This morning, I gave a call to the National Park Service to check in and found out that if I wanted to carry any kind of a sign when standing in the crowd at the presidential inaugural parade on January 20, 2009, I’d have to apply for a permit. A free speech permit. To carry a sign, even one as small as a sheet of paper. Even to carry a sign the size of an index card. A free speech permit. “May I please have my free speech? May I have permission?”
To obtain a free speech permit, I was told over the phone, I’d have to send my application in by mail. “I can’t send it as e-mail, or by online form?,” I asked. Nope, the National Park Service replied. They don’t have that space-age technology. Furthermore, the NPS staffers let me know, I should expect a delay of some weeks as my application is irradiated at a central facility to make sure it doesn’t have anthrax in it. Goodness knows that those poor Park rangers have just been inundated with the anthrax lately! What a headache. Why, it’s enough to give me a strange, inexplicable fever.
Here’s the twist: in a follow-up call I asked on a hunch whether I might be able to have the permit application delivered by FedEx courier. Oh, sure, said the helpful Park Service staffer. The FedEx folks just hand it right to us, he said, bypassing the whole post office irradiation center. Why, my application for permission to engage in free speech could be at the Park Service tomorrow afternoon! Permission from the government to speak is worth the $25 surcharge, isn’t it?
I guess that for the fictitious terrorists out there the $25 delivery charge for FedEx is just too daunting. I mean, killing a congressional aide by mail is worth it, since that’s just 42 cents, but killing an aide for $25 is just too much hassle, you know? The terrorists will just walk away, because if there’s one thing that irritates a non-existent terrorist cell more than anything else, it’s the delivery change. They may hate America, but they’re frugal about it.
I joke, but do you know what? It turns out that office after office in the federal government has taken to doing business by the costlier FedEx in order to avoid the postal service delays caused by freaked-out Homeland Security goonyism. Even the government isn’t using the government any more, and you and I are paying out the nose for it.