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THE GASBAGS

    Once the Department of Homeland Security was finally compelled to raise the gasbag threat level to “IMMINENT.”
    The decision to take this ultimate step was not made lightly for fear of spreading panic throughout the land by acting in too precipitous a manner. Many years were devoted to painstaking assessments of the gasbag threat from every angle imaginable and even from some that were, quite frankly, beyond anyone’s wish to know. Comprehensive risk assessments were routinely undertaken, which, once conducted, had then to be exhaustively assessed and reassessed before discussions about what was actually to be done to safeguard the public from potential disaster could begin. Meanwhile, congressional committees and subcommittees called one hearing after another, and irate politicians marched in and out of the media spotlight to announce it was their solemn duty “to get to the bottom of the gasbag menace.” This combination of delays dragged out the process until much of the public turned its attention to other concerns out of frustration or simply boredom.
    In the opinion of those still paying attention, however, the “imminent threat” was officially recognized too late: long after the need for swift action should have been obvious to all those with eyes to see the gathering danger or a nose to smell it out. As was common knowledge, at times of atmospheric stagna¬tion, the country’s air rapidly grew too dense to be certain of what was right in front of one, to say nothing of becoming nearly unbreathable, given the elevated levels of toxic, inflammatory fumes given off by gasbags large and small as they overstretched their limits and split a seam or two in the process.
    Often, particularly alarming instances of such cause-effect deterioration in air quality forced much of the population to stay indoors for weeks at a time. Concerns regarding the health of the young and the old were understandable, but so too were worries about all those who might be strong enough to survive heart disease, cancer, or stroke but were absolute goners when it came to the cumulative effects of gasbag exposure. Baldly put, this danger represented a level of threat unto itself. 
    Meanwhile, in the absence of decisive anti-gasbag measures by those in authority, rumors and conspiracy theories abounded. What came to be known as “gasbag deniers” pointed here, there, and everywhere at those they alleged were behind a nefarious plot to hoodwink the public. There were no real gasbags, they derisively proclaimed, or, if there were any real gasbags, well then their very existence should be viewed as a stirring tribute to the God-given, constitutional right of every individ¬ual to soar aloft and thus was fundamental to both the spirit and the success of the nation, regardless of any supposedly deleterious consequences for those below.
    Observers less convinced of the benefits to the nation of a sky filled with errant gasbags bumping up against one another pointed in their turn to the near mathematical certainty that at some time in the not-too-distant future, enough gasbags could become wedged together overhead to block out the sun, bringing on a new ice age. While to rely upon the well-documented tendency for overheated gasbags to float “up, up, and away” and ultimately vanish harmlessly beyond the stratosphere proved to be a false hope. For every great gasbag gone, it was now plain, a multitude of up-and-coming gasbags awaited their own turn to rise. 
    Viewed realistically, then, elevating the threat level to “IMMINENT” or even “CATASTROPHIC” or even “CATACLYSMIC” or even “APOCALYPTIC” would do nothing to render the ominous reality confronting the nation any more alarming than it had already become.