Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2001 / 20 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Clarence Page

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Consumer Reports

Getting used to the 'new normal' -- I'M still trying to adjust to the New Normalcy.

That's what Vice President Cheney called the new security-conscious life that we Americans find ourselves living after the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

"I think of it as the new normalcy," he told a meeting of Republican governors in Washington recently. "Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life."

The "New Normalcy"? It sounds like a headline from one of those trend-spotting lifestyle magazines.

In fact, there is great therapeutic value, according to psychiatrists and others who deal with the troubled and traumatized, to restoring as much order and routine as possible to your life after catastrophic events.

In England, Southern Africa and other troubled spots, I have seen people adjust by resuming as normal a routine as possible, partly to keep their sanity and partly out of sheer defiance of the terrorists.

But, for some of us Americans, the quest for normalcy these days raises a perplexing question: What's "normal"?

Is it the smiling airport security guard who cheerfully greets me with, "How are you, Mr. Page? May I see your identification?"

In the Old Normal, we might have noticed some irony in the juxtaposition of those two sentences. That was back when the purpose of carrying identification had something to do with helping people to find out who you are. In the New Normal, the presenting of identification is becoming an essential ritual for you to get to where you want to go.

Does the New Normal include the grounding of aircraft, the halting of mighty locomotives or the clearing out of office buildings because somebody spilled some white powder?

Will it be the flooding of doctors' offices and outpatient clinics by sufferers who fear their ordinary flu or sniffles may be signs of anthrax poisoning?

Congress has responded to this new crisis in classic fashion by finding new ways to spend money. The era of shrinking government is over. Even though our nation's economy has been remarkably resilient to government tinkering in the past, everyone on Capitol Hill seems to have his or her own pet idea or project that they are confident will work to bring back the boom.

My favorite suggestion comes in a Senate bill to enact a 10-day national "sales tax holiday" right after Thanksgiving. The charge - or should I say "charge card"? - for this measure is being led by Senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, in keeping with President Bush's suggestion that we Americans show our patriotism by buying stuff.

Ah, yes, as the old saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

At least it certainly felt good, after fretting about it for days, to celebrate Halloween with door-to-door trick-or-treating in our neighborhood, despite the warnings of Arkansas officials and some other municipalities around the country to avoid it this year.

The kids needed it and so, I think, did we parents. The neighborhood children never looked cuter and old-fashioned fantasy spooks looked downright comforting, compared to the looming unknowns of the current era of terrorism.

In the background of the New Normal is the war in Afghanistan, which also displays how much things have changed in the world of combat and international relations.

As America increasingly seems to be fighting wars from the air more than on the ground, Afghanistan offers a place where our bombs appear to cost more than the targets they are bombing.

We also are trying to win the hearts and minds of the civilian population by dropping food packets. This lovely gesture was marred somewhat by a startling revelation, almost two months into this operation: The color of the food packs happens to be the same shade of yellow as the unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs that our planes are dropping on the Taliban.

This revelation brought to mind a term from my Army days: "SNAFU." It means "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up," except that we usually did not say "fouled."

The key word here is "normal." Foul-ups were part of the Old Normalcy. Some things never change.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

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