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Collateral Damage 

Wednesday, Dec 26 2001
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Photo by Ted Soqui

In: Firefighters
Out: Airport screeners

No chapter in the story of September 11 moved Americans more than the deaths of the 343 New York City firefighters who rushed the smoking World Trade Center towers without pausing to think that they might be running headlong into their own funeral pyres. And nothing more clearly italicized the cruelty of the attack against New York than the heartless reward these men received for their reflexive courage. In the national conversation that followed the attacks, airport screeners were collectively held responsible for the lapsed security of that terrible day. All of us seemed to have a story about some dumb, underpaid screener who had either capriciously held us up or waved us on without noticing the bazooka sticking out of our carry-on bag. Now, under the Airport Security Act, many of them might be out of a job — the act’s citizenship requirement would disqualify about 40 percent of the more than 1,000 screeners at LAX alone.

In: “God Bless America”
Out: “The Star-Spangled Banner”

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Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner,” proclaimed as our national anthem in 1931, has never rolled off the tongue very easily. Its lyrics almost defy recitation, and many a vocalist has suffered career ignominy at baseball stadiums and national political conventions. (The tune’s jagged melody possibly owes its erratic structure to its drinking-song origins.) From the mountains to the prairies, however, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” gently inspires its singers to unexpected heights, whether they are members of Congress arm-in-arm on the steps of the Capitol or Robert De Niro’s friends at the end of The Deer Hunter.

In: Christopher Hitchens
Out: Alexander Cockburn

The two radical expat Brits typically landed on different sides of the September 11 fence when it came to pointing fingers and counting roosting chickens. Christopher Hitchens has always fancied himself the Orwellian conscience of the left, while it seems that Cockburn wouldn’t support an American military action if Martians landed. Now Hitchens is something of a celebrity (the reasonable leftist who knows the difference between imperialism and self-defense), while Cockburn has been consigned to a Tora Bora cave along with Noam Chomsky.

In: The Daily Show
Out: Politically Incorrect

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart has received universally good marks for his show’s laconic handling of the crisis, especially for his skewering of the anthrax panic. Poor Bill Maher was immediately crucified for suggesting, on Politically Incorrect, that men who bomb Third World countries to rubble by pushing buttons on naval destroyers or from five miles up in the sky are hardly brave. Then he made it worse. He apologized — twice.

In: Uzbeks
Out: Pushtuns

Afghanistan’s opposition Northern Alliance is dominated by ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazari, while the Taliban are mainly drawn from Pushtun tribes. When fighting the Soviets, the latter were hailed as the plucky Pushtuns by Western editorial writers, but are now yesterday’s Kurds. Although our gallant ally General Pervez Musharraf, the “president” of Pakistan, has repeatedly insisted that the Pushtuns must not be pushed from power sharing in post-Taliban Afghanistan, his concerns will likely have as much influence upon President Bush as his insistence on a Ramadan bombing halt.

In: Rudy Giuliani
Out: Jesse Jackson

Soon after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the world was further shocked by the news that New York’s lame-duck mayor was emerging as a calm, consoling and even heroic leader — a description that would have been unthinkable at any previous point in his eight-year tenure. Jesse Jackson, though, couldn’t win. Despite a reasonably good track record of negotiating prisoner releases with hostile countries, Jackson’s early attempt to talk nice with the Taliban just seemed like grandstanding by an unelected celebrity trying to dodge tabloid headlines about his extramarital affair and illegitimate daughter. Then it was revealed that Jackson had first contacted Mullah Omar before receiving the Taliban’s invite. “Like herpes simplex,” sneered the conservative Weekly Standard, “Jesse Jackson never really goes away — he just lies dormant.” Time, on the other hand, made Giuliani its Person of the year.

In: Anthrax
Out: Asian flu

September 11 banished the Asian flu from the public consciousness more effectively than a timely inoculation. Or rather, the date was October 5, when the first anthrax death was reported in Florida. Suddenly the seasonal news stories about stronger strains of the flu were put on pause — at least until the FBI declared that the aerosolized anthrax was probably the work of an American terrorist and not the labs of al Qaeda.

In: Sandals
Out: Platforms

Let’s face it, hell is other airports. And, with one passenger’s recent hot-foot antics aboard an American Airlines flight, breezing through security with bomb fuses trailing from your shoes can no longer be taken for granted. The new rule of thumb will be, the bigger the heel, the more attention — which, in Holywood, means business as usual.

In: Black Hawk Down and The Siege
Out: Three Kings and Fail-Safe

Prepare for a round of rousing America’s Burden films and a radical falloff of films attempting to depict Third Worlders as anything but fanatical cannibals. Forget anything in which airplanes and big buildings go boom! On the bright side, Hollywood’s new alliance with the White House promises to produce a crop of public-service trailers that will ripen to “duck and cover” camp status in about 20 years.

In: Heroes
Out: Martyrs

Today, every American who puts in an eight-hour day is a hero, providing he or she still has a job. Forget the FDNY — even someone who merely buys a Ford Explorer seems poised to receive a Purple Heart. Then again, Americans have had their fill of martyrs, those dangerous loons who sacrifice themselves (and others) for something besides money.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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