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The open road

I don’t object to a stopover at Narita, the airport in Tokyo. It’s a chance to have some Japanese food in an airport cafeteria (I choose the most exotic meal on offer, grilled eel, since we have plenty of sushi in Great Barrington). More important, I get to experience a civilized airport culture, and pleasant manners even at the security checkpoint. I have become so tired of U.S. security, where the rules are excessive and intrusive and the people are surly, suspicious, and at the same time lax. I can’t count the times I’ve gone through checkpoints where the guards are busy with personal conversations, pausing only to snarl directions at hapless passengers.

There was a sign here, as I entered the International Connections checkpoint (I’m en route to Beijing), about new U.S. rules about liquids. This naturally raised the question of why, in a world fraught with conflicts, the United States seems to be positioned as the global victim of terrorism. Not so, by the statistics, as our Patterns of Global Terrorism (written, largely, by the U.S. State Department) shows so clearly. Why do they, as President Bush and other put it, hate us? I don’t believe that ‘they’ hate us for our freedoms. They may hate the U.S. because it is rich and powerful—human nature, really—but the more I see and read, the more I think it comes down to three things arrogance, hypocrisy, and greed. There is much to love about America, or so I think, but those characteristics are unattractive, and increasingly dangerous.

I found myself thinking of Toad in Wind in the Willows as I looked at the flight board. It’s exciting to be in the big wide world outside Europe and the U.S., and my heart beats faster when I see all the places people are travelling to . . . I feel the call of the open road.

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