Homeland Insecurity

I had to fly across the entire continental U.S. this last weekend in the name of U.S. national (in)security; the government agency formerly known as the INS, and recently reconstituted within the Department for Homeland Security as the BCIS (Bureau of Immigration and Citizenship Services), summoned me to get another set of fingerprints as part of my green card application, and because my adjustment of status is being processed in California (moving it to the East Coast would add several years to the already glacially slow process), I had to fly all the way from New York to San Francisco for the 20 minute appointment.

In fairness, this lunacy is also partly the FBI’s fault, because they insist that the fingerprints must be less than 12 months old when the case is reviewed (as we all know, fingerprints are notoriously changeable and volatile over the course of a few years). The fact that the INS/BCIS has been processing my application for over three years, and that it takes them between 3 and 6 months to clear one months’ worth of backlog, is still pretty damning though.

I also had a close shave with the Grim Reaper on this trip; as we came in to land at SFO, I heard the undercarriage being lowered and then raised again, and shortly afterwards realized I was looking at the dark mass of the Pacific Ocean on my right — which clearly wasn’t right, since it should be to the left for the approach into SFO. Sure enough, the pilot then announced on the intercom that they had been unable to lower the flaps completely, and that we’d be flying around for a while until they could “troubleshoot” the problem (although kudos to the pilot for being straight with the passengers, rather than either making up some bullshit or just leaving us guessing). I had a window seat just behind the wing, so I had a great view of the not-very-lowered flaps.

Flaps are used to change the aerodynamic properties of the aircraft by altering the profile of the wings, and lowering the flaps facilitates landings by lowering the stall speed of the plane — the plane can fly more slowly without dropping out of the sky like a giant lead duckling.

Anyway, after a couple of loops around the peninsula, we came in for another approach with the flaps still not fully lowered. I’m not sure how fast we were going when we landed; the last reading I got from the SkyMap was 140 mph, and it felt like a relatively normal landing (again, kudos to the pilot of UA 11 on 2003-01-22). But it was clearly a bona fide emergency, because there were fire trucks and other emergency vehicles with their lights flashing all the way along the runway.

So, I most certainly do NOT feel safer in post 9-11, post-Saddam America.

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