The End of Sanity?

Scripps-Howard News Service 7.17.02
Balint Vazsonyi

Bill O'Reilly's one-hour broadcast on the Fox News Channel customarily covers a number of topics. Last Wednesday, July 10, three of them induced enough depression to occasion the alarmist title.

The first of these concerned itself with a new entrance requirement by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All incoming freshmen have to read a book about the Koran. Professor Robert Kirkpatrick appeared in the program to explain and defend the decision. He made references to 9/11, and the subsequent need to understand Islam.

While he assured us that the contents of the required book represented what every Muslim child had to memorize, I wonder if he persuaded many in the audience that familiarity with the required book would have helped America to forestall, avert, avoid 9/11. Of course, Professor Kirkpatrick disclosed that he would have made reading Hitler's Mein Kampf also compulsory in 1941. How that would have changed the course of history is equally unclear. The troops on Omaha Beach appear to have known all they needed to know.

That an institution of Chapel Hill's standing would cast its eyes over the arid desert our high schools have become and determine that the first of the yawning gaps to be filled is about the Koran and its poetic structure is beyond the comprehension of ordinary humans.

Next, we were given a survey of visa procedures currently employed by our consular officials. Apparently, far from declaring any kind of moratorium with regard to certain places and people, traveling to the United States remains as easy as pie. Little or no supervision is exercised over those who are granted entry by the (often local) persons who work at our consulates - be they friend or foe.

Who would believe that the trauma of 9/11, while causing our president to mobilize vast forces for the displacement of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, left unchanged the procedures that have given us the 19 men who killed thousands of people, and inflicted billions worth of damage.

Can anyone dispute that, had these men not been in the United States, they could not have carried out their acts?

If not, why are we doing everything except making certain that such men cannot set foot on these shores?

Which takes me to the last, and least digestible, of items.

An 83-year-old grandmother related her trials and tribulations at Grand Rapids airport in the great state of Michigan. Her metallic knee replacement set off the alarm. Although she had warned about that likelihood beforehand, she harvested an orgy of examinations by electronic wands, in the words of the old cigarette commercial, "over, under, around and through" her body.

More alarms.

"The old woman will have to be stripped," announced a "security official" for all to hear in the entire area, adding - also for all to hear - that she was not going into a room with her alone.

With that, two of them took grandma into the room and told her to drop her slacks. Then her panties. Since the "security officials" had forgotten to lock the door, just at that moment a man walked in carrying some stuff. (He apologized, at least.)

The point no member of the species "homo sapiens," not even the Secretary of Transportation, could provide an explanation acceptable to other members of said species with regard to the purpose or utility of this occurrence. No possible threat to the security of passengers could be assumed, nor security enhanced by humiliating and torturing this old lady.

That leaves us with three options.

1. Our country has acquired the presence of people who are incapable of applying judgment to a situation, although it forms part and parcel of their daily job.

2. People in our country have been so intimidated by irrational regulations, trigger-happy lawyers and capricious courts that they sooner do the ridiculous, rather than use discretion.

3. We are on the way of instituting one of the most frightening trademarks of totalitarian regimes giving people of the lowest mentality police-like powers over ordinary citizens, engaged in ordinary behavior.

It happened in a Grand Rapids courthouse that I experienced the magical, once-in-a-lifetime moment of becoming a United States citizen. That was in 1964. Just then, the country was engaged in making sure we treat all Americans the same.

Who would have thought that we end up treating ordinary Americans as the enemy?