Just a quick update. I was never called onto a panel yesterday and was sent on my way. Since I showed up and sat there for the better part of a day though I got $6 and a certificate saying I'm free from duty for the next three years. Hurray.
There is one little story that came out of the whole ordeal. 99.9% of folks I was sitting with brought some form of reading material. There were a lot of books and just as many newspapers. As for myself, I brought along my copy of Chinese Eunuchs: The Structure of Intimate Politics. By the time we were released I'd read the thing cover to cover. More on that later. My point is, most folks sat quietly reading. That is, except for a group of five people sitting near me who talked very loudly. Most of the banter was about local news, a recent fire that swept through some stores, and who knows who that knows someone effected and what not. But then the conversation turned to travel.
The lady next to me works for some eco-tourism lodge in Costa Rica. She claims she flies out of country a lot for work. The others around her have flown a time or two also and everyone started bemoaning how flying is no fun anymore now that security is so ramped up. Stories of missed flights and so forth were shared. Then the lady who flies "a lot" stated that the last time she went through Dallas they had this new machine that she had to walk into and it blew air on her. She said, "I still have no clue what its purpose was."
I don't fly much at all, but even I knew she was talking about the explosive detection device known as the "Puffer," more formally called an Explosive Detection Security Portal or EDSP. It's purpose, of course is to detect trace amounts of explosives on terrorists who forget to change clothes and shower after building a bomb. As someone who hardly ever flies, I just assumed that the basic function of the gadgets was common knowledge. Apparently not. After the lady posed the question, two people said they had no idea what it could be. A third said it was probably related to explosives, then added, "The air probably sets off the explosives and the chamber contains the explosion." I damn near bit off my tongue trying not to laugh as I overheard that one. But then a fourth person chimed in, "No, no, that's not it." For a second I thought he might be a voice of reason coming to the rescue, "The air blows all the dust out of your hair and clothes to make sure you're not contaminated by foreign microbes." The other four nodded in agreement, one muttered, "Yeah, that makes a lot more sense. That's probably it." "I'm sure it is." the fourth guy proclaimed.
Not more than 10 minutes later, the fourth guy's name was called to decide the facts in a legal case.
And now, as promised, here's what I took away from my book on Chinese Eunuchs--
Stay far away from Hung pills!!!
The Way of Hung consisted of a secret formula for producing Hung pills, which were also known by a more euphemistic name (Hsien T'ien Tan Ch'ion). The menstrual discharges of beautiful maidens, thirteen or fourteen years old, were gathered in gold and silver vessels and transferred to a mortar, where wu mei shuei, a compote of smoked-half-ripe plums, was added. In such cases, maidens with course hair or throaty masculine voices or those who had been sick were carefully avoided. The strange concoction was then dried seven times and finally heated after adding powdered milk, cinnabar, imported pine resin, and dried and powdered human waste....
[T]he Emperor's addiction to Hung pills had ill and far-reaching effects. For instance, Emperor Mu Tsung, his successor, became a regular user of the pills at the advice of the eunuchs and, as a result, let his genius run to waste. Emperor T'ai Ch'ang, in whom the people placed great hope, died the same night he took these pills during an illness.
--Chinese Eunuchs by Taisuke Mitamura, pp. 120-122