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Trying to decipher the color of fear

Washington hates to give up on any idea once it has been institutionalized, especially a bad one, but Homeland Security has finally decided that color-coded threat levels really aren’t working.

Say goodbye to the reds and oranges. Adios to the yellows, blues and greens.

Washington hates to give up on any idea once it has been institutionalized, especially a bad one, but Homeland Security has finally decided that color-coded threat levels really aren’t working.

Good. It’s never too late to notice the obvious, and I couldn’t figure them out anyway. As best I could tell, red was really bad. So was orange. Yellow, too. And frankly, I never saw the others.
In any event, I had no idea what the authorities expected me to do when I spotted these ominous signs looming at the airport. Was I supposed to subject my fellow passengers to a little freelance frisking? Should I have periodically jumped up and shouted, “Look out!” Seriously, what were we supposed to do?

I’ve watched for unattended luggage until I have bags under my eyes. I’ve sought patterns of suspicious behavior with the fervor of a “Da Vinci Code” fanatic. And as for keeping an eye out for strange people — have you been to an airport lately? They’re crawling with such characters. Personally I think every concourse now has a small tribe of people who’ve gone insane trying to figure out the color codes and who wander around like Tom Hanks. Kind of like “The Terminal” meets “Night of the Living Standby Passenger.”

I always felt that this whole security situation would be easier if we just had giant flashing signs that said 1) Be afraid, 2) Be terrified, 3) Hoard canned goods, 4) Crouch in the corner clutching a sock monkey, and 5) Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

The airlines, I’m sure, would raise a fuss, saying it might cause unnecessary anxiety among travelers. Mind you, they don’t seem to worry much about anxiety when they stuff me into a middle seat from here to Seattle. But I guess that’s a different matter.

So Homeland Security has a new system to keep us quivering — some kind of thing that involves pingpong balls and a chalkboard, I think. They say it will work better. Maybe. But for now, color me skeptical.

–CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”

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