NEW YORK — I’m sitting on the runway of a major international airport waiting to take off. It’s raining, thundering and lightning outside. We’re already 90 minutes late. There’s no hope of making my connection home tonight. Now the captain has announced that, having worked our plane up to the No. 2 position for takeoff, there’s been a change in runway schedules that will require us to go back across the entire airport and start from the back of the line again.

I’m cramped in the middle seat between my daughter and an oversized New Jersey resident. For some reason, the chap to my right doesn’t comprehend that he can get up and move to any number of other seats, allowing us all a little elbow room. Worse yet, the guy immediately in front of me has three seats to himself, but that isn’t enough for him. Now complacently sprawled out across three seats, he has decided to recline two of the three seatbacks to maximize his comfort.

Every once in awhile, I give his seatback a good shove or his chair bottom a swift kick to remind him of his selfishness. Unfortunately, I think he’s oblivious.

Ahhh, the joys of modern travel.

But I’ll tell you what sticks in my craw more than all the hurry-up-and-wait nonsense, the discomfort and the rudeness. I hate the idiotic government regulations that require flight attendants to lecture us — each and every flight — on matters as complex as how to buckle and unbuckle one’s seatbelt.

You know what I mean: “To fasten your seatbelt, insert the metal fitting into the buckle. When you want to release the seatbelt, pull the flap on the buckle.”

Now really, in 1999, how many people on U.S. domestic flights need instruction on how to use a seatbelt? Seatbelts have been used in automobiles for at least 30 or 40 years. They have been mandated for use in many motor vehicles for quite some time. You can get a moving violation in California and other states for not buckling up. So why does the Federal Aviation Agency still think it’s necessary to conduct seminars on how to buckle a seatbelt on every flight in America every single day of the year?

What a gargantuan waste of time. What an insult to the intelligence of every American. If the FAA really takes seriously its charge to educate airline passengers on safety issues, it must realize how such innocuous and repetitive lessons only serve to make fliers’ eyes glaze over every single time they hear it now. It’s counterproductive. Maybe there are some important safety matters being discussed by flight crews in preparation for takeoffs, but they are most assuredly being obscured by such mundane matters as how to buckle a seatbelt.

It’s a lesson in how bureaucracies work. At some point, a long time ago — probably before some passengers were familiar with seatbelts — a government official came up with the idea that passengers needed to be taught about these new tricky contraptions. Since then, it has taken on a life of its own. No one questions its usefulness anymore. No one pays any attention to the lessons. But still they continue. It would probably take an act of Congress to discontinue them.

I know there are more important issues facing Americans today than the seatbelt lectures they get on every flight. But they are an important symbol of what’s wrong with America — how we are becoming more of a “nanny-state” every day. The regulations pile up. They never go away once they become part of our lives. Yet, each one — even the most seemingly harmless — represents one more nail in the coffin of freedom, of self-reliance, of independence.

Think I’m exaggerating? Have you flown anywhere lately? Does it bother you at all that you need to produce a photo identification to get on an airplane these days? That little detail entered our lives fairly recently, supposedly as a response to the threat of terrorism following the explosion of TWA Flight 800. Yet, the government concluded, wrongly, I believe, that the plane simply blew up because of a freak problem in the fuel tank. So why, we wonder, do the requirements continue for millions of Americans to “show their papers”? Why are we still asked ridiculous questions about whether we packed our own bags? Whether they have ever left our presence from the time they have been packed?

Are such questions really a deterrent to terrorism? Would a terrorist break down under such questioning and admit he had a bomb in his suitcase? I doubt it. But such requirements do make all of us feel like subjects of our government. If we’re all suspects, we’re much less likely to question authority, step out of line, or be a dissident.

Our government is conditioning us like children today. The authorities treat us like idiots. And, more and more, Americans are acting like idiot children.

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