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Take Deep

by Stephen Lautens


October 19, 2001

Admittedly, the world is a pretty uncertain place right now.

We're still reeling from the attacks on New York and Washington. Nations are in turmoil. The Taliban keeps making threats. The US has dropped a couple billion dollars worth of bombs on Afghanistan, even though everything in the country is only worth about a buck sixty-five on a good day.

Even in this country ­ thankfully once-removed from the real action ­ we can't help but be caught up in world events. Maybe too caught up.

While no one can take what's going on in the world lightly, we've allowed ourselves to be driven into a hysterical frenzy by a media circus that's looking to interview every victim, survivor, family member, general, former general, expert, pundit, diplomat, politician and psychologist for hire. We'll know the crisis is just about over when the reporters start interviewing each other.

The result has been that every particle of dust or pile of sand creates a new anthrax scare. Someone leaves half a bottle of Mountain Dew in a public park and before you know it the guys in the white suits and gas masks show up with TV cameras in tow. God help you if you have white powder on your chin after eating a sugar doughnut.

None of this takes away from the seriousness of some nut (or collection of nuts) sending toxic letters around, but we can't stop our lives every time someone leaves a free sample of baby powder on our doorstep or we discover dust under the bed. If a few specks of dust is suspicious, then my house could be mistaken for a warehouse for weapons of mass destruction.

A New York State public health official tried to put it in perspective when he said that every day we're exposed to things more dangerous than anthrax, but did we pay attention? Every rash, cold and sniffle is a fresh outbreak of Ebola, and evacuating buildings is fast becoming Canada's national sport. There's a national conceit that whatever we do and wherever we are, we're important enough to be a target for terrorism. Trust me, when it comes to terrorists, the public library in Cowbum, Nova Scotia isn't in the same league as the US Senate or New York's Governor's office.

And of course the whole thing has brought out the nuts, whether they're hooligans tearing up the streets of Toronto or bottom-feeders who call in false alarms. We have travellers demanding that every airline passenger be issued his or her own tommy gun on boarding, or suggesting that the best way to protect our freedoms is to give some of them up. Or those who criticize our own immigration system and want to turn it over to the Americans, in spite of the fact the US issued visas to half of the terrorists and have almost a third of a million of their own deportees still illegally walking around on their fair shores.

Then you have the geniuses in Canada who harassed Sikhs and torched a Hindu temple. These self-appointed saviours of Western civilization haven't the brainpower to figure out their senseless vandalism was being directed at completely different religions. I guess that's what happens when you burn books instead of reading them.

So deep breaths everyone. Those white crystals in your sugar bowl are probably just sugar. That letter in your mailbox is a birthday card from your aunt Minnie. Your neighbour with the darker skin works for the Bay, the gas company or the government, not the Taliban.

Should we vigilant? Yes. But that doesn't mean we have to leave our brains at the door.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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