Now, our final few of the country's "most absurd" anti-terrorism security measures, as submitted by airline pilots, the military, security experts and ordinary citizens.
"The most absurd measure I've seen are security guards in the Presidential Towers in Crystal City confiscating penknives of active duty military members in uniform," writes an U.S. Navy commander, who orders anonymity.
"I asked the guard what they were afraid of, 'That we would hijack the building and run it into the one next door?' If so, it's not even an effective practice as office buildings are equipped with scissors, letter openers and even hammers."
Gary Lambert of Lafayette, Calif., writes: "At the Oakland Airport, I saw a 70-plus-year-old woman helped up from her wheelchair ... patted down, and helped back to her wheelchair."
Before boarding a flight to San Jose, Calif., Daria Hadrovic, of Lansing, Mich., purchased a Diet Mountain Dew from the airport gift shop. The security guard "took the pop out of my hand ... made me open it and take a swig out of it. I can only assume that the ... (terrorists') carrier of choice is a white, freckled, red-headed, 5-foot-11-inch female in her early 30s."
Mark, of Los Angeles, flew 120,000 miles in 2002 aboard partner airlines Northwest and Continental. He filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration after one caffeine-induced flight aboard a Northwest "red-eye" departing Los Angeles International Airport.
As he told the FAA, his first-class flight attendant was more concerned about reading her novel than preventing somebody from slowly prying open the cockpit door. In fact, she took her book to the back of the plane, leaving the first-class galley unoccupied.
"When she failed to return to the galley, I poured a cup of coffee for myself," he says. "After about 20 minutes (when) she still hadn't returned to the forward galley, I went looking for the cabin crew ... No flight attendants were to be found.
"I went back to first class and poured another coffee for myself. During the next 45 minutes or so, I poured a few more. Still no sign of the cabin crew. After about 75 minutes since last (seeing) a cabin crew member, I was pouring another coffee when one of the flight attendants from the main cabin tapped me on my shoulder, asking if she could get me something."
An FAA official in Washington later awakened Mark at 5:30 a.m. Pacific time to say that while the three attendants in question denied his accusations, "she doubted the missing flight attendants would be 'missing' on the future flights."
"How about sporting events?" says 69-year-old John A. Dinsmore, of Oneida, Wis. "Last fall, I attended a (Green Bay) Packer game at Lambeau Field, which accommodates about 63,000 fans. A security officer confiscated my 3-inch pocketknife. When I queried why, I was told I could be dangerous to the fans."
He then asked, "who would pick up my body pieces if I attempted something against" all those Packer fans?
Finally, Don Derham thought it was silly for security at Florida's Walt Disney World to search his young daughter's purse. "Why a 7-year-old girl needs a purse is itself a baffling question," he says.
Uncle Sam's libido, it seems, is too high.
The world's top buyer and distributor of condoms is the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.
"Since 1986, this single federal agency has spent $427.8 million on condoms, close to half a billion," says a congressional aide in the know (U.S. taxpayers pay about 5 cents per condom to keep the world's population at manageable levels).
"This is not the total amount of condoms purchased by the federal government, but rather only by one agency, USAID," the official points out.
The Philippines alone, he adds, has received $7.5 million worth of these condoms - so many that its citizens are using them as party balloons. In fact, the official cites the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which reports the country is dealing with a similar oversupply of U.S. contraceptive pills by using them to fertilize exotic plants.
"Our supply is so high that in provinces people running health centers use the pills to grow orchids and the condoms for party balloons," says Philippine Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit, who wasn't too upset when USAID recently announced a cutback on birth-control assistance.
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is once again coming under attack on Capitol Hill for its purported links to the terrorist underground.
Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, was making the case this week against the United States going to war against Iraq. In doing so, he cited a chart of al-Qaida "high-value targets" the United States wants captured.
"Number one is Osama bin Laden," he said. "And then there is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the one they just caught. Then there is Abu Zubaydah. ... What is interesting about all of this - tier 1, tier 2, tier 3 - is Osama bin Laden is a Saudi. (Ayman Al-) Zawahiri is Egyptian. Saif Al-Adel is Egyptian. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is Pakistani.
"Then down here is a Jordanian, a Palestinian, a Saudi, a Yemeni, an Indonesian, a Kuwaiti and an Egyptian. One thing kind of leaps out at you: Not one of them is an Iraqi. You would think that if Iraq were so closely tied in with al-Qaida, they might have some operatives in there."
The senator continued: "Look at all ... the high-value targets, and more than just a few are Saudis. Maybe that ought to be the target of our invasion. After all, we know it has been the Saudis who, with their deep pockets, have been funding the fundamentalists in their efforts in that part of the world.
"It is the Saudis, with their deep pockets, who have been buying and paying for Al Jazeera television with all of the inflammatory tirades against the United States and Israel that come across that television station. Not Iraq. It wasn't Saddam Hussein paying for that. It was the Saudis paying for it."
In fairness, Mr. Harkin said, the United States should perhaps attack Egypt, too.
The chief of the FBI's crisis-negotiation unit, who was negotiation team leader during sieges at Waco, the Montana Freemen ranch and the Japanese Embassy in Peru, and who was an adviser on the recent Beltway sniper case, is now negotiating in the private sector.
Gary Noesner has become vice president of crisis and security management for Control Risks Group, which has its new North American headquarters in downtown Washington. Apart from numerous Middle Eastern terrorist and counterintelligence investigations, Mr. Noesner since 1990 managed to negotiate more than 120 kidnappings for the FBI, taking him from Africa to the Philippines.
He also played key U.S. investigative roles in the hijackings of the Achille Lauro, TWA Flight 847, Pan Am Flight 73 and Kuwait Airways Flight 422, and was deployed to Lockerbie, Scotland, after the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing.
Joining Mr. Noesner as a vice president for crisis and security management is Wells Goddin, an Alexandria native who for 12 years was a U.S. Army Special Forces and special-operations officer assigned to counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and unconventional-warfare operations in the jungles of Central and South America.
Since joining CRG in 1997, Mr. Goddin has handled international crises from various overseas posts. Most recently, he evaluated the security of U.S. Navy installations worldwide.
AMERICAN IN PARIS
We have to laugh at the creative writer who took liberty with a State Department travel advisory purportedly "warning Americans abroad not to act like Americans."
"Unlike previous alerts, which have warned Americans to keep a low profile or avoid certain destinations, the new advisory notes that it is now unwise to come across as American at all," the author explains.
"As a result, the State Department cautions U.S. citizens to avoid behaviors that could cause them to be singled out as obviously American. These include: the wearing of white socks and tennis shoes; complaining if asked to share a bathroom; threatening to sue over bad service, television reception, or weather."
We've just finished reading "Shattered Dreams: One Hundred Stories of Government Abuse," published annually by the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, with an introduction by Rep. Richard W. Pombo, California Republican, a property-rights activist.
Two of the more outrageous tales in this fourth compilation of 100 tales deal with bats, cats and mice. Oh, and humans, who in no way are at the top of this food chain.
Take Grant Griffin of Bradenton, Fla., for example, who can't sleep in his home anymore thanks to a colony of bats. During the day, the bats sleep in his kitchen sink, as a photograph of "Grant Griffin and friends" clearly reveals. At night, the bats do what bats do best, and Mr. Griffin and his girlfriend have small bat bites on their bodies to prove it.
Because these bats are protected as "native wildlife" in Florida, Mr. Griffin is unable to exterminate them. Similarly, his sympathetic landlord is prevented from screening over all bat entrances and exits because that would cause the bat babies to die for lack of food.
Our second story takes us to Colorado Springs, home to people, cats and the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, listed in 1998 as an endangered species. As a result, the house cats of one subdivision are forced to remain indoors for fear they could eat a mouse.
If the felines disregard the Endangered Species Act, their owners - let's call them the other threatened species in this story - face U.S. government fines of $200,000.
BRINK OF STARDOM
If all goes well in Iraq, one of the nation's top Democrats says, President Bush has the potential of becoming the most popular and powerful president in modern lifetime.
"If that were to happen, Bush would be the most popular president in the modern history of this country and the most powerful," former New York governor Mario Cuomo tells "After Hours with Cal Thomas" on the Fox News Channel. "It would then be very difficult to beat (Mr. Bush) t all, even on the economic issues, where he's a big loser at the moment."
What must "happen" for the Republican president to enjoy such success?
"The miracle solution is Saddam Hussein's not crazy enough to kill himself," Mr. Cuomo explains. "And at the last moment, when you finally resolve the ambiguity created by France and Germany being against us, and the United Nations, and the people in the streets, when you get everybody saying, 'OK, we tried everything, but now the guy just won't disarm, we have to attack.'
"At that point, (Saddam]) says, 'Give me my top 50 people, give me my money, my two sons. I'm not going to wait for 72 virgins up there - I've got 72 virgins here. Let me take them, too, and let me get out of here.'
"If that were to happen," says Mr. Cuomo, "that would be such a triumph, such a relief. The stock market would go through the roof the minute that headline runs, 'Saddam Hussein Leaves in Exile. America Moves In To Democratize.' This country would, overnight, be a spectacular new opportunity."
Could such a scenario play out?
"I said it on Jan. 7 at the Press Club," Mr. Cuomo reminds Mr. Thomas. "Since then, (Defense Secretary Donald H.) Rumsfeld has talked about exile, (Secretary of State) Colin Powell has talked about exile, and the president, every chance the president gets, he says, 'Look, the best thing would be for the guy to leave.'"
SLAP IN THE FACE
A veteran Kentucky congressman is telling CBS President Leslie Moonves to cancel a new reality television series called "The Real Beverly Hillbillies."
In a letter to Mr. Moonves, Republican Rep. Hal Rogers expressed outrage over the proposed program, which moves a family from rural Appalachia to a Beverly Hills mansion and tapes their lives for a year.
Mr. Rogers said the show "will reinforce inaccurate stereotypes that have plagued Appalachian residents for decades."
"As a lifelong resident of Appalachian Kentucky, I am appalled by the very idea of this program, which seeks to humiliate and exploit rural Americans," wrote the congressman. "This program is an insult to the millions of people living in Appalachia, and CBS should pull the plug on this poorly conceived show immediately."
During his 23 years in Congress, Mr. Rogers' primary goal has been to bring jobs and better education and opportunities to constituents in southern and eastern Kentucky, once the home of widespread economic troubles.
He noted that his congressional district has been "coming back to life," and warned that CBS' program would have a devastating impact on those efforts.
"This show is a slap in the face to all that we have accomplished and threatens the positive progress and momentum that have taken years to create," he said.