The Mother of Satan and the season of fear

From all accounts - and actual information is still trickling in - British intelligence did indeed preempt a deadly terrorist plot, working patiently over many months, using tools of actual law enforcement. Those are facts, and cause for both celebration and caution. The hysterical pitch of the media, on the other hand, is giving me a headache. Yesterday, I listened to NBC talking head Brian Williams describe his recent trip to London with his kids, marveling aloud at having landed in not just another country, but another world. This morning, Tania Hernandez of ABC breathlessly asked, "What if the terrorists were unstoppable?" and invited us to see (right after the commercial break) what exploded airliners look like. ABC also introduces to mainstream America (with a barely restrained glee, or so it seemed) that charming sobriquet for the explosive substance acetone peroxide, "The Mother of Satan," which sounds way sexier and much more au currant than old-fashioned C-4. And I won't even attempt to sample the blogosphere, which would be like trying to drink The Mother of Satan from a firehose.

You can be sure that the miasma of fear - generated less by the event than our reaction to it - will be dutifully reproduced and exploited by the cynical and avaricious (generally meaning Republicans from George Bush and Dick Cheney to, uh, Joe Lieberman) to validate wrong-headed wars that do more to create terrorists than they eliminate. And we still have at least four weeks left in the official fear season. As far as the Bush administration is concerned, September 11 is a national holiday.

My advice is to work as hard as you can to separate yourself from the noise machine, and to pan actual fact from the rushing stream of hysteria. Adopt the viewpoint of Bill Threlkeld, as quoted in a New York Times article:

Stay home. Read a book. Tend your garden. Make love. Drink wine. But most of all — stay home.

But if you must fly, remember to pack the hair gel in your checked bag.


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