Today's threat level: cyan, for cynical

Let's not forget the Department of Homeland Security during these trying times.
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Let's not forget the Department of Homeland Security during these trying times.

The first question of the last presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 15, should be, "What is today's color-coded threat level?"

I would be surprised if either candidate knew. I would be surprised if you knew. Shame on you! 

The answer is yellow (elevated), except in the airlines sector where it is orange (high).

The second debate question should be, "Now that people know the threat level, what should they do?" 

The folks at the Department of Homeland Security won't tell us. On its Web site, DHS recommends only two activities:

  • Be vigilant.
  • Establish emergency plans.

These recommendations do not depend on the threat level. DHS tells us to follow both recommendations when the threat level is green (low) and when the level is red (panic). President Bush advocates a more nuanced approach. As I understand it, he wants us to vary our reactions as follows:

Color Threat level Recommended behavior Green Low Go shopping Blue Guarded Go shopping Yellow Elevated Go shopping Orange High Go shopping Red Severe Go shopping  

Is it permissible to worry more at high threat levels? It should be, so long as this does not interfere with shopping. While buying things that you don't need on credit in a futile attempt to keep the economy from cratering, you may worry about mall-based suicide bombers.

How much should one worry? Again, DHS does not tell us! They should publish guidelines:

Color Threat level Recommended level of worry while shopping Green Low Anxious Blue Guarded Alarmed Yellow Elevated Scared Orange High Terrified Red Severe Petrified  

Then, we could all feel patriotic as we tell ourselves, "Not only do I engage in a futile attempt to keep the economy from tanking by buying foreign goods that I don't need on credit, I also follow DHS color-coded worry recommendations. I am scared."

If everyone were equally patriotic, our problems would disappear. In addition to helping us feel patriotic, color-coded threat levels deter terrorists. 

Faced with elevated threat levels, terrorists fear heightened vigilance and refrain from bombing shopping malls. Conversely, terrorists also suspect that low threat levels are a ruse to conceal heightened vigilance and, again, avoid mall bombings.

Note that not a single shopping mall has been bombed since DHS initiated color-coding.

Nor has any airliner been highjacked since DHS initiated profiling at airports. Through statistical analysis, DHS has determined that people with artificial hips (like me) are likely hijackers. I calculate that DHS spends $63,525,000 annually to prevent artificial hip terrorist from wreaking havoc. Expensive, but worth it.

DHS finances this enhanced vigilance by confiscating shampoo in the carry-on bags of elderly grandmothers.

DHS is well positioned. If there is a terrorist attack, DHS will say, "We warned you. We deserve a larger appropriation."

If there is no attack, DHS will say, "We have deterred terrorist attacks. We deserve a larger appropriation."

Unlike you, DHS need not worry.


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