Be careful not to choke on all that fear

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 2003, Debra LoGuercio, all rights reserved

We plan. God laughs.

Evidence of that ironic fact was highlighted last week, as the color of our terror turned orange, and the televised media hyperventilated through reports of possible targets and speculation about all sorts of horrific carnage.

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge made his obligatory appearances, assuring us that the Bush Administration is protecting us, and offering his usual incredibly useful, succinct advice: someone somewhere may do something to someone sometime, so be prepared! Oh yes, and have a nice day.

Meanwhile, a 6.5 earthquake rumbled up under San Simeon, rattling buildings and nerves for miles around, injuring many and killing two in Paso Robles. Were we prepared for earthquakes in California? You betchum. Did it do much good? Not really.

You can't truly prepare for an earthquake because they can't be predicted. Sure, you can reinforce your home and stock up on emergency supplies, which is fine if you're at home when an earthquake hits. If you're walking past an unreinforced brick wall, a truckload of flashlights won't do you a bit of good. It's all about luck.

Earthquakes are a constant threat in California, yet we manage to go to work, raise families, plant flowers and walk our dogs anyway. We don't dwell on earthquakes, and those who do usually relocate to somewhere nice and safe like Minnesota, where they'll only die of frostbite or boredom.

Earthquakes, like much in life, can't be anticipated. You can be the safest driver in the world and get broadsided by a drunk driver. You could get a black belt in self-defense and be gunned down by a sniper. A plane could crash into your house, your brain may be rotting from Mad Cow Disease right now from that hamburger you ate, killer bees could swoop down and sting you to death, and The Anna Nicole Show could go on forever in syndication.

You see where I'm going. Unbridled fear will run away with you. So yank up the reins on that paranoia pony, and look at fear from another angle: the purpose it serves. For the televised media, fearful stories generate higher Nielson ratings, which equal dollar signs. We won't touch that dial if we're being informed of the worry-du-jour. It's not information, it's mass manipulation designed to reap financial gain.

For the government, generating fear isn't about money. It's about power. Frightened people are easier to control. And they'll cling to anyone who'll "protect" them. So don't plan on that terror alert settling down to a nice, cool blue or green until after the Presidential election.

What an arrangement. The government cooks up fear, the mass media dishes it out and we gobble it up. Some folks get fat on fear. The rest of us feel like vomiting. Let's make a New Year's resolution to cut fear from our diet. Just because it's being served doesn't mean you have to eat it.

If you're a Californian, you already have plenty of experience in scraping fear off your dinner plate and into the garbage. Despite the fact that the ground beneath you could roll and rumble at any moment, you aren't spending your life cowering under your desk. You know how to set that fear aside. Apply that same mental skill to terrorism.

You can no more plan for a terrorist attack than you can for the next Big One. The best you can hope for is not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and to do what you can to help out those who were.

The government can prepare and plan all it wants for terrorism but terrorism, like earthquakes, is here to stay. We'd best learn to cope with that fact. And if the government genuinely wants us to go about our daily lives without dwelling on fear, it will dispense with the ridiculous rainbow alerts and useless warnings, and quietly go about the business of preparing for what it can't prepare for. It will stop trotting Tom Ridge out across every morning "news" program to tell us to get ready because something bad might happen somewhere sometime to someone.

You don't scare the bejesus out of people and then say, nevermind, just go about your business. Just try that approach with your kids. As you're tucking them in tonight, tell them, "Hey, the Bogeyman's right outside your bedroom. Heck, he may even be under your bed right now, but don't you worry, Mom and Dad have it all under control. Now close your eyes and have sweet dreams."

Trust me, Junior will be sleeping with you until he goes off to college.

Don't be manipulated into "staying tuned" or into reelecting the President unless you really, truly want to keep him for four more years because you think he's doing such a bang-up job. Don't let fear rule your life or your decision-making. You can't prepare for what you can't prepare for. Just ask the folks in Paso Robles. Now stop all that worrying and get out there and walk your dog.

Prepare for a terrorist attack? God's giggling as we speak.