Before the old year passes out of sight and I’ve broken the last of my New Year’s resolutions, I’d like to relieve myself of a few opinions I didn’t unload when I should have. For example:

The Friendly Skies: I have never been a great fan of flying, an experience I compare unfavorably to being strapped into your seat in a stagecoach as it travels through hostile Indian country. At least a stagecoach has scenery.

You come to the terminal hours before your flight. You have to take off your shoes, unpack the single suitcase you’re allowed, and then repack everything before being strip-searched by an attendant with an electronic wand. God forbid if you forget about the nail file in your pocket. You’ll be lucky to avoid waterboarding.

If you pass your physical, you’re herded onto a crowded plane and into seats with legroom designed for Toulouse Lautrec. Then they tell you the flight’s delayed for a couple of hours, at which point the clown in front of you cranks back his seat—pinning you into yours.

Eventually you take off, too late to make your connection. You find that they don’t serve free water anymore, let alone juice, nor will they let you go to the bathroom an hour before landing (and good luck with that if you’ve forgotten your Depends). By the time you get where you’re going, they’ve given your hotel room to someone else and the airline has lost your luggage.

Which doesn’t even begin to speak to your biggest worry—suicide bombers. For example:

Umar Farouk Abdulmatullab—the young Nigerian who got on an airliner in Amsterdam with explosive material strapped to his crotch, intending to blow up the plane over Detroit. (Detroit! As if Detroit didn’t have enough trouble.)

This after his father warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son had gone off the rails and might be planning a terrorist attack on the United States.

And after the embassy had passed that information along to the National Counterterrorism Center.

And after the National Security Agency intercepted an al-Qaeda message saying that they were sending a Nigerian over to bomb a plane.

And after…well, a whole bunch of stuff.

To which I’d like to say: His crotch? He strapped a bomb to his crotch? I don’t pretend to understand the workings of the suicidal/mass-murdering mind, but if one of the perks for a Muslim suicide bomber is the 72 virgins waiting for him on the other side, why would he blow up the plane with his crotch? Better he should blow it up with his head; he’s not using it, anyway.

Thankfully, the attack was thwarted by a Dutch passenger who noticed that the guy was on fire and put him out before any explosion could occur.

In trying to assess responsibility for the incident, the State Department blamed the Counterterrorism Center, which blamed the CIA. Dick Cheney then blamed President Barack Obama and the White House answered by blaming former President George W. Bush. Finally, the Department of Homeland Security said the episode proved the system worked and Obama said no, it didn’t. I blamed Joe Lieberman, but that’s just me.

All agreed that the information on Mr. Abdu…call him Umar, didn’t get sufficiently passed around. What they didn’t tell you is that it never does and it never will.

Intelligence agencies don’t deal in intelligence, they deal in secrets. They make their livings and reputations on the quality and quantity of secrets they accumulate. It’s the coin with which careers are bought. If you give your secrets to other people willy-nilly, you will have none to use for yourself.

Such is the way of the world.

You know we’ve had a bad year when the feel-good story is that the swine flu wasn’t as bad as they expected it to be.

We look forward to better times.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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