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You vs. terrorism

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You may not think much of Rochester Gas and Electric during a blackout. But at least the utility's helping to fight the War On Terrorism. RG&E has included a booklet recently with electric bills that should allay all your deepest fears. It proclaims "You Can Help Prevent Terrorism, Too." Yes, now every one of you with too much time on your hands and an itchy phone-finger can help make America safe again.

            What does the handy tract suggest? "Know the routines. Be alert as you go about your daily business. This will help you to learn the normal routines of your neighborhood, community, and workplace." And why is this useful? "Understanding these routines will help you spot anything out of place." For instance, if you see somebody in a behemoth S.U.V. NOT talking in smug oblivion on their cell phone, that's certainly an anomaly that deserves closer watch.

            Other helpful hints include: "Take what you hear seriously." For example, if TV newspeople claim that steroidal musclemen with German accents are running for public office, you best put your whole family on red alert.

            "Be on the lookout for suspicious activities," the pamphlet instructs us, but in no way defines the term "suspicious." We suspect that the guy next door drinks way too much Sterno and the woman across the street is having an affair with the kid who cuts her lawn. And we can even marshal some evidence to prove these points. But we also suspect no one really cares.

            Much more useful was the New York Terrorism Tips Hotline, also touted in your electric bill. The woman on the other end of the line explained that they collect information on "suspicious activities." When asked what exactly that meant, she said "for instance, if you saw a group of people video taping a bridge or reservoir or other piece of critical infrastructure," you should report it. If you see people "who don't belong there" hanging around a reservoir, you certainly should call John Ashcroft.

            We asked how to tell the difference between terrorists and a family on vacation taking home videos of their lakeside campsite. She said they should not be reported, "if they're obviously not terrorists" and left it at that. There you have it, your tax dollars at work keeping you safe. After all, if you say the words "tourist" and "terrorist" quickly, they sound suspiciously the same.

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