. The security agencies there wanted to test the abilities of their explosive-sniffing dogs at an airport, so they hid two packets of plastic explosives in a passenger’s bags without the passenger’s knowledge. A sniffer dog found one, but got pulled away before the second one turned up, and it went through and into the hold of the plane, which took off despite an warning to the pilot.

Apparently the Slovaks tried to warn Dublin, the destination of the bag in question, but sent a telex to the baggage handlers at Shannon Airport that somehow never made its connection. It wasn’t until a couple days later that Irish authorities, finally aware of the goof, evacuated the poor passenger’s neighborhood and arrested him.

The passenger, unnamed in reports I saw, was soon released, and not charged. And neither the airplane nor his neighborhood block went up in smoke, which might be the only good to come out of this little episode.

It seems to me that, if anything should make the world’s traveling population nervous about the state of air travel, this kind of thing should.

I mean, forget about suicide bombers with explosive underwear. If a state security apparatus is capable of such tardy reactions or utter tomfoolery, where does that leave us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to give up on air travel for good, and stick to trains, boats and automobiles. At least if something goes wrong, I don’t have to worry about a five-mile fall before I can even consider survival.

So, it was a weird week, but it is the beginning of a new decade in a young millennium, in a world that seems both overcrowded and underprepared for the future that awaits us.

Which is another way of saying, if you think this was weird, just wait until …

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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