The Transportation Security Administration, eager to fit everyone with an ever-tighter security belt, promises to ease the hassle at the airports.
The agency wants to eliminate the ban on razor blades and small knives and restrict intimate pat-downs. Some airport pat-down agents could teach honeymooners about up close and personal. Federal judges, congressmen, Cabinet ministers and governors -- just the people the rest of us are suspicious of -- would get aboard without a search.
Inspectors will continue to harass innocent passengers to avoid inconveniencing actual terrorism prospects. The Bush administration won't use profiling because it doesn't want to hurt the feelings of the fanatics who are determined to kill the rest of us. Government officials who ride to the airport in motorcades behind security agents armed with enough artillery to stop a Panzer division will continue not to be inconvenienced, of course.
This is infuriating, but one version of a multiple-choice questionnaire circulating on the Internet demonstrates just how difficult it is to find a common characteristic among terrorists. The next terrorist will no doubt be named Mohammed, but he might be your mother, your pastor or even the little girl from down the street peddling Girl Scout cookies.
The questionnaire reveals the government's dilemma:
1. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles by (a) Superman, (b) Jay Leno, (c) Harry Potter, or (d) a Muslim man between 17 and 40 years old.
2. In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped and killed at the Munich Olympics by (a) Olga Corbett, (b) Sitting Bull, (c) Arnold Schwarzenegger, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
3. In 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was taken over and 90 Americans were held for 444 days by (a) Sen. Strom Thurmond, (b) Elvis, (c) a tour group of Minnesota grandmothers, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
4. During the 1980s, several Americans were kidnapped in Beirut by (a) John Dillinger, (b) the king of Sweden, (c) the pope and a gang of Cardinals, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
5. In 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon was blown up, killing 220 Marines, by (a) a Domino's Pizza delivery man, (b) the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, (c) Catherine Zeta-Jones, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
6. In 1985, the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked and a 70-year-old American passenger thrown overboard in his wheelchair by (a) Davy Jones, (b) Brooks Robinson, (c) the Little Mermaid, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
7. In 1985, TWA flight 847 was hijacked at Athens and a U.S. Navy diver trying to rescue passengers was murdered by (a) Captain Kangaroo, (b) William Jennings Bryan, (c) Mother Teresa, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
8. In 1988, Pan American Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb in midair by (a) Butch Cassidy, (b) the Sundance Kid, (c) the Tooth Fairy, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
9. The World Trade Center was bombed the first time in 1993 by (a) Stonewall Jackson, (b) Michael Jordan, (c) Winston Churchill, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
10. In 1998, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by (a) Baby Snooks, (b) Hillary Clinton, (c) the World Wrestling Federation, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
11. On September 11, 2001, airliners were hijacked to crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by (a) Bugs Bunny, (b) the Florida Supreme Court, (c) Lou Gehrig, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
12. In 2002, Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal was kidnapped and beheaded by (a) Bonnie and Clyde, (b) the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, (c) Billy Graham, or (d) Muslims between the ages of 17 and 40.
13. In July of this year, several targets were attacked in central London, killing 52 persons, by (a) the archbishop of Canterbury, (b) Margaret Thatcher, (c) Sen. John McCain, or (d) Muslims between 17 and 40.
There's clearly no constant on this list, so children in arms, nuns in habits, Medal of Honor winners, passengers in wheelchairs and with iron lungs must continue to submit to pat-downs, hugs, squeezes, chest X-rays, colonoscopies and other procedures as deemed necessary. Anyone who looks like a terrorist on his way to work is to be waved through at once.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.