The US government is poised to embark on an extraordinarily dangerous war. Everyone from CIA pundits to left icon Noam Chomsky says this war will substantially increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks on US citizens. This same US government, when it receives intelligence regarding a "dirty bomb" and other imminent threats, tells its citizens to go out and buy water, flashlights, plastic - and duct tape.
After this superb piece of advice hits the channels everybody piles into their Subaru's and S.U.V.'s and heads for Wal-mart. A bit later, the biological and chemical warfare experts weigh in. They make a few points. One, probably you can't seal all your windows and doors. Two, if you did, you'd suffocate. Three, the seal will only be effective for two hours. Then, those deadly vapors will start seeping inside your home.
Confronted with these criticisms, a Bush spokesman says, Oh, it's not so effective after all, but we wanted folks to feel "less helpless."
This loony counsel makes us feel less helpless? No, it enrages us.
On another occasion the US government employed duct tape. Cut to the sleepy village of West Valley, a stone's throw from Buffalo, New York. The setting: a failed nuclear reprocessing plant, shut down in 1972, after only six years of operation. (Reprocessing is the technique whereby radioactive fuel is chopped up and put into chemical baths, so that plutonium can be siphoned off and fed into nuclear weapons.)
Those six years of reprocessing in upstate New York generated a heck of a lot of poisonous nuclear waste, which was duly buried on site.
Fast forward to 1983. A suspicious amount of plutonium showed up where it wasn't supposed to be. The toxic stuff was headed for a creek that fed into another creek that dumped into Lake Erie, the water supply for Buffalo.
After a couple of years, finally, somebody decided they'd better dig up the steel containers in which the plutonium had been buried. What did they find? The steel containers were empty. Their tops had fallen off and the plutonium-contaminated contents had leaked out. Why did the tops fall off?
The steel tops had been affixed to the steel drums with - you got it - duct tape. Plutonium is named after the Greek God of Hell, Pluto, for a reason. This particular poison is going to be hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. And the tiniest speck of it can cause lung cancer.
The inanity of sealing a nuclear waste container with duct tape is mind-boggling. The mind says, No. It couldn't be. The West Valley duct tape scam, unlike the current one, never got into the news. However, plenty of local citizen activists who were monitoring the cleanup at West Valley knew about it. They, in fact, ferreted the information out of reluctant Department of Energy officials at repeated public meetings.
The mindset of the two uses of duct tape is exactly the same. Take an unimaginably dangerous situation and make it indescribably worse by applying a worthless band-aid that will fall off in a matter of minutes.
Which duct-tape scam is worse? One shudders to think how many duct-taped tanks at nuclear burial grounds all over the country have spread contamination far and wide.
The Homeland Security duct-tape caper also contaminates. With the latest Orange Alert, fear is sown far and wide. Next, pictures of moms, toddlers in tow, pushing shopping carts loaded to the gills with duct tape hits the news media. Fear levels ratchet even higher. Presto, more panic and more support for the war - even if the war is against the wrong people, even if it is a war that will cause terrorist attacks to proliferate exponentially.
There could be a silver lining. When the gullible public wakes up and realizes they've been snookered, they've just bought a bunch of worthless plastic and duct tape, anger replaces their fear, and they start asking questions. Like, just who is protecting me and who is putting my life and the lives of my family and children in jeopardy?
The answer seems pretty clear.
Mina Hamilton is a writer based in New York City. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org