Pardon the Inconvenience

March 17, 2002

by John K. Bates

ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption is, frankly, the best damn sports talk show, period. It may be the best of any genre. The format is fast paced, so that no subject is covered to the point of blather. Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon are excellent, finding little common ground yet not shredding the other or descending into personal attacks. In the spirit of this wonderful show, Your Humble Columnist offers a similar show: “Pardon The Inconvenience,” where among the many topics will be the hassles Americans endure during the “War on Terrorism.” Here is a short snippet from this proposed show, which in a perfect world might star P.J. O’Rourke and Rush Limbaugh:

  • Issue: Color Alerts

Rush: Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge this week introduced a five-level terrorism alert system that is supposed to help Americans and local and state government quantify terror threats. The system was deemed necessary after several “general” alerts that served little purpose but succeeded in scaring the public. Mr. Ridge says the United States is at “yellow alert,” the middle of the five levels, and that we may not see the lowest level of alert for years if in fact we ever do.

I know you hated the terror alerts, P.J., saying they did little but lull people into an eventual complacency. May I assume you like the new system?

P.J.: Absolutely not. The system is utterly meaningless unless enforced at all levels of the government, and the only way to do that is to coerce local and state governments in a manner that is directly at odds with the Constitution. You know, Rush, this is the exactly the sort of thing your boy Bush loves to do, offering up the federal government to give us all alerts so that we will be scared…

Rush: Hold on. Hold on a cotton-picking second. How can you disagree with this? The Administration is doing something to stop the threat to American citizens. Mr. Ridge in his comments even states that the feds need the voluntary cooperation from the states.

P.J.: Voluntary, like seat belts and drinking laws are voluntary, where they take away state money if you don’t do what they say?

Rush: Oh, c’mon P.J. For once, just give the administration a break. Yes, voluntary.

P.J.: Voluntary today, but wait until some bozo in D.C. decides not enough of us are volunteering to comply. Then we will see how voluntary (DING!) the system is.

  • Issue: Air Traffic

P.J.: The Federal Aviation Administration is claiming that air travel will return to pre-September 11 levels by 2004. The FAA says that this is an improvement over previous forecasts, but still reflects the overall fear of the general public and the trouble in the airline industry.

Rush, you don’t fly commercial much anymore, but do you agree with the FAA’s prediction and their contention that reduced flying is because of fear?

Rush: P.J., it sounds like you don’t agree with them?

P.J.: Absolutely not.

Rush: Why not?

P.J.: Because the government, which of course wants us to be afraid of flying so that they will get more power over us, refuses to discuss the effects of all of the government-created hassle on flying habits? How many people aren’t afraid, but are rather annoyed by flying? From parking to check-in to security to fondling little 80-year-old granny at the gate, the government’s new security restrictions have to cause some folks to simply say they don’t want to be bothered.

Rush: Wait a minute, P.J. Are you saying that we should just sit by and do nothing so that terrorists can strike again?

P.J.: Not at all, but terrorists didn’t blow up airport garages did they? Little old ladies in wheelchairs didn’t hijack planes? So why are we searching cars and grannies? And what’s the point of the National Guard troops at security? What good are they? (DING!) And what…

Rush: You think the government is overdoing it?

P.J.: The government is overdoing it.

  • P.J.: Time for a little role-play, where we get to use faces on sticks. (Hands a mask to Rush).

Rush, you are Manuel Avayo, INS official. You have just approved the student immigrant visas of two of the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center. What do you have to say for yourself? Is this incompetence or an honest mistake?

(Rush is Manuel Avayo): This was an honest mistake, the result of a bureaucratic backlog, and I would make the case that mistakes like this happen because government is under-funded by greedy capitalists such as yourself, P.J. We need to increase government and especially funding for any department that might touch on the President’s War on Terror.

P.J.: You don’t think you should be fired?

(Rush is Manuel Avayo): No. How can I be expected to perform under this sort of workload? We need more people, and we need more money and a few more government holidays so we will be fresh to work. And we….

P.J.: You don’t think that this is normal for the government, this level of incompetence? I mean, I am not surprised, why should anyone else be?

(Rush is Manuel Avayo): Only you would be that cynical, P.J.

P.J.: Thank you.

(Rush puts down mask, hands P.J. a mask.)

Rush: P.J., you are Cliff Claven, postal carrier on the television show Cheers. You are lazy and barely competent enough to do your job before you go to the bar and drink. You are now also in charge of airport security, because such an important function cannot be trusted to the private sector. Do you anticipate a better level of efficiency for this effort, and what do you say to those who lambasted your attempted takeover of healthcare but support your takeover of airport security?

(P.J. is Cliff Claven) As a proud, hardworking federal employee, I am offended by your suggestion that I don’t work as hard as I could. We in the federal government know much better how to get things done, because we are doing these things in the interest of the public. The greedy private contractors let 9/11 happen, and we are going to prevent it from happening again. Because only the federal government can possibly do anything right.

Rush: C’mon P.J., most federal workers are not like Cliff Claven. You are really being unfair to the hardworking people who are protecting us from terrorism.

(P.J. is Cliff Claven): That’s what your boy Bush says, but the fact is that the private people were doing just fine. The items brought on the planes on 9/11 were legal at the time. It was the federal guidelines, not the greedy private…

Rush: But there have been lapses since, or have you forgotten about people carrying explosives in their shoes?

(P.J. is Cliff Claven): And the record of the Postal Service and Amtrak should tell us the feds cannot deliver the mail. How in heck are they gonna keep us safe? Rush, you hosehead, these people are incompetent morons! I wouldn’t trust them with emptying my cat box, let alone with keeping me safe. (DING!)

Rush: Amtrak and the Postal Service are not the same thing!

(P.J. puts down mask). Now, a birthday. Happy Birthday Albert Einstein, someone whom I will never be compared to. Albert, as you know, is responsible for discovering the Theory of Relativity. Unfortunately, he never discovered a theory of reducing government spending, which is something we need now more than ever.

Rush: The Grand Finale, the boxing matches between various celebrities went off without a hitch this week. The bouts featured Danny Bonaduce over Barry Williams (Greg Brady), Todd Bridges over much-tattooed rap-loser Vanilla Ice, and Tonya Harding pasting Paula Jones. The biggest loser, though, had to be ring announcer Michael Buffer, who obviously is struggling to find work these days.

P.J.: But the spectacle brought to mind some other matches I’d like to see, such as Bill Clinton vs. Ken Starr, Ted Kennedy vs. Newt Gingrich. Oprah vs. Rosie

Rush: Oprah vs. Rosie, and in the all doper free-for-all, Darryl Strawberry vs. Robert Downey, Jr. Or best yet, any of last night’s six participants in the ring for five seconds with Roy Jones, Jr.


Check your local listings. That’s all the time we have. Thank you for joining us, hope to see you tomorrow.


John K. Bates is a part-time freelance writer who works in the energy engineering field and lives in the Denver, Colorado area. He enjoys many outdoor pursuits and the company of his family of three cats. His columns can also be seen on

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For more of John's articles, visit his archives.

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