I know I’m late to the party, but since getting back, my new thing has been podcasts. I’m obsessed.

Part of the attraction is that they are in English, which I hunger for more than just about anything else. It’s not as good as having a conversation, of course, but it’s still music to my ears. It also helps that I got a new iPod shuffle while we were home, which actually works as it’s supposed to (my last one never did.) Even though it’s miniscule, it can still hold enough music and podcasts to keep me well-entertained and -educated for quite some time.

Since this discovery, I am becoming increasingly well-informed about both world news and the publishing industry. On my trip to the gym last night, for example, I walked down to the NYT Book Review, I ran to the BBC World Update, then I stretched and walked home to Rachel Maddow. Quite the triumvirate!

Amidst news of Haiti and the recent Massachusetts electoral “revolution”, the BBC also ran a story about a nuclear waste processing plant in Britain, which has just started sending processed waste back to its country of origin. The first such shipment, which arrived there in the 1980s, went back to Japan this week. What caught my attention was not the debate over what to do with such waste, but rather my own reaction to their assurances that sending the waste back would be entirely safe. The main risk is that the waste could be diverted en route and fall into the wrong hands, which British officials asserted would never happen, security is very high, etc etc.

My reaction: Yeah, right. After having flown and gone through security in two different countries last week, I’ve seen your so-called high security, and I find myself distinctly un-reassured.

I caught myself thinking this (in the midst of my run, by the way) and was surprised at my own jadedness. Normally I am one not to think too deeply about the hazards of flying, as I think in this case ignorance is in fact bliss. You gotta get there somehow, right? But apparently the aftermath of the underpants bomber (such an undistinguished moniker!) has unsettled me more than I realized.

We went to the airport a week ago prepared for increased security, longer lines, big hassle, etc. As instructed, we got there two and a half hours early, and ended up having a coffee with Gabe’s family for half an hour. Even once we went through, we still sat around for another half hour before boarding. There was absolutely no difference in security from when my mom and I went through in August, pre-underpants bomber. They still had only one full-body scanner (which of course Gabe the gadget geek insisted on going through), and the rest was all as usual: metal detectors, X-rays, and a wand and pat search for backup.

Ditto in Heathrow, which can usually be relied upon for tighter security procedures. In anticipation of longer security lines, I had already told my half-brother we couldn’t meet him for lunch on our layover this time, as I didn’t think we would have time to go through security again.

Turned out we did not have any choice in the matter, since we were on two different airlines and they couldn’t check our bags all the way through. Of course. So instead we had to go through immigration, tell the nice lady once again that we’d only be in the country for a total of about 3 hours, get our bags (which luckily came through fairly quickly), blearily find the departures area, and check our bags back in again for our next flight.

We were far too early, but the two gossiping young women at the start of the bag check area agreed to let them on anyway. The sleepy man at the desk, who was obviously bored stiff and at the hairy end of a very early shift, completely failed to ask us the usual security questions: Has anyone unknown to you given you anything to take on this flight? And so on. Those questions are total nonsense anyway, but still: this is your so-called heightened security?

Isn’t it reassuring that instead of the airlines working together and just taking your bags all the way through, they would rather have you claim your luggage, go out into the world, and then have sleepy, distracted employees check it in again without so much as a by your leave? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Then, we went back through security. This time, it took us a total of about ten minutes, and that was mostly because they insisted on doling out the X-ray bins one at a time and then watching as you laid your laptop, toiletries, and other sundries in them — one. Person. At. A. Time. And just as we were almost there… oh, this tiny old white-haired British lady has to take her shoes off, go back through metal detector, and have a pat search! Watch out for that one! Clearly she’s a hazard. Right.

The only difference I noticed was during my own pat search, after my bracelets set off the metal detector. The woman was a lot more thorough and got a lot fresher with me than usual, but still, she respected my privacy and did not come anywhere close to the essential bits. Excuse me? I really don’t mind if you violate my privacy if it means I feel safer on the damn plane.

But even with all that, it took us about ten minutes to get through. And so, instead of having a nice leisurely beer and a sandwich with my brother, we ended up sitting in the crowded Terminal 3 waiting area for two and a half hours before our flight to Lisbon finally boarded. They didn’t even give us a gate until about ten minutes before it closed. I slept fitfully on a bench seat, Gabe updated his Quicken and chatted with some professor from Newfoundland who was headed to South Africa for the winter (good idea!), and we were generally just miserable. Fan-bloody-tastic.

All hassles and physical discomfort aside though, the point is that I didn’t notice a single change or improvement in security at either airport, nearly three weeks after the underpants bomber prompted so much discussion about upgrading security procedures and all the rest. They still went through all the usual motions of security theater — take off your shoes in America, put your toiletries in this small bag in Britain, etc — which are designed to make people feel as though they’re safe. But as proven by my reaction to that nuclear waste story yesterday, our current standard of “high” security has left me feeling distinctly insecure.

This is a new world, with new hazards. It is a bad sign that airport security still involves pretty much the same routine that I remember from flying PanAm when I was a little kid. Seriously guys, it’s time to give a new definition to high security. And until then, I will remain as before: unreassured.

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